I’ve had my eye on the work coming out of dyborg.gear ever since I stumbled across some of their simple, yet attractive Dyneema zip pouches on Instagram. Every piece that comes out of dyborg.gear, from the zip pouches to the tri-zip backpacks are designed, cut, and sewn by Eva, out of Hamburg, Germany. After learning more about dyborg.gear, I reached out to Eva to talk to her about her unique journey from high end lingerie to ultralight carry goods.
English isn’t Eva’s first language, so to maintain the authenticity of the interview and Eva’s voice, I’ve done little to no editing of the written content.
Brandon: Your background is unusual for this industry; your roots being in lingerie design rather than technical carry products. What made you transition? What was that experience like for you and what did you find the most challenging?
Eva: By the time I started dyborg.gear in 2017, I had been making bespoke lingerie for about a decade. Corsets, brassieres, panties, garter belts, you name it… there’s even a Playboy photo shoot with my pieces in it, which I find thoroughly amusing! The transition happened pretty much by accident, as I wasn’t actively looking for a change of fields and the field of techwear / outdoor gear and the prospect of actually making stuff like that hadn’t really been on my radar at all. It all began with a dear friend of mine, Julian, who was eyeing those neat Outlier pouches but wasn’t really into the long wait and high import fees that come with ordering overseas. Knowing that I know my way around a sewing machine he asked if I couldn’t just whip up something similar for him, as a favor, skipping the wait (he’s not the most patient person 😉 ). I said “Why not?”, ordered some of this mysterious Dyneema fabric and got to developing my own take on the concept of a waterproof ultralight zip pouch. I immediately fell in love with this unique material, and also the rather utilitarian beauty that came with simple, streamlined, functional designs.
I mean, it’s the complete opposite of making lingerie. Lingerie has frills, lace, colors, stretchy fabrics, about a hundred different dress and bra sizes (which all need to be fitted perfectly, of course). Not to mention the bottomless pit that is the fight for body positivity and against beauty norms, and all the emotional entanglements that come with a field that is so closely intertwined with the way we see ourselves. It really took up a lot of space in my life, not only physical space for an endless supply of rainbow-colored fabrics and trims but a lot of mental capacity went towards navigating the ever-changing and sometimes exhausting minefield that is fashion in general. In a way, I was ready for more simplicity in my life, without even realizing it at first. Being plunged into a completely new field, by mere coincidence, a field where you have one material, one color, and simple yet sophisticated functionality as the foundation of your work was the best thing that could have happened to me.
I kept both businesses running side by side for another 2 years, selling all the beautiful panties and laces and trims until they were gone for good, while slowly working out if and how this new fascination of mine could work as a business. Turns out, it works quite well and as of 2019 dyborg.gear has become my primary source of income and pays most of my bills 😉
Something that continues to challenge me is the fact that I feel a disconnect between my love for nature, being outdoors, the vastness and solitude of it all, and how much of that I can put into action at this point in time, given the realities of being a chronically ill person with (invisible) disabilities for whom travel of any kind is a major challenge. I would like to spend so much more of my time climbing mountains, fording rivers, sailing across the seven seas, gaining useful insights and firsthand experience that I can put into the development of even more functional gear. In a way, you could call it adventurer impostor syndrome, struggling with the fact that I want to make things for people who do all those things with apparent ease, without having been able to collect the same amount of personal experience just yet. But on the other hand, continuously being faced with oddly shaped, awkward problems has honed my problem-solving skills immensely, finding unusual and elegant solutions for almost anything. And for every issue that I can’t solve by pure power of imagination, I am grateful for all the people in the the maker & adventurer community who continue to share their knowledge, experience and wisdom with me.
Brandon: Dyborg’s aesthetic is really unique. What is your design process like, and where do you find inspiration? Are there other makers that inspire you?
Eva: Most of my inspiration comes from me having some kind of problem or issue with existing designs / solutions / ideas that I want to solve, either by making something “pretty” more functional, or something functional more aesthetically pleasing. I think this is why “techwear” and “ultralight” mix so well for me: the rather utilitarian solutions of a lot of ultralight items can often use a little more beauty, like unusual lines and intricate shaping methods, even if that means dealing with manufacturing techniques that are not the fastest or most suitable for mass production. This is where over a decade in lingerie pattern making experience can come in handy. On the other hand, a lot of the futuristic techwear items can be overloaded with myriads of features, padding, buckles, straps, flaps and pockets. That rugged, “tactical”, ready-for-anything look is an interesting thing in itself, but often I find that functionality can be increased by stripping some of it away.
