An interview with Jorrit Jorritsma; co-founder of Lake District based sustainable backpack brand Millican.
Could you provide us with a brief background to Millican and explain how it all began?
We moved to Keswick in the Lake District National Park in 2000, to live the life of dreams. Gradually however, life’s routines got in the way of our dreams and I took a year off in 2007 to recalibrate my life. During this year, the idea for Millican the brand was born on the streets of Keswick – to create a brand of travel and outdoor bags, inspired by proven utility styles, with modern functionality and sustainable materials. At the same time, we came across the story of local legend Millican Dalton, whose story is virtually unknown outside of our valley. Self-styled Professor of Adventure, he’d moved away from city life in the late 1800s, to a life in the outdoors – making his own tents, clothing and bags. His life values of living simply, with nature, are as relevant today as they were then. Eccentric, passionate and committed, we named our brand after the legend.
Tell us about the team behind the Millican brand?
Millican HQ is based on a working farm near Keswick, overlooking one of our local mountains, Skiddaw - a great place to experience the changing seasons. Our team has drifted onto the farm at various stages over the past few years, connected by their love for travel and outdoor adventures. Our Studio is home to the creative powerhouse that's Jeff, Steph, Ali and Bex, while our Showroom with Shana, Heidi, Sandra and Catherine is the engine room for the business.
What is the essence of the brand?
Travel is core to who we are and what we do, and meaningful travel at that. Travel makes you feel alive, forces you to be in the moment and brings meaning. We strongly believe it’s travelling which gives us perspective on the world we live in, and connects us with our planet, each other and, most importantly, with ourselves. Once you connect, change becomes inevitable. Inspiring meaningful travel and creating lifelong companions for our community is what we do best.
What types of bags do you sell?
Our sustainable travel products range from durable packs, duffles and messenger bags, to a Herdwick wool and Organic Cotton cooler bag, to travel accessories, a library with some very inspirational magazines like Drift, Sidetracked and Boneshaker, and the Millican 50th Ascent Coffee, roasted in collaboration with Extract Coffee Roasters from Bristol. Our conscious choices mean we make the three main collections – Originals, Mavericks and Blank Canvas Project – from a combination of regular cotton, organic cotton, recycled polyester, local wool and vegetable tanned leathers.
What is it like being based in the Lake District?
The Lake District is more than a place, or a location. It's a feeling. When I arrive back from my travels, there's always a point where the feeling of coming home hits me - the land, the mountains, the light and the seasonal colours create a super-special mix. Once home, I love the accessibility of the outdoors - riding, walking, canoeing are all just a stone's throw away.
Where does your love for travel and adventure come from?
I think adventure is in us all, big or small. Mine started as a young kid, growing up on and around the waters of the Northern Dutch Lake District, while dreaming of sea-faring adventures, exploring the world. I've managed to realise many of these dreams, traversing most of our continents over the years. The excitement of planning a trip, setting off into the unknown, connecting with and learning from new cultures and people feeds my curiosity and inner self every single time.
Could you tell us about your design philosophy?
Millican started as a response to both the unsustainable nature of creating seasonal collections, as well as my inability to find high quality, multi-functional bags made from sustainable materials 10 years ago. We believe that using less makes for more – carrying only what you need brings more freedom. This also informs our design philosophy, where function creates form – our Maverick Collection and Blank Canvas Projects use only a few panels of fabric, to retain their inherent strength and weatherproof nature. The clean lines and minimalist designs follow these functional decisions. Heritage influences are visible where we feel they are still relevant today and don’t need changing. And our colours are inspired by the seasonal Lake District colours we see around us every day – natural and timeless.
We know you make ethical and considerate choices when designing Millican bags - can you talk us through the sustainability of your brand?
I strongly believe that any modern business has a clear responsibility to both people and planet. It’s clear that we’re collectively on a path of using up the One Planet we have, and a smarter way of living is required. Simple, daily conscious choices combined with disruptive innovations will be at the heart of the solution. We’ve made conscious choices from day one about what we produce, where we produce and how we exist as a business, and share the ups and downs of our journey with our audience, in the hope we inspire others to make conscious choices in their own lives. The result of this is that all our main materials are either natural, organic, recycled or a combination of these; that our marketing materials are printed by an ISO14001 certified printer, on 100% recycled papers, using water-based inks; and that we offer a repair service to help customers with any issues or damage their Millican bags might have picked up on their travels.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of our sustainable material choices and the connections with our creative partners. We’ve collaborated with Universal Works, The Do Lectures, Oliver East, Miscellaneous Adventures, Salt Magazine, The Botanist Gin and most recently created the limited edition Wainwright x Millican pack. Our brand partners in the USA (Portland-based Nau) and Langbrett in Germany are examples of innovative, sustainable partnerships to help launch our bags outside our home-market.
Why do you feel it’s important to have a backpack that suits all types of travel and adventure?
A pack is a symbol of freedom – always ready and only useful outside, on your travels. Most travel is very diverse – long and short, local and global, work and pleasure. If we can continue to create timeless, multi-functional bags, they can become an integrated part of our community’s traveling existence.
What locations have you tested the rucksacks in?
The Lake District is our natural playground and test-bed – having said that, our bags are being tested daily across the world by our users. I’m always amazed to see the images, reviews, tips and feedback we get from them – very humbling.
What are your favourite types of material to work with?
The look, feel and handle of natural materials is hard to beat and they tend to age nicely too. Innovative projects like Bionic’s coastal clean-up programmes to deliver part of the recycled polyester that makes up our Bionic® Canvas is also a privilege to work with.
At Rucksack Magazine we love taking a minimalist approach to adventure and travel – how do you think the rucksack encourages this sort of travel?
By nature, a rucksack forces you to carefully consider your needs and only take what you need. Your life on the road depends on this. Bruce Chatwin wrote in Songlines that “freedom is lack of choice”. Travelling light with only your rucksack facilitates exactly that.
Where can we find your products?
Our Millican bags and accessories can be found on homeofmillican.com and in 200+ stores with our retail partners in the UK, Europe, Australasia and North America. From George Fisher and Common Wanderer in the UK, to Journal Standard in Japan, Langbrett in Germany and Bever in The Netherlands and many more – hop over to the Where To Find Us section on homeofmillican.com to check out your most local store.
What’s next for Millican?
We’re slowly expanding our Maverick Collection in the coming years, with some exciting new developments to widen our travel-scope underway. Very shortly, we’ll be launching a new Blank Canvas Project in the UK (watch this space) and we’ll continue to build on this with additional releases in 2017/18. We’ve also recently expanded our design team, to start working on new fabric developments, continuous improvement programmes and further range updates for 2018/19 + create new ways to bring our products to market. A very busy time at Millican HQ – very exciting!