The Atlantic Equipment Project is my go to brand for high quality backpacks that will also be functional. I am also drawn to a beautiful aesthetic and this brand also ticks that box. Ashleigh Smith is the very talented designer behind the The Atlantic Equipment Project and I am delighted to be featuring her today on Floralesque.
I have featured Ashleigh previously on Floralesque here and I talked about her path to creating The Atlantic Equipment Project, well today we are talking about her new collection.
What I find so inspiring about Ashleigh’s work is the brand ethic and the core values behind the brand. Ashleigh believes in honest design and I firmly believe that this is one of the reasons that the brand is going from strength to strength.
Have you always been interested in design?
Yes I’ve always been interested in making things, my Grandpop used to call me The Engineer when I was tiny. I loved to understand how things worked and getting my hands dirty making huts and building sheds with my Dad. I didn’t know at the time of course, but figuring out the principles of function and developing innovation from those principles, is a core element of product design.
In secondary school I studied Technology and Art, and both are essentially combined into Industrial Design, my Bachelor and Master degree.
I understand that the start of the Atlantic Equipment Project was out of a Thesis project, can you please tell us more about the beginnings of the brand?
Indeed, the Master thesis started out life as a straightforward product concept development. I was doing my masters in the established surroundings of the Dutch design world. Thanks to some insightful Strategic and Interaction design input from my Professors, it became the brand strategy and embodiment it is now. Throughout my education and work I realised that to do great work I needed to be really in love with the subject.
Being in The Netherlands at that time I was seriously longing for the wilderness and rugged environment of this part of the world. I realised how much living on the Atlantic coast meant to my physical health, and just my sense of belonging and wellbeing. So I began work on capturing that magic in the values and character of the brand, and it blossomed into The Atlantic Equipment Project, an honest identity with depth and heritage.
Your pieces are not just visually well designed but also seem to be practical. Many designers focus just on the aesthetic and not the function. Is it important to you that you pieces have functional?
Without doubt, I can say that the AE collection currently and what it will grow into will always have functionality as a core design pillar. This is down to two things. Firstly, to make a product solely based on aesthetic would fly in the face of all that AE stands for, and would get in the way of people enjoying the outdoors.
Secondly, as a product designer you are trained to always seek elegant function. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful objects that solve a need in the most refined way. With my bag designs I try to take away as much as I can until the bag has no excess fabric, tassels, straps etc. The design is ready I feel, when nothing else can be removed and it still reliably performs its function. I also feel, that this process of elimination has lead to a consistent minimal and contemporary look to the whole collection.
Your new collection which features Waxed Cotton is just stunning – can you please tell us a little about the collection?
The new collection, AE LUX, is based on the championing of my ultimate favourite fabric, waxed cotton. The fabric used is an 8 ounce waxed cotton that we quilt to add structure and strength to the each bag. Waxed cotton is amazing! It is a natural cotton fabric that is made waterproof through the application of wax. Water will bead on it and roll off, just like water off a ducks back. As it is natural it is also imperfect, and as you used it and work with it takes on its own pattern and colourings, unique to its owner’s adventures.
AE LUX launches the brand new AE Weekend design, which is built with an overnight stay, city break or quick flight in mind. It is carry on size and we use a high quality zip to secure closure. Our classic rolltop backpack design is relaunched with this collection in the new colourways. Both of the designs use waxed cotton as the primary fabric and are reinforced at the base by a really tough Cordura, offering solid protection for all your goods. The range is in three colours: Caramel & Burgundy, Navy & Forest and Dark Olive & Black.
Although I am sure hard to choose – what has been your proudest career moment to date?
I find this a really hard question to answer, as I am not sure I am proud yet because I’m still working on it. I am proud of the brand and its origins, but the idea of building quality kit here in the Northwest of Ireland is such an important one, that I feel I am still working to do it justice. There are some very special moments like when I secured my first stockist, The Irish Design Shop in Dublin. I was proud to be represented in their contemporary Irish design selection.
Our AE Satchel was part of the Irish Design 2015 ‘’Liminal’’ exhibition that travelled to New York, Milan, and Dutch Design week. To be included amongst the best Irish designers was such an honour. Now that we have been making bags for about 2 years, I am starting to see them out and about, here and there. When somebody chooses to use an AE pack, and keeps it with them during their day around town or trip down the coast, that is a really proud little moment for me.
What does the future hold for the Atlantic Equipment Project?
AE will keep making quality bags, championing good design and natural fabrics. And we will always be made on the West coast. I will keep working to grow the business, by maximising sales through the website and developing our wholesale business also.
We are really excited to be at the premium Irish Design tradeshow in Dublin next year, Showcase. Up to now each decision for growth of AE has been driven by our core values: Atlantic Coastal heritage, Shared exploration and honest design. This how it will continue and as such, I trust in the path forward.
A massive thank you to Ashleigh for doing the interview – I love featuring designers whose pieces that I already own. My sister treated me to the Sea Green Canvas Rolltop Backpack last year and I love using it. It has lasted so well and there is so little sign of wear on it a year later though it has been lovingly used often.
I would highly recommend taking a look at The Atlantic Equipment Project website (where you can also shop!). The Atlantic Equipment Project is also on Twitter,Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I know exactly what is going to be on my Christmas list this year!!
If you enjoyed this interview in the ‘Floralesque Meets’ Series, then you can click here to read more exciting interviews with designers, creators, artists, photographers, entrepreneurs and more – enjoy meeting the makers!