The coolest (and bestselling) items in my product range all evolved based on this kind of problem solving. The famous Trizip Backpack was born from the utter hatred I had for the usual waterproof rolltop backpacks requiring me to completely dump all of their contents to reach anything I needed, and the simple straight zipper solutions that already existed with some brands simply didn’t offer the unrestricted access I wanted, always having to shift and wriggle around with only a limited length of straight opening. On top of that, I really loved how unusual and beautiful the inverted tri-fold zipper looked, and this feature is one of the instances where I value beauty over sheer functionality or manufacturing efficiency. I happily accept the fact that it might take me about 2 hours to make the triangular zipper from scratch, put it into the flat piece of fabric and the additional challenges this feature poses to pattern making and assembly.
The resulting shape of the upward facing triangle appears throughout a lot of my designs, I like how it ties everything together and lets me enjoy a bit of beautiful inefficiency, since joining these kinds of angles in a flat piece of fabric can be quite tedious. For some reason, I love these small details that simply can’t survive scaling to an industrial level of manufacturing. It’s those things that get lost when you have to streamline every step of the way for maximum yield and low cost. My stuff is not cheap, but some of that money pays to keep these small gems alive.
Brandon: You’ve talked about the importance of sustainability and environmental responsibility when it comes to designing your products. How do you factor that into your past, present, and future designs? Do you have any tips for the technical and carry communities to help us do a better job in that regard?
Eva: My main concern is that 98% of the materials I use are made of plastic. I love what they can do, but am also aware that anything I make will not simply decompose over time but rather stay in this world forever™. With that I feel a great responsibility to make things that won’t become obsolete or unusable within a short period of time. The materials I use need to be strong and durable, the stitching accurate and secure, but also its functional aspects should be thoroughly considered so it offers a great baseline of use-cases and can adapt to changes in requirements over time, too. If it breaks, it should be fixable and getting repairs instead of ending up in a landfill.
This is also the reason why I like to repurpose performance fabrics that have proven their worth in a previous life, like retired racing sails, where dyneema actually started, getting sailing boats even faster across the finish line by saving huge amounts of weight while being incredibly strong and durable. Unfortunately I don’t have a source for retired dyneema laminate racing sails as of yet (if you know someone who knows someone, hook me up?) but the lightweight spinnaker and chunky mainsail I have stashed away in my basement are pretty cool materials to work with, too. Upcycling can be a great tool that gives you unique pieces (as every part of a sail can have different markings, existing seams and patches) which will perform just as well and as a cherry on top, keeps precious raw materials in use for longer.
I offer free (or reasonably priced) repairs and alterations on anything I have made. I want to keep things in use for as long as possible. I’m happy to fix any other gear you have if it falls within my area of expertise and my custom project queue allows for it (or I will try and recommend someone better suited to help you out if I can’t). Only thing that’s out of the question is copying an existing design by someone else (or anything else that for some reason feels off to me).
Being quite limited in the raw material department (because I really want to keep working with DCF / sailcloth in the foreseeable future), I try to reduce my footprint in every other aspect of doing business. I don’t use additional branded packaging for my products, simple tissue paper does the job just fine. This saves plastic and space, which enables me to ship in slim envelopes (made from discontinued maps, same as the paper I use for printing my invoices, how cool is that?!) instead of big cardboard boxes. Even the sleeves for sticking the invoices to the outside of the package are made from paper instead of the cheaper plastic. I work from home, mainly during daylight hours, so I’m cutting down on commute and also electricity (unless we get a spell of really awful weather here in Hamburg, then I will need the extra lighting 😉 ).
Seeing that all of my fabric is here to stay, I will try to make use of even the smallest scraps. For example, my fanny pack pattern evolved from the oddly shaped leftovers I get from cutting the front pieces of my Trizip Backpacks. The small and narrow strips of fabric left after cutting a batch of zip pouches are perfect to make small wallets. Even smaller pieces can still be perfect for cutting the narrow upper part of my double zip pouches. Weird bits of thin laminates make great seam sealing tape when coupled with an adhesive strip. It’s all about maximizing yield and minimizing the amount of stuff that goes to the landfill.
In the near future, I want to get dyborg.gear certified as a carbon-neutral business and am currently looking into options as to how to achieve that and who to partner with to make that happen. If anyone wants to recommend a particular project, I’m open to suggestions!
Brandon: It’s apparent that you’re super into Dyneema Cuben Fiber (DCF). What do you like and dislike about working with it? Have you tinkered with any other materials that you’d want to try and build with?
