We caught up with Alec, the founder of Trakke as he was fresh back from a stay on the Isle of JURA, one of the Small Isles of the Inner Hebrides. We’re not sure whether his drawing board fitted into one of his beautiful waxed cotton backpacks, but the simplicity of living on an island with a handful of others had clearly rubbed off: he was reflecting on whether his carryalls are over engineered, despite being beautifully simple to our eyes.
As with all our designer makers, we really wanted to understand why Alec founded Trakke and hear a little about the influences over his design process. It turns out his inspiration was sodden sofa’s and broken baby buggies!
Alec’s upbringing pointed him in this direction, growing up in rural Derbyshire in a highly creative family: Dad was an architect and he credits Mum’s influence for his eye for fabrics and colour palettes. However, it was studying Visual Communication at the Glasgow School of Art that gave him the final push to start Trakke:
“I didn’t start Trakke on purpose. I was just sitting in front of a computer screen and realised I needed to make something with my hands.”
It wasn’t just the studying and the theory which led Alec to making. His inspiration was a primal response to Scotland’s amazing geology:
“Scotland is proper outdoors. I’m from Derbyshire, so am used to the hills, but I still recall the first time I drove up to Glencoe. It wasjust HUGE.”
This is where the sofa’s and buggies come in. At first we thought Alec was joking, but he genuinely started by going out rummaging through skips for materials.
“I was picking stuff up wherever I could. Fabric cut from a dumped sofa. Discarded vinyl advertising hoardings. Webbing and buckles from broken buggies. I was getting a bit obsessive. I would find a new type of buckle and be like ‘Woah! That buckle is awesome’ and then I’d be trying to use the weird 3 point buckle from a pushchair and see what it could do.”
This gives us a good understanding of Alec’s design process. It is the result of numerous form and function iterations, of prototypes and testing, trying and learning.At this time Alec was selling his bags from a market stall. He sold 200 bags over an 8 month period, providing a great insight into the psychology of selling.
“I distinctly remember some over-the-shoulder bags that came out looking like the dust bags from old hoovers! But I also learnt that bags that included some typography or icons from an advertising hoarding sold well, and that plastic buckles clash with natural fabrics.”
Eventually, armed with a vast array of material and consumer knowledge, Alec set out with a more purposeful approach to Trakke. That has led to their becoming one of the UK’s leading craft luggage makers, and the most accomplished adventure maker brand by some way.
Eventually Alec decided that he couldn’t carry on using makeshift materials. He needed for more consistency, though he reflects on the direction this decision forced him down:
“Looking back, I do sometimes wish I’d gone down the route Francli are pioneering, and continued using recycled materials. It didn’t occur to try and find more reliable bulk sources for them. Massive respect to them for their commitment to their values.”
But without that choice, we wouldn’t have Trakke paying such enthusiastic homage to the British mountain men of yore, with their functional reimagining of those classic materials waxed cotton, leather and metal. Its clear they are deeply influenced by the golden age of British Mountaineering when Ventile and Hobnails prevailed.
Originally this commitment to being British made was driven by necessity, Alec needed local manufacturers that he could speak to face to face, who could accommodate smaller order runs. He didn’t have the capacity to tool up a Chinese factory, or the luxury of months to await a sample. However very quickly, the passion to produce a genuine British product shone through:
“I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I didn’t want to stick a ‘Made in Britain’ label on something I had just assembled here. Though it’s not that easy finding manufacturers. They tend not to have clear price lists on their website, in fact many don’t even have a website. So hunting them out became an adventure in itself.”
This willingness to go the extra mile to hunt down the right fabric or a sail maker who can reproduce the exact stitching needed for a lifetime of abuse, marks Trakke out. Their website includes a map showing where each and every part of their supply chain is located. Its an approach to transparency and honesty that *would* most established brands could and should learn from, if they had the vision to understand it’s import and an educated community of customers willing to do the same.
Trakke team this honest approach to manufacture with an appeal for their customers to be similarly authentic about adventure. Whilst Alec waxes lyrical about the majesty of the Scottish glens, with his 'Adventure Everywhere' tagline he also exhorts folk to just get outside and relish what they find, rather than pushing everyone to extreme wilderness adventures or physical extremes.
We love Trakke. We love their terribly British manufacturing process. We love their their social approach to marketing: all their 'models' are really pals they've taken out for an adventure. We love them for being a Great British adventure brand that totally gets what a Great British adventure is all about: trips to the pub, rough fells, canal towpaths and walking the dog on a blustery beach.
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