Saturday, March 06, 2010

Guest Baggage: Millican (UK)

Millican Dalton ("Professor of Adventure")

Field testing a Millican rucksack

Archival blueprints

In this guest entry, Jorrit Jorritsma, co-founder of UK outdoor bag company Home of Millican, writes about the challenges of launching a new line of bags. Like Archival Clothing, Millican's bags are based on historical examples and proven utility designs made with weatherproofed organic cotton canvas, brushed cotton linings and vegetable tanned leathers. In an earlier email to me, Jorrit described his bags as "made to last...ensuring that they'll become classics of the future." --LL

A Sustainable Adventure by Jorrit Jorritsma.

As a big fan of this website, I’m fascinated by the subject of vintage travel bags and classic designs. With my wife, Nicky, I’m lucky enough to be running my own company of sustainable travel & outdoor bags from our base in the Lake District, Great Britain.


A simple answer to this question would be with passion and a lot of attention to detail. However, the reality is of course a little more complex! My love affair with vintage travel bags began when I discovered Maritime Museums in my late teens. I got lost in the romance behind the leather cases and wooden chests of a bygone era. They represented far-away places and people, undiscovered trading routes and, above all, adventure. And to me, they still do... Three years ago, I was immersed in comfortable corporate life, working in the fashion trade and traveling between offices in London, New York and Hong Kong. Then I decided to give it all up. After a year of family focus, learning new skills and traveling Great Britain in a camper van, Nicky and I started our own company, Millican.

The idea was simple – combine my passion for vintage travel bags, the outdoor and all things functional with our joint passion for a more sustainable life. Together we would create a modern brand of bags reflecting timeless values. Designing our products, we began by taking lessons from classic bags of the past. Our thinking was such bags were based on proven utility shapes and materials which still appealed to our tastes. So why fix something if it ain’t broke? Main requirement was to figure out how we could combine classic designs with modern technology to drive product sustainability. We could let the bags’ timeless styling take care of itself.

Archival inspiration: Dalton Millican


So what were our key challenges in this process? Well, I’m not a designer though, like many a keen customer, I know when I like what I see. Drawing inspiration from vintage material, we worked with a skilled bag designer to create blueprints. After that, the list goes something like this: Source materials – prizing function and quality first, then finding sustainable alternatives. A one-liner here, but in reality taking us nearly 5 months. Find manufacturing partners – especially ones prepared to work with us on a small scale, with new materials, a tight eye on costs, and a strongly ethical focus. Working to deadlines – we had a maximum of twelve months to bring our first collection to market, having booked a handful of country fairs and horse trial events at which to sell. Making commitments – placing our first orders without having received any market feedback. One of the scarier moments! Practicing patience – knowing that we wouldn’t get everything 100% right first time round ...


Wash bag

Cooler Bag


For anyone looking to follow in our footsteps, we’d also advise on the importance of attention to detail. Critical. We went through nine rounds of sampling before we were confident of our products. We got our materials and designs independently tested. And we got our products past our most critical supporters, our friends in the Lakes. How’s that? You might say. If they’re your friends, how can you vouch for their independent objectivity? Based in England’s Adventure Capital, Keswick, our friends are surrounded by dozens of retail outlets marketing technical outdoor gear. So they’re well versed in what’s on the market, as well as what any lover of the great outdoors requires in this kind of landscape.


It was also critical to us to make production choices with people and planet in mind. Wherever we can, we have made more sustainable choices, using organic and recycled materials. In some cases, we regrettably found that current sustainable alternatives were too expensive or not of the right quality yet. However, we developed relationships with these suppliers and will continue to watch the development of these alternatives until they are right for us. We’ve met some amazing people along the way, from afar afield as the Far East and as local as down the road from us in the Lakes. They’re people who believe in the same values as we do.

When we were looking for a bag maker, we found our partner Henry. Henry’s dad originally started their business in Hong Kong. Today, they remain a small family business, now located in mainland China. We love the family element and Henry’s passion for food, tea and quality of life. We like the fact that he farms and feeds his team and other workers from surrounding factories with high-quality vegetables. Our relationship with him isn’t just based on commerce.

Having said that, it’s sometimes hard to retain perspective. We are only talking about bags, after all. Which is why we check in with our friends on a regular basis. With their Cumbrian humour, they tend to keep us firmly grounded.


So where have we got to in the genesis of our business? Well, we were in development for twelve months.
Then we went to market last summer. We’re now in our fifth month of selling. Customer feedback so far has been fantastic. At this summer’s country events, customers scribbled responses and product ideas in small notebooks on our stand. The result is that we now have fifteen new product ideas ready to develop next.

It’s quite a thought that one day, a future website might carry details of our vintage designs, citing them like Lesli does in this Archival Clothing website. In the meantime, we’re just keeping our noses to the grindstone.
There’s a long way to go and doubtless many mountains to climb. But we’re loving the adventure. Adventure is where it started all those years ago and why I left corporate life to start again. Today, we’re following the wise words of a Dutch uncle of mine - “The first forty years are about quantity, the second forty are all about quality”. We’ll keep you posted on how the adventure continues. And you’re more than welcome to join us in The Cave, our blog detailed below.

Jorrit Jorritsma,

Co-Founder, Millican

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