One of the most versatile releases of the last 12 months, the ATD1 from Attitude Supply has grabbed a lot of attention – partly for its extreme expansion/compression capability, but also for being designed and manufactured in Italy, with some killer materials. When I reviewed it during the preproduction phase, I found a bag with a lot of potential but room for improvement. Attitude Supply’s Michele Fasano responded, making the changes, doing everything he could to make the best product he could.
I spoke to Michele about the responses he’d had, the bag’s journey, and the challenges of manufacturing in Europe.
Jed: You’re gearing up now for a second production run of the ATD1. What kind of feedback have you had from the first owners? Have you made any changes to the design in response?
Michele: ATD1 is not an easy pack to understand, first reviewers took some time to get used to its approach to volume management, but the feedback was absolutely positive.
Compared with the first run, we changed a couple things: since the only few negative feedback were about the webbing being too stiff/coarse to let the straps be adjusted with one hand without some break-in use, we opted for a smoother and softer one for this run and added some triglides to avoid the chance of accidental sliding, trying to constantly improve the pack and make it more usable. This is the only noticeable change, together with a small vertical bartack to prevent small items from falling from the front compartment’s top pocket.
Speaking about fabrics, in the first run we used three different suppliers scattered in EU and USA for three fabrics. This had to change and we opted to work with one of them only for the whole pack. The new Cordura® has the same DWR impregnation and double PU coating on the back side, but looks slightly less shiny when new and slightly more structured.
Jed: What is the impact of manufacturing in Europe? Do you think there’s a barrier that would stop other new brands from starting that way?
Michele: Definitely, more than one. The first barrier is related to cost. Labour is expensive compared to other areas and quality is not always up to the price. Then, raw materials: many makers usually start importing them from the USA and spending on shipping and taxes a lot of money that could be invested in scouting local companies. Finally, I don’t know about other areas in Europe, but in Milan rents make really hard to set up a proper workshop.
The other main barrier is the lack of manufacturing partners that are still able to make quality bags in house. We had a lot of them in Italy’s mountain areas, mainly working as contractors for the big brands, but the few remaining now just work on samples and then outsource production to China, keeping labour force and equipment reduced.
ATD1 was one step away from remaining at project stage: I had a hard time finding a factory that wanted to jump into the challenge of making a product like this without producing in Far East, that had the right machinery (most of them don’t even use bartacking machines anymore) and that didn’t want to eat up my entire budget just to make a sample based on the prototype I had already made. Then, after 2 months of meetings, countless emails sent and lots of car trips across the country, I was lucky enough to find this “modern artisan” who mainly works on custom military gear for armed forces operators, mixing great sewing skills with modern machinery and the ability to understand my project.
Jed: What do you think it is about the ‘one bag’ approach to travel that’s made it so popular? How does that drive your design philosophy?
Michele: I think this question can be answered from two different point of views. On a broader level, minimalist lifestyle is spreading and more people are starting to appreciate having less stuff, but suitable for multiple purposes.
On a more specific level, travel gear is now lighter, less bulky and more versatile than once, so travelling with one bag is easier than it was before. Personally, I’ve been “onebagging” since my first backpacking trips as a teenager, as it makes taking care of my stuff easier (especially off the beaten paths), and the whole experience is quicker and lighter.
This approach drives my design toward versatility. There is no bag that is perfect for every use (yet!) but i like to focus on two primary uses and then try to develop the bag to be at least “good” for other tasks.
Jed: Do you think designing a bag to be suitable for every environment means a level of compromise? Does versatility come at the expense to performance?
Michele: Yes, it does. Each single use has its perfect features, materials and design. As said before, I like to focus on one or two primary uses and then add and cut elements trying to develop gear that is at least “good” for other tasks: ATD1’s primary uses were backpacking travels and EDC, for example. It also makes a good hiking pack, but there are better options for that specific use.
Still, the need for crossover gear is in growth, as lifestyles evolve and the boundaries between work, sport, travel, outdoors and leisure moments are increasingly fading so, even if i’m intrigued by specialist carry tools, I think versatility is key now. Versatility and quality.
In the end, quality remains: quality design makes gear pleasant to be used and quality construction, in addition to being rewarding for the customer, makes users want to actually use and trust the gear they bought, allowing them to focus on the reason why they’re carrying it (their travel, their job, etc) and not on the carry itself.
Jed: You cancelled your first kickstarter (last June, before relaunching and successfully funding in September) – how was the crowdfunding process for you? Can you see yourself going down that route again?
Michele: Crowdfunding was painful, challenging and exciting at the very same time. It also was incredibly useful to understand who Attitude Supply should address and how I should interact with users.
Compared to the early days, creators now need to invest money in the pre-launch, and lots of time to learn decent marketing and customer care skills.
I closed the first campaign as it was clear that it wouldn’t have reached the goal. We failed to build and grow an audience on pre-launch and we chose to work with a good PR and AD agency that, on the other side, had no experience in crowdfunding, nor did they know EDC and travel gear industry, resulting in poor commitment and almost no results.
This failure cost us almost 7K€ and some sleepless night, but at that point I decided that I had to understand how to properly do that. Success came when I put myself in the game, learning how to set up ads or run email marketing campaigns: due to different time zones, I often answered inquiries late at night, in a language that is not my mother tongue, but I think that people appreciated the feeling of interacting with the creator and not some CRM service.
At the end, the best part of this whole experience were backers themselves: they supported the whole campaign and i’m proud to read their feedback about how the campaign was handled, even more than reading those about how the final product came out.
We’ll use this marketing channel again for sure, but it’s clearly not a one shot solution to launch new products, nor the easiest one.
Jed: What are you working on for the future? Will Attitude Supply stick with bags, or do you have other products in mind?
Michele: I’m slow at developing new products. I want them to make the difference, pushing the versatility concept and trying unique solutions, but at the same time I like to keep things simple and understated. Currently, I’m working on two projects.
First one is a set of packing cubes and pouches to organize gear, meant to be offered both in 300d Cordura® Fabric and in a UL fabric like Dyneema. Starting from one of the pouches, I also ended up designing a sling bag that I like to work on because I don’t usually carry sling bags, making things more challenging.
Second project is a smaller version of the ATD1. We were asked for it and I was intrigued by this challenge, but I didn’t want to simply scale it down: different size means different uses, settings and problems to solve. It will merge the concept and features of ATD1 with a way more compact size, conceived for faster use in urban settings, thought to be more office-friendly, ideal for those short weekend trips (or for longer ones, if you are minimalist enough) and perfect for those who want (or have to) travel with a checked luggage and still need a compact, yet expandable, travel backpack to pair it with.
We’ll see what will be the first to see the light!
The ATD1 is available for preorder from Attitude Supply now. Photos provided by Michele Fasano