Winnats Roll Top Backpack

Mark Musgrave The Level Collective.jpg

We chat with Mark Musgrave, founder of The Level Collective, about his latest project on Kickstarter; the Winnats Roll Top backpack.

Tell us about how you came up with the idea to create the Winnats Roll Top backpack?

Well, I started The Level Collective over 3 years ago just as a side project that is now a bit out of hand. It’s grown organically through Instragram and I now run it 2-3 days per week alongside freelance design work to help pay the bills. I collaborate with artists and makers to create ethical outdoor supplies such as graphic t-shirts, sweaters, beanies and water bottles, and now a backpack and utility pack. I had noticed that many outdoorsy backpacks are very functional looking; plasticky and busy with lots of toggles and buckles, which for most people are just unnecessary and make them untidy for wearing around the city or for work. I thought it would be great to design a backpack that performed well outdoors but was much more minimalist and design-led so it can look smart whether roaming outdoors, or in the city. I decided to use natural ingredients such as the Halley Stevensons waxed cotton from Scotland and vegetable tan leather details from Derbyshire. Both materials perform well outdoors but also gain beauty and character with age as they get scuffed-up and take on a vintage and well-loved aesthetic like an old pair of boots. It’s a bag that is made to be loved and used for years to come. I also wanted every aspect of the bag to be ethically made, sourced as locally as possible, and then hand crafted in the UK. I’ve enjoyed discovering that we have so much manufacturing talent here in Britain and it’s been a shame to see it decline through outsourcing to cheaper economies. I think more and more people are taking an interest in where their clothing and apparel is made, and I want to support British manufacturing where possible. 

What are you most proud of?

I would say the custom stainless steel buckles are probably my favourite bit. They’ve been a real labour of love and the process and problem solving has been very collaborative. After a fair few sketches of different buckle ideas, I then designed them on Adobe illustrator, then a friend translated them into CAD for me so I could have them 3-D printed in plastic as a prototype to test drive before getting them made. I tweaked the design a little and then had them laser cut out of 3mm and 2mm stainless steel. Then a different local company shaped a 4mm bend in them, which allows the cotton webbing to move a little easier when adjusting the straps. I then explored different ways of smoothing the buckles and one company tried sand blasting them for me with 2 different types of sand, but unfortunately neither were quite right. Then another friend let me use his bench sander to smooth the edges and polish them which was hard work but was really satisfying too. It took me 30 minutes per pack just to polish the buckles so I have sorted a new way of batch polishing them her in Sheffield. I was just blown away by people’s interest and willingness to help out to try to make the buckles just because I am trying to do things locally. A few people unhelpfully said “Why don’t you just buy some from China” - which would of course have been much easier. But clearly they were missing the point entirely. I’ve learned that Sheffield is such a great place to try and make things in. It’s a very creative and industrious city and people are really friendly too, and if they can’t help you, they probably know someone who can. 

Could you tell us about your design philosophy?

I remember my good friend once saying "it’s better to make an interesting idea possible, than a possible idea interesting." That has really stuck with me and informed my decision making throughout the project; from the materials I’ve used, and the decision to design my own buckles. My overall philosophy whilst designing this backpack has been to create something without compromise. As a tiny independent business (i.e. just me) I don’t have shareholders to please, I have taken the approach to create something as beautiful as possible, and then try to make it viable. It’s perhaps a backwards way of looking at things, but as a result I’m really proud with the final design. I know the bags aren’t particularly cheap, but it’s just expensive to make something from ethically-made, high quality, local ingredients and then manufacture them here in the UK, especially in small batches. I want to see my backpack being used for what it was designed for. So I’ve kept the price as reasonable as possible for customers. So in the short-term I know I will only be able to sell direct to customers and perhaps partner with a handful of independent boutiques who are willing to forego a huge mark-up in the interests of carrying a unique, British-made backpack. I know the backpacks are not made for the mass market but that’s ok. They are designed for people who 'get it’ - who understand the hard work and level of detail that goes into each one. ‘Slow burn’ seems to be how The Level Collective has been from day one. I haven’t really had any ‘big breaks’ as such, and that has enabled me to develop in a slow and controlled way and make decisions thoughtfully - introducing new products one at a time. In terms of the backpacks appearance, I’d probably describe my design philosophy as minimalist, earthy and tactile. I have tried to make the Winnats Roll Top really functional in terms of using highly waterproof fabrics, having padded straps, lumbar support, water bottle pouches and a stash pocket. But I’ve sought to keep the shaping and overall aesthetic as simple as possible. I’ve chosen a very natural colour palette of navy, forest and mustard which all seem to sit well alongside one another which is why I ended up making the multi-coloured ‘wild one’, which is a little crazy, but I think is actually my favourite colour so far, even though I haven’t decided which colour I’m having yet! The waxed cotton, leather detailing and stainless steel are all very tactile materials and I was really keen that the main ‘touch points’ of the backpack such as the buckles, the padded straps and the grab handle all felt really special. 

When will the bag be available to purchase?

The Winnats Roll Top is available for pre-order now through our Kickstarter and at the time of publishing we still have some pre-orders available for this first batch which will be delivered in December 2017 for the Kickstarter intro price of £159. After Kickstarter we’ll be making some more but the price will be going up to £179.

How can I back the project on Kickstarter?

Any support you can give me on Kickstarter would be amazing! If you like what I’m trying to make then even just sharing the project with your friends and family through social media is a huge help. If you did want to ‘back this pack’ so to speak, I have made rewards as low as £1 for a thank you email, and have some really cool little enamel pins and scout patches for £7. I’ve also designed the Peaks Utility Pack from the same ingredients as the backpack as a camping accessory, camera bag, pencil case, shower bag or whatever you like really. They are also available on Kickstarter, currently for an intro price of £34.

To back this project or to pre-order a Winnats Roll Top backpack visit Kickstarter. To learn more about The Level Collective read our full interview with Founder Mark Musgrave here.