Eva: I love the sound it makes when you cut it with micro-serrated scissors. I love how you can mark a pattern piece simply by folding it. Also, the way it goes from flat sheet of plastic to a gracefully wrinkled piece of art over time. It will even contort to the way you use it or the shape of your body, permanently wrinkling and contracting in some places until it firmly hugs whatever it touches, in a way that can’t be done by simply adding darts or seams. They all start the same, but no two pieces will be alike once you have started using them. It is waterproof, mega strong and so very resilient.
All the things I mentioned have another side, much like a coin. If you don’t have special scissors, heat or light to cut it, it can be a pain to work with. The permanent wrinkling and contraction can mean that the volume of a pack decreases over time if it gets folded / compressed a lot. EVERY. F’ING. FOLD. IS. PERMANENT. As is every misplaced stitch. It makes a fierce opponent if you’re a knife or a force that’s pulling on it, but oh so vulnerable when you’re gravel or concrete or sandpaper. Abrasion resistance is not exactly a strong suit. Also, it’s plastic. If you drop dead in the forest with your pack, that pack will still be there in 1000 years pretty much unchanged, while you will have moved on and maybe became part of a mushroom or a museum exhibition or something awesome like that.
I’ve been toying with the idea of using more sustainable fabrics that aren’t synthetic (upcycling existing fabrics or using fabrics from recycled raw materials is great, but they’re still plastic). But even though it’s on my mind, I’m probably not ready to start eco.dyborg.gear just yet. Other than that, I’m really into different methods of shaping, like lasercutting and 3D-printing, and love to hear about the newest developments in performance fabrics from my friend Martin, who is a techwear-fanatic chemical engineer.
Brandon: While they’re two different things, techwear and ultralight carry are becoming pretty trendy, for everyone from urban ninjas to thru-hikers. You’ve done an amazing job at melding the two worlds. Where do you see these trends going from here? Any insights into the next big thing from your perspective?
Eva: I’m super bad at predicting trends. I’d even go so far as to say that I have an inherent aversion against following trends or actively seeking them out as a framework for my creativity. Right now I’m just lucky in that something that I really love to do is (and continues to become) hugely popular, and that my particular way of doing things resonates with a lot of people.
One instance where I wish I had been less of a grump and more open to “trendy” ideas was the whole fanny pack revival trend. I had stubbornly and willfully ignored the resurgence of fanny packs (and all my friend’s pleas to at least make a single one for him) for more than 2 years because the hype just annoyed me. But once I had given in and actually created one, I had to admit I was wrong. Turns out they’re super awesome and practical if done right and I’m so sorry I ever doubted you, dear friend!
Brandon: Outside of your own creations, what’s your favorite piece of carry gear? What did you like to carry before you started Dyborg?
Eva: I think the one piece that had the most profound impact on my life was the first backpack I got that wasn’t a result of “went to the store and got whatever was cheap, had 2 straps and about 70 liters capacity“. Come to think of it, it was the day I first met my friend Julian, the one who would end up putting me up to all of this bag-making goodness 6 years later. He gave a talk on minimalist travel at an event we both attended. This talk planted the seed of optimizing my carry setup, even though back then, I would never have thought I’d ever start a backpack business.
Julian had a black Boblbee Megalopolis Aero hardshell backpack with him. Being intrigued with the unusual look and modular expansion options, I asked to try it on and was amazed at how comfortable it was. I ordered one the same day (at 205 EUR it was quite the strain on my tight student budget, but I was in love) and it has been with me for years since, until I eventually felt comfortable enough that my own backpack design would fulfill all the needs I had at a tenth of the weight. Still think it’s a great pack, even though I don’t own it anymore. I love the additional back protector functionality and how neatly it can be expanded with different external pockets. Plus, you can put all kinds of stickers on it, which I did with mine 😉
Brandon: To finish up, what’s next for Dyborg? Any new ideas or projects you can tell us about?
Eva: In 2020, I want to transition a lot of my cutting work to lasers instead of doing it by hand, because it is more accurate and less time-consuming. Also because: LASERS!!! I think they’re cool! I may or may not have a cool new backpack idea that could end up as a crowdfunding campaign, no promises though.
The biggest change that is coming up will be officially transitioning from being a small but fast-growing side business to making what has become the center of my life into my full-time job. This is exciting and awesome and I’m grateful I get to do what I love thanks to all of you dyborg.gear fans out there. You rock!