- Buyer's Guide
Design Heads :: Jedd Rose (Topo Designs)
It must feel pretty great being a co-founder and Creative Director of one of the most instantly recognizable brands in the carry world. However, you won’t find Jedd Rose resting on his laurels. More likely you’ll catch him on the lookout for new inspirations, putting products through their paces, experimenting with new materials and keeping abreast of industry developments to make his brand and his work the best he can. However, we did manage to pin him down in order to dig into design insights, carry tips and creating a genuine brand voice from one of the driving forces behind Topo Designs…
Are there any key insights that guide your stuff?
I think the golden rule for Topo is to try and make simple, classic things that are inspired by who we are and where we live. Nobody knows your life better than you and if you can create products that solve your own problems, chances are those solutions will resonate with your consumers as well.
What are your main channels for your creative inspiration?
My creative inspiration comes from being a great observer. I feel like the best designers and brand folks out there are always looking around and paying attention. It can range from walking the aisles of the grocery store to sitting on a river bank while fly fishing – pretty much every space and place has some inspirational pieces, you just need to keep an eye out.
Where is your most creative space and why?
For me, sitting at home on the weekends tends to be my most creative environment. It’s when I’m a little less worried about the pressing issues at Topo and I can enter a little better headspace to think creatively and look at things at a higher level – sometimes that’s a bit tough to do at the office while in the thick of daily work life.
Who do you look to in the bags world?
That’s a pretty long list. I’m obviously a big vintage outdoors guy, but I’ve always been a fan of Fredrik Packers, McHale & Company, and I personally have a bunch of 90’s Mountainsmith bags that I think are genius.
Who does rad stuff (brands or designers)?
For me the Japanese brand And Wander does some seriously cool stuff in the tech/fashion/outdoors space which we love here at Topo. I’m also continuously impressed by Andrea Westerlind (who runs Westerlind). I think she’s one of the coolest voices in the new outdoor world and she does a bit of everything – from retail to product design.
Are there any trends or things folk do in carry that drive you nuts?
Ha, well I think we all get a little full of some trends, probably none of which are too offensive at their core but when applied across a huge industry it gets to be a bit much. So there’s nothing super-specific, but we definitely wouldn’t mind getting a few less “is it waterproof” emails.
What materials do you most like to work with?
As boring as it sounds I like the simple stuff – Pack Cloth, Cordura, Supplex, etc. As odd as it sounds, for us, that is kind of what makes everything look a bit different from the more technical brands using the latest fabrics. I am however a pretty serious hardware nerd, so I love anything new on that front. Our hardware rep can attest there is a lot of cheering and high fives when we meet with her.
Are there any new materials you’re experimenting with? Anything that will break the time-space continuum?
Definitely no jump to light speed for us, but we are working with a few things that are outside the typical Topo vein. Things like X-Pac and waterproof/stretch materials might be on the horizon, but we will also continue to work on the other side of the spectrum by using traditional materials like wool and leather that are not only aesthetically great but honestly work really well.
Do you have to go to the maker to make a good bag? Can carry design work remotely?
I think if you set up a good process, just about anything can be done relatively remotely. There are so many web tools that are great for managing multiple teams and projects, it allows for an entirely different way to run a company. For a small operation like ours, we need as many tools at our disposal as we can get. These tools ensure that the few people we employ are as effective and efficient as possible.
“I think the golden rule for Topo is to try and make simple, classic things that are inspired by who we are and where we live.”
Having said that, we are definitely in the business of making physical products, so we have to do a ton of shipping back and forth to ensure design and function as well as product testing. Ideally there is a good balance of both remote design/production and interaction with the physical samples.
How do you test your product? What do you look for when testing?
We’re still (and hopefully always will be) in the mode of making stuff that we want as individuals, so our number one way of testing is by using our samples everyday. Nothing is more frustrating than being let down by your own product, especially when you are in the middle of nowhere, so that really motivates us to make things that last. We also have a great network of super tweaky (in the best way) friends, family and ambassadors who run everything into the ground and aren’t shy about giving us honest feedback.
What products are you most proud of?
Right now if I had to pick one, I’m pretty pleased with our Field Bag. It has been my personal project to create a better fly fishing bag and our Field Bag has answered that need for me. I have also had many of my fishing friends and family testing it for a while now and they are all still currently using it, which is great to see – especially from a group who has a low tolerance for anything that doesn’t work.
Do you have any favorite tips or habits for carrying better, either EDC or when traveling?
Sounds cliche, but I think the key is that you need to stay organized while traveling so things aren’t jammed in a pile and you spend time looking for things.
“Nothing is more frustrating than being let down by your own product, especially when you are in the middle of nowhere, so that really motivates us to make things that last.”
I like to pack with multiple Pack Bags to segment clothing and accessories and I also take a couple of our Accessory Bags to organize smaller items. I will bring one larger bag (to carry the Travel Bags) as well as a smaller daypack for shorter outings during the trip.
You’ve been in the game for a long time. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about design and secondly about the carry industry?
Probably the most important thing is for a company to find their voice. This doesn’t have to be the most unique or groundbreaking thing, but you need to know what you want to say to your audience and have a clear, genuine message.
“Probably the most important thing is for a company to find their voice.”
Consumers are seriously savvy and vocal these days and will shoot holes in anything you put out there (be it message or product) that they feel comes from the wrong place.
What carry product (of your own creation, or anyone else’s if you feel like being generous) do you enjoy the most? What makes it enjoyable?
I have an old Gerry backpack that was my dad’s when I was growing up. It is not only a great design but was one of three packs that my family owned when I was young so it was used a ton, and it’s still in great shape. Every time I use it I have a great mental association of all the places I’ve been with it and the time I got to spend with my family.
Specific drafting pencils or a lucky charm or an explanation of why your workspace is so tidy and ours is…something not describable using the terms of polite conversation?
Ha, well yeah I’m a tidy person in general, so having a tidy workspace is definitely a necessity for me. I feel like there are so many problems to solve when designing that an uncluttered space to work through possible solutions is the best for me. I can focus on the goal and I’m not being distracted by other things.
“…having a tidy workspace is definitely a necessity for me.”
The number one piece of superfluous lucky tools that I need is a good coffee mug, so I have a collection of those ranging from Smokey the Bear to National Parks to NPR giveaways.
What bags do you run with daily?
Right now I am primarily using our Mountain Pack combined with a few of our Accessory Bags to help organize all the small stuff I haul around every day. But, as you can imagine, I have a pretty wide variety of stuff to choose from, so I’m constantly switching back and forth and testing new things that are in development.
If you weren’t making carry products, what would you likely be doing for a profession? Or do you have another passion that your carry creations help you enjoy more fully?
In an alternate universe I think I’d really love to be a lighting designer. I love the way that light can completely transform a space and a mood, it’s one of the more ethereal things in life that can be designed and controlled in an amazing way.
What’s next for you?
Long story short, I think we’re just going to keep on keeping on. I really love what I get to do with Topo and I just want to get better at it, and do more of it.