NINE YEARS ON
How to Build a Time Machine
We champion patina – the perfect imperfect. It is a badge of honour that can only come with time, and only be met gracefully by objects of true quality. Simply put, poor products fade, good products blossom. Our intention has always been to make the latter.
RUPERT SHREEVE, DESIGN DIRECTOR
I remember standing under a railway arch in Waterloo hearing an old rusty Vespa being described as having ‘the heart of a lion’ –admittedly it was by the mechanic trying to sell it, but it was the truth. It looked like it had been ridden every day since the sixties, a patina so rich there were only a few islands of glossy paint left on its panels. As the decades had changed unrecognisably around it, it had gone about its business, rusty and proud. I didn’t buy it, as an aspiring young mod I needed more to polish, but the sentiment stayed with me.
The interesting thing about starting a brand in a sector new to its founders, is that despite all our road testing and decisions made around the cutting table, only time will tell if we got it right. Did we choose the best materials? Did we include the best functions and discard only surplus? Did we appoint the best maker?
Alex's nine-year-old Sand Weekender, Bennett's Leather Backpack and my Olive Backpack – all first batch models
I’ve spent my entire professional life designing products for other brands and would often never see them again once the project had ended. Largely because I wasn’t designing them for myself – I’m not in the market for a set of ceramic hair straighteners, and I have nowhere to put an industrial fatigue testing unit. Now, however, a decade since our first batch of Weekenders, I ride over to Savile Row every week from the Farringdon studio and sit working in our shop as customers come through the door, bag in hand, and tell us stories from the road. We’ll listen, converse, share thoughts on design, show new print advertising copy and artwork, discuss ways to improve our products – or leave well alone – and then I return to Farringdon to implement. It is the most rewarding and visceral ongoing design project that I have ever been involved in. I describe it as ‘Fight Club’ for designers, but I’m not sure anyone, including myself, understands why. The liberation of it.
There is a common thread I recognise in the people who walk into the shop; those who seek something not on the high street. Something tangible and relatable, and built by hand in small batches. As the son of an environmentalist, it’s hard to justify designing any product in today’s climate, let alone one within a crowded market – but, as product designers, I believe we can offer solutions that help stem the flow. To create something good enough that all future replacements or incarnations become surplus to requirement. I describe these products as time machines. Built to weather the storm and remain in service while the world changes around them. They are the Waterloo Vespas that inspire us – why I love good product design, but hate stuff.
Ours is undoubtedly a time for less. Less consumption, less production. If we are to slow the effects we’ve had on our planet, then I name the undisputed world champion as the art of doing less, and doing it better. Long live good products.