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The Evolution of Carry :: Interview with CO.ALITION

by , August 15, 2014

Jeff Popp and Casey Lorenzen first came together through Mile High Mountaineering (MHM), a brand forged through a passion for the outdoors and a desire to create innovative backpacks that encourage people to get out and explore. However, both were keen to pursue urban carry creation too, hence the formation of CO.ALITION – but neither of them were content to churn out rehashed versions of designs that already existed. They wanted to be trailblazers, creating bags that satisfied widespread carry needs. So they set themselves the challenge of creating what was to become the Colfax line of backpacks.

Labeled the “World’s First Smart Backpack”, the Colfax PHD (Power + Hard Drive) is designed to keep tech gadgets juiced while on the go thanks to an integrated power supply, while also providing wireless access to files without the need for an internet connection thanks to integrated wireless mobile storage. The Colfax P includes the power supply without the hard drive, while the bag itself is also available without the technology. To discover more about CO.ALITION and the Colfax line we went to the brains behind the brand and the bags to talk inspiration, design challenges and creating for the urban market versus the outdoors…

Jeff Popp and Casey Lorenzen

What was the creative process behind the Colfax line of packs? Could you talk us through the inspiration for the packs and how, where and when you came up with the idea?

Casey: We knew long ago, while fully immersed in the outdoor pack design, that we wanted to design urban packs; we just weren’t sure how it fit into the MHM scheme of things. We had a bunch of ideas for what we wanted to do as far as the functionality and aesthetic of the bag went, but it wasn’t until we were on a business trip in Japan that something clicked. We have done a lot of traveling since we started MHM and one day we were on a busy train in Tokyo and realized that EVERY SINGLE PERSON on the train was on a mobile device. Young people, old people, students, businessmen, commuters… everyone. All they had with them was their bag and a device and it was literally one of those “A-HA” moments for both Jeff and I and we immediately started talking about how rad it would be if you could charge your device straight from your pack. The more and more we thought about it, the more and more we saw a need for it. Seeing people fight for wall outlets, huddled up on the wall or seeing people pay for a quick charge at the airport just reinforced our idea and the growing need for it.

CO.ALITION Colfax

How many prototypes for the Colfax line did you go through (and could you expand on what changed from prototype to prototype)?

Jeff: At this point we’ve gone through 5 versions of the Colfax. Really, even the first version was pretty well resolved but we’ve been making small revisions on each one to tweak and perfect the bag, as we believe what makes a really great bag is in the tiniest details. We’ve been changing things like how the electronics integrate and function with the bags, pocket arrangements and materials.

CO.ALITION Colfax

Tell us about the process of integrating carry and technology for the Colfax line. Was it easier or more difficult than you initially expected? Any significant challenges and if so, how did you overcome them?

Jeff: It was fairly difficult. It’s easy to make a pocket that’s sized to fit a certain object. However, what’s difficult is to make sure the technology pieces are integrated in a way that only complements and enhances the way a person uses the bag. Basically, you want the technology integrated into the bag in a way the user doesn’t feel like there’s several products in one and it should be mindlessly easy to use. The user should feel like the smart pack is an integrated, all-in-one product that they can use seamlessly and view it as one unit ; a “smart pack” not a “backpack with a charger and hard drive in a couple pockets”. The key to this product is smart INTEGRATION, the electronics need to feel like they’re a part of the product and nothing less.

CO.ALITION Colfax

What has been the hardest thing you experienced during the Colfax creative process?

Casey: One thing we encounter with developing any pack is trying to incorporate solutions to too many carry issues to try and accommodate any user. This we have found is impossible. And this has been no different while developing the Colfax. We have so many ideas that we want to incorporate in the design of the bag, but it just goes with the saying “you can’t please everyone”. So it gets to a point where we kind of have to re-evaluate everything and get back to what our initial goal was with the project.

What has been the most useful thing you learned during the Colfax creative process?

