In today's, meet the founder article, we talk to Mat Booth creator of Both Barrels. Mat had an illustrious career in the sporting goods industry at the cutting edge of football design, being part of the Premier League and International football shirt design teams at Umbro and Equipment / Accessories team at Warrior / New Balance.
In our interview we were amazed by Mat's energy for British Design and in particular educating the designers of the future. Mat certainly brimmed with passion and enthusiasm which spills into his answers to our questions:
Tell us Mat, why did you get into design? Have you always been creative?
MB: I initially I got in to design because even though I'd enjoyed art at school, and certainly as a boy drawing and learning through play was a big part of my creative development, I really connected with the problem solving element of design. Particularly at grammar school where the idea of creating through drawing, then demonstrating through model making, just really sparked my interest in the subject. I was heavily influenced by my uncles whilst growing up. One was a leading transportation engineer and the other a master carpenter. I used to listen to their stories and watch them work when I was allowed. Though I never quite got to grips with the mathematical rigours of engineering, nor the time served mastery of carpentry I have landed in Product Design which seems to splice the two.
How did you break into the industry?
MB: My first job was at Antler Luggage (example below) in Bury - based in the most amazing old mill building. The job came about as the University of Huddersfield had historic links to Antler and they'd advertised a junior job to graduates. I was very fortunate to be recruited in to the industry 6 weeks after graduating. It was my first time meeting 'real life' designers and all of a sudden I was one of them.
Was education a big part of it?
MB: Certainly the educational establishment link through the University was helpful in the contact instance. More so though was the design process learned through study. This works two-fold, 1 is that the learning environment is supported and as such all of your work is conceptual rather than pressured by commercialism. Secondly the degree process allows you to develop team work, presentation skills and to dip your toe in to a number of areas within design. It's a really good way to find out about who you are as a designer as much as who you are when it comes to learning to operate a washing machine and living away from home.
What would your advise be to up and coming sports equipment designers?
MB: My advice would be to try things. And don't be scared to fail. I'd also recommend that designers spend equal amounts of time on learning how things are made in to a commercial reality - there's a huge difference between designing a one-off and designing something fit for 10,000 unit production. It's also enormously beneficial to be an active user of the product you're designing. First hand knowledge and experience is invaluable in understanding problems and how to design around them.
Let's get onto creation, what type of processes did you use at Umbro?
MB: Umbro is a product focused business and as a designer/developer that's a great place to be! The apparel team there was pretty substantial and two teams separately covered Sportswear and Performance categories. Briefs were generally issued by category managers or general merchandising managers which gave an idea of the collection structure, price points and customer. This was then digested by Product Managers and Designers and would generally be worked through with the fabric team whom provided a 'tool box' of available fabrics per price point - it's worth of note just how much work goes in to this fabric area, it's critical that this is suitably speced so that commercial targets are hit but there's enough interest in the fabric itself to make compelling new products from. The design team would drink coffee and create sketch ideas which become refined by CAD work - this is then presented in a 25% concept review, comments made and a 50% review arranged the next step would be a 100% design review where the concept would be approved (or reworked if steps had been missed or the brief altered, etc.). After this the development team get involved in creating silhouettes, using suitable blocks for approximate fits and generally trouble shooting any minor points on design (seam positions, catering for logo's/sponsors etc.). This stage is fairly mechanical - there's interaction with the pattern team who'd usual make a mock up for any new shapes and there'd be fabric draping and pinning on to a mannequin for a real life scale idea of the look and feel of the product. Once all this is complete Tech Packs are created which detail everything necessary for the factories to make samples. The creative process then overlaps with the sampling process and the samples are made, tested & fitted, and tweaks made in fully formed garments. This continues to a point where which the garments 'work' for pricing, functionality, aesthetic and features. At this point the design team would go back to working on a new brief and the development team would begin the management of final samples and production.
Are there any new processes or techniques you use in your new business?
MB: I run two businesses in parallel. One is a freelance design consultancy which is broadly speaking a service business. The other is Both Barrels which is a product business. Both present unique challenges and that has lead to some new techniques being employed from a business perspective. From a product creation point of view however, the Both Barrels business takes learning from all of the experience I've gained and though the scale is much smaller, the guiding principals are similar. We build all of the products from the ground up and that enables us to take a 3D approach to the design as a whole from the outset. I suppose the 'new' aspect is taking tailoring and sports performance principals from apparel and applying them to luxury, innovative luggage which uses natural fibres (other than the ballistic nylon base) rather than synthetic fabrics.
What was the inspiration behind Both Barrels? and why did you switch to luxury luggage?
MB: The inspiration is two fold. Firstly I'd always wanted to develop a brand of my own and after more than a decade in the industry I felt I'd learned so much from so many talented and experienced colleagues that I felt equipped enough to have a go. Secondly, I have always felt strongly about supporting the UK Manufacturing industry and this brand gave me the opportunity to do just that. I am keen to continue to support and develop my relationships with suppliers and manufacturers in the UK as the project develops.
As for the switch, it was more of a calculated side step. I know bags and luggage well and felt that there was market in which we could make an impact. The set up cost was comparatively low in comparison to an apparel business which requires a great many sizes, styles and fabrications and certainly lower than anything which would involved moulded parts and associated tooling costs.
What is the brand ethos, and how does Both Barrels help the customer?
MB: The brand ethos is 'confidence in simplicity'. This is born out of a combination of insight and inspiration - insight in that we're all travelling much more but travelling with much less. This is largely because our 'stuff' does more than ever - with that in mind we've removed everything you don't need, like millions of heavy and superfluous pockets so that everything is as streamlined but as highly functional as possible. The insight even runs to the brightly coloured interior linings which help you locate your items quickly and help to illuminate the contents of your bag. We've moved seams to prevent any water ingress on base panels, opened up zipped entries to be self supporting and open wider, and even removed excess padding in the laptop compartment of the backpack so you're not carrying around extra weight for no reason. The hero material is the Yorkshire wool which is laminated and bonded around a central weather resistant core - this harnesses all the aesthetic prowess of a wonderful traditional material yet amplifies with a performance property without adding any further weight. The inspiration part comes from a personal affinity with Danish reductive design and the guiding principals of the great Dieter Rams. The whole concept is designed to work well with your business attire, assist with your travel and look great throughout.
Where can people learn more about Both Barrels?
MB: The online home is www.thisisbothbarrels.com . We'
Any final comments about design and creativity?
MB: The UK has a long and proud history of designers and creators and it is my opinion that it is our responsibility as industry practitioners to perpetuate that. Not just for the design legacy but more importantly for the UK economy, particularly during these times of political flux. As a designer you have the opportunity, even responsibility, to change how people interact with the world - to me that has always been, and will continue to be, and enormous privilege. If you're of a similar mindset I implore you to follow that path - design has brought me global travel, culturally rich experiences and a breath of experience difficult to find in such a relatively short period of time in any other industry.
BR: Well said Mat!
If you would like to see more of Mat's work (it's nice to have Pele wearing your gear!) please go to his Behance page, and please go to Both Barrels, you won't be disappointed by the stylish "confidence in simplicity".
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