- Buyer's Guide
The Topo Designs x Woolrich Collaboration
On the tail of Topo Designs’ third collaboration with the venerable Woolrich Woolen Mills, Frank Sedlar talked with Topo Designs’ co-founder and creative director Jedd Rose about the ongoing collaboration, working with wool, and the bomb collaborations Topo keeps putting out.
How did this collaboration with Woolrich come about? Was it over beers at a trade show or has the Topo Designs crew always been a fan?
The Woolrich collaboration was started at a trade show and it was brought up by one of their creatives. They had heard of us and liked what we were doing. They were really complimentary of the brand and you know we were big fans of them since we were growing up so it was definitely mutual brand admiration and yeah, it turned out we work really well together. This current release is our third with Woolrich so it’s becoming a series at this point. Something we feel is part of Topo Designs now. Something that’s worth continuing.
We dig it. On one hand you have Woolrich the OG of the outdoor industry and then you have Topo Designs, which is this new icon of the outdoor industry for a much younger generation.
[Laughing] I think what’s great about working with Woolrich is the massive amount of history they have along with the new stuff they do. Whether its with the original Woolrich label or their Woolen Mills or John Rich & Brothers label in Europe, they’re very focused on fashion on one side of the brand and then very focused on history on the other. So for us it makes total sense because that’s our blend as well. We’re very focused on building outdoor products that are very in the fashion scene and the lifestyle side as well. It’s nice to be able to talk and work with another brand that’s doing both of these and doesn’t want to abandon either because often in the outdoor world fashion is a sort of four letter word. It’s a very interesting process of how we meld our two products and our two sides together. It’s neither fully fashion nor fully outdoors, it’s right in the middle.
That’s interesting because you mentioned the fashion interests but with this Woolrich collaboration and specifically wool, you won’t find yourself stuck in the middle of the woods wishing you had brought a different piece of gear.
Exactly. Wool is a great example of something that is very fashion-forward but at the same time extremely functional. It’s very appealing to be able to partner with Woolrich who makes some amazing wool fabric that we’re able to use in a bag or an accessory piece. Not only does wool have an amazing and luxurious look and feel but it’s also this very high-performing fabric. It’s great even when it gets wet, is super durable and yet remains very classic-looking. So when working with wool on our products we can use all the original functionality of our bags and add into the mix this wool that results in these functional heritage pieces that will last a very long time.
“Not only does wool have an amazing and luxurious look and feel but it’s also this very high-performing fabric. It’s great even when it gets wet, is super durable and yet remains very classic-looking.“
That makes sense. For centuries and until very recently wool was the go-to material for really everything, not just outdoor adventures or expeditions.
No question, especially in the outdoor industry. Even now you see all these brands coming back to wool and using wool blends, whether it’s in a base layer or all the way up to more outerwear stuff. Wool is really an amazing fabric. And this is what’s nice about working with Woolrich with our product is that we can tweak the materials to really highlight the strengths of both. We’ll put a Cordura base on the bag so it’s really durable from an abrasion standpoint and then put the wool on less abrasion-sensitive areas so the whole bag will last for a really long time.
Technically speaking is it hard to work with wool? Is it hard to sew bags with wool as opposed to sewing wool for shirts or socks?
It’s actually a really nice material to work with. The only difficulty on our side is working with wool that has a very long repeat to it because we want to get that pattern on the same spot on the bag every time. We try to use Woolrich patterns that have a smaller pattern or repeat or a more solid color so we can use as much wool with as little waste for each bag.
“We’ll put a Cordura base on the bag so it’s really durable from an abrasion standpoint and then put the wool on less abrasion-sensitive areas so the whole bag will last for a really long time.”
Is wool like Cordura in that you have all these different weaves and thicknesses?
There’s tons of variety with wool. You have very thin wool suiting type material and the thickness of the weave goes on all the way up to blanket type material. That’s why it’s such an amazing material to work with because it’s very versatile in what you can make with it. As a result we’re looking for another collection where we can do some crazy stuff with waffle-knit wool and more traditional blanket-thickness wools. So yeah, it’s definitely not just pattern and color that you can get out of wool but the huge variety of different weaves. We tend to stay on the heavier side because that’s what works well with bags but even then there’s still a lot of varieties.
Outside of this collaboration do you think wool will become more of a permanent material right up there with Cordura for Topo Designs?
Yeah, definitely. The products with wool have been received so well and as a company we really love wool so I think we’re going to try and keep it around as long as we can. It’s been a very fun thing to work with and we’ve learned that people love the look, the feel, and the usage of the wool as much as we do. And it’s a nice break from just continuing to do nylon stuff with our line.
“The products with wool have been received so well and as a company we really love wool so I think we’re going to try and keep it around as long as we can.“
Looking at the pieces of this collaboration, it’s amazing how well wool can fit in with the distinctly Topo Designs aesthetic.
Yeah, it’s a really nice blend. Woolrich has this very classic East Coast, even Midwest outdoor style and then we’re applying their styles to a little bit more modern mountain style. Everything fits together in this really neat way.
How are the Woolrich wool patterns selected?
Usually Woolrich will go to their mills and check what is lined up for production in the next season. Or maybe there’s something very classic that has not been used for a long time which they’ll take a look at. Oftentimes they just say “We’ve got this great pattern that we haven’t done for a very long time, do you guys think this will work on the bags?” It’s really cool because we’ve gotten a sneak peek at some of their very old patterns and some new wild stuff that nobody’s seen before.
That must be an awesome pattern book to get your hands on!
Oh definitely, it’s great and you can just imagine because they’ve been around for so long the variety that they have in their catalog is just amazing.
Putting this latest collaboration with Woolrich in context, Topo Designs has done a lot of collaborations in the past – the most recent being with the helmet company Giro. From a Carryology side, it’s interesting that it’s not two bag companies but rather two outdoor companies from completely different markets collaborating. And the results are consistently stunning.
For us I think it makes the most sense to work with someone doing something a little bit different. Working with Giro is amazing because they have this huge technical side to all of their products that we don’t necessarily have. And the same with Woolrich, with their history and amazing textiles. It’s really interesting to work with companies that are doing things such as making flexible helmets or producing these incredible fabrics. It’s a great learning experience for us and we are all obviously gear nerds ourselves. And then from a company standpoint it’s great to be able to apply your aesthetic to someone else’s products and see how that can mutate a little bit and come out on the other side as something that’s completely unrelated to what you make product-wise.