Jeff: Not to over-hype or overlook the actual bag design. People tend to get really excited or only want to discuss the tech inside the pack but we really need to keep focus and just as much importance on the actual carry and bag design. That’s what makes CO.ALTION different. Electronics aside, the bag alone (in our opinion) is a great design that outdoes any of the popular urban “hipster” brands out there.

CO.ALITION Colfax

What are you most proud of regarding the Colfax line of packs and why?

Casey: One thing I’m proud of is the conceptualization of the entire project and how we have not only created the product we had in our minds, but that it has turned out better than either of us had originally imagined.

What are the main differences and challenges to overcome between designing for the outdoor industry with MHM and designing urban carry with CO.ALITION?

Jeff: Simple answer, designing for the urban crowd offers a lot more flexibility for design and an atmosphere that’s more conducive for “new and different” than the outdoor industry. Yep, I said it. Take notice outdoor industry, we’re calling you out! The outdoor industry is old and lame (for the most part) and needs to be more adaptive to change. It’s a hypocritical industry that’s run by grey hairs that likes to pretend it’s “young and hip” and wants “new” but in the end it’s just the same people doing the same stuff who are afraid to really let things change for the better.

Don’t get us wrong, we love MHM, designing outdoor packs and the outdoors in general. We’ll absolutely continue to charge forward with MHM and do our best to be the change we want to see. However, there needs to be some sort of “changing of the guard” in the outdoor industry and it needs to happen soon. That said, I do think there is a small movement of young, non-traditional outdoor brands, like MHM, that are starting to gain some ground in the industry. Let’s just hope that trend continues to grow with more young designers and companies that are fed up with it and can help grow the movement.

MHM backpacks

Do you have any further developments in the pipeline for CO.ALITION and MHM at present?

Casey: Of course! The sky is the limit for CO.ALITION, in that we are not only thinking of new uses to incorporate the technology part into the bag, but also exploring new, ground-breaking technology. The idea of a smart pack is really in its infancy and we are looking to be an industry leader in that segment. We have started sampling a new, smaller pack in the line, that we are looking at introducing Spring ’15. As for MHM, we have a few projects in the first stages of development to really round out our line, making sure we hit markets that we aren’t currently in. But for the most part, we are really focusing on business development with MHM right now and trying to expand our dealer base and our reach.

CO.ALITION Colfax

How do you test your products (MHM and CO.ALITION)? What are you looking for when testing?

Casey: With MHM, not only do we test the shit out of our packs from the first sample we get to the final version, but we have a pretty solid network of testers and writers that really hammer on our packs. One nice thing about being in Colorado is having the mountains in our backyard to be able to do so. It also gives us a good excuse to get out of the office. With CO.ALITION, we have been traveling so much in the last few years, we have been able to take our Colfax packs with us everywhere and really get a good sense of how they will be used by the masses. When testing, we’re looking for anything and everything that we like, don’t like and need to change. One of the main things we look at is where there is potential for failure in use or design. People give us looks all the time when we’re traveling because we’re constantly fidgeting with each other’s packs, sizing them up, pulling on zippers and seams. I’m a kinaesthetic learner, so I’m constantly putting the packs on, adjusting the fit and really getting into the pack.

CO.ALITION Colfax

Are there any carry brands or carry products that stand out as design inspirations for your own creations? Either particular products themselves and/or a brand’s design philosophy that resonates with you?

Casey: For me, Thule’s lines of luggage and daypacks have really caught my eye. I really connect with the style lines, simple yet crucial uses and the overall aesthetic of their bags. I use their mid-size luggage roller on pretty much every trip I take. It’s a great size for a few days to a week and the features are extremely useful, but not overdone.

How would your designs differ if you were designing for yourself versus a mass market?

Casey: I think I can speak for both of us when I say that I don’t think they would change all that much. When we come up with carry solutions, more often than not they are problems that most people face with their current carry products. That is really the whole premise of how MHM started in the first place. We saw a need in the outdoor market for packs with more attention to uses, features and design and we wanted to create something that we NEEDED, rather than the regurgitated designs of old.

MHM backpacks

What’s your favourite piece of carry (either your own creation or someone else’s) and why?

Casey: My Colfax has become one of those carry pieces I take everywhere with me. It goes with me every day to the office, on planes when traveling, when I need to haul my camera gear around and on weekend trips to the mountains. Other than our own, I love my Bellroy wallet. It’s slim, durable and carries everything I need.

Jeff: Honestly, this product. I’m really not saying that because it’s our own product but ever since I’ve been carrying and testing the Colfax I can’t be without it. There’s been a few periods where we had to send out the prototype I was using to a magazine etc…and I hated not having my Colfax. Once you use one with the integrated technology it’s really hard to go back.

Where is your most creative space and why?

Casey: I have two. My first would be my bed, at 3 in the morning. A lot of nights I’ll wake out of a dead sleep with ideas. I’ll jot them down in my notes and the next morning it’s always fun to see what craziness was in my head. Two-thirds of it is useless. The other third though is where a lot of great stuff comes from. My other creative space is out in the world. Observing how others carry, what they carry, what I like, what I don’t like, inspirations; it all comes from being out there.

Jeff: The toilet. Haha for real though, I think the most inspiration I get is while being outside using the products. Casey and I actually got the inspiration for CO.ALITION while hiking out of a 30-mile backpacking trip in Montana. So even when brainstorming urban products I find being outside in the mountains is when I’m most focused on designs, no matter what environment they’re intended for.

CO.ALITION Colfax

What’s your biggest design regret?

Jeff: URETHANE ZIPPERS. This doesn’t apply to the Colfax or CO.ALITION but we used them very early on with MHM and I absolutely hate them. They really offer no more protection from water than standard fabric YKK RC tape but are far less durable and have a fraction of the life.

Could you share a pocket dump?

Casey: 1.) Flask (‘cause I like to party)
2.) Earbuds
3.) Random currency – Ever since I was young, I’ve always kept some sort of foreign currency with me. I think it reminds me that the world is bigger than where I’m at, plus it keeps the wanderlust alive!
4.) Bellroy wallet
5.) Moleskine & pen
6.) Shades (to maintain a level of cool)
7.) iPhone 5s
8.) SOG knife (it’s the Colorado in me)
9.) Keys

CO.ALITION

What do you carry daily and how?

Casey: Along with my pocket dump, I always have my laptop, Canon DSLR and occasionally a pair of drumsticks (as I’m an aspiring rock god).

What’s your go-to travel bag?

Casey: My Thule roller. It’s awesome. It is a perfect size for a weekend or a week. It has a separate zippered compartment in the bottom half that keeps clothes organized or keeps dirty clothes or shoes separate. It has a built-in hard zippered case for sunglasses or breakables. Great access and a really unique, sleek design.

What advice would you give designers and makers just starting out in the carry industry? Is there anything you wish you’d known before getting into the outdoor or urban carry industry?

Jeff: Ignore what everyone else is doing, do what you want to do and design everything as if you’re designing the most perfect bag you could imagine for yourself. Too many companies focus outward rather than inward, don’t get caught in that trap.

MHM

What would you be doing if you weren’t making awesome bags?

Casey: I’d probably be dead in a ditch somewhere. No honestly, who knows. I could’ve ended up in a million places, some of which I know I would have hated, like working in a cubicle for a corporation or something. Some of which would also be rad, like working on a wild game preserve in Africa. I was also very close to working in professional sports. But at the end of the day, I love creating and I love working for myself. So I think I’m in the right place.

Jeff: I would probably want to get on a Fire Department and in my spare time I would guide in the summer and snowboard instruct in the winter. I’ll absolutely NEVER do the white-collar thing.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Our Kickstarter is live and crushing it for a few more days! We’re offering the Colfax as just the bag with no tech all the way up to the Colfax PHD with 2TB’s of space for prices well below what they’ll retail for!

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