Origin Story: Reflecting On Our First Decade
If you were hiking in remote Victorian high country in post WWII Australia, you risked crossing paths with an eccentric youth in top-hat and lederhosen, gone bush for weeks at a time, living on little but scroggin and his wits. That was my dad, and his wanderlust and adventurous spirit meant I had no hope of living a boring life.
When that eccentric youth became a wheelmaker and father of four, his desire for discovery would manifest itself every four years in a multi-month trip to different regions of the world. We’d pack our lives into bags and go nomadic, typically traveling by campervan so we could push beyond the typical tourist routes.
When I reached my teens I began heading away solo, chasing winters around the globe as a ski-racer and backcountry junkie. Self-funding these pursuits meant I had to get creative with airline baggage allowances, negotiating four sets of skis, race gear and touring equipment. During that time, it was obvious that my travel gear was insufficient, so I taught myself to sew and modify gear, beefing up shoulder straps, overhauling compression systems, and adding modular pouches.
Little did I know, I was working towards something…
At the same time, on the other side of the globe, Hadrien Monloup was shaping his own nomadic spirit. Born into the artistic household of a renowned set designer, Hadrien moved between the beaches of south-west France and cities that would shape his own design ideologies.
In 2004, just outside of a small Victorian surf town called Torquay, a shaggy-haired Frenchman emerged from a surf, introduced himself, and offered his tips on the best sandbank to paddle out at. I was just starting work as a designer for Rip Curl, and within six months, Hadrien and I would team up together to rethink their travel gear.
The range we inherited consisted of cheap school bags and price-pointed luggage. Their most expensive backpack was just over US$50. And it felt at odds with Rip Curl’s vision of becoming the ultimate surf company, guided by ‘the search’ for waves and adventure.
So we got busy reimagining a range that could let surfers travel further, whether through the remote jungles of the Mentawais, or the snow-covered points of Norway. From backpacks and boardbags, to luggage and wetsuit buckets, we changed the entire quiver of bags needed for genuine surf adventure.
This was a hugely rewarding time for us. We travelled between the world’s best wave regions ‘for work,’ grew the division rapidly, and explored product opportunities that others had missed.
So why would we leave a dream job like that…?
Well, great brands tend to serve very distinct audiences, and for Rip Curl, the primary audience was the 17 to 19 year-old surfer. This certainly made our design briefs crystal clear, but it also felt limiting for us, as designers. Our own goals and desires were changing, and we had curiosity for new areas that would never be the right fit for a surf brand.
Hadrien and I knew we wanted to work together. And while we didn’t have a name for the space back then, we wanted to build something focused around our passion for bags, accessories, travel and the equipment used to help us move through the world. So we quit our insanely fun jobs, and began brainstorming how to do just that.
Seeding a community
In 2002, a Melbourne based sneaker-head called Woody started a publication called Sneaker Freaker. He wanted to celebrate sneaker culture, bringing together fans who shared his passion. We wondered if we might be able to do something akin to Sneaker Freaker, but around our own passion for bags, luggage and gear.
Only we didn’t even have a name for it…
Through countless brainstorms, the term ‘carry’ slowly emerged. While it seems obvious in hindsight, it took us some time to realize that we were simply talking about the gear and knowledge we need to ‘carry’ our things. And knowing we wanted to study everything about the space, ‘ology’ being the ‘study of’ made sense. So Carry-ology as a concept was born.
After we had the concept, we started scratching out articles, drawing in some assistance from talented friends (Jimmy Gleeson for design and Lincoln Eather for ‘the Internet’). With their help we gave birth to Carryology in Nov 2009.
Looking back, it was that quintessential passion project. We were writing in our days off, after hours, gathering around my kitchen table and brainstorming into the night. We were also trying to keep income coming in – Hadrien took a masseuse course so he could earn extra money on the side (the man has the hands of angel, by the way!) – because we didn’t have any form of monetizing Carryology or managing its sustainability. It was just a project that we felt should exist in the world. It started to get shared around, people noticed it, people started to talk about it. Soon we had people from all over the world saying, “I care about that stuff too. It’s cool there’s a name for it. Awesome. Can we be involved?”
Incredible folks like David Vo and Taylor Welden reached out. Not long after Brian Park, John P,James Jeffrey, and Douglas Davidson were also connecting. And we saw the start of a global audience who were amped about finding a blog dedicated to their under-appreciated passion.
The carry world was a little different in 2009
In 2009, bike messengers still sweated around every urban road, hauling Timbuk2, Chrome, Crumpler or bespoke single strap sacks that could swallow any shaped package. Backpacks were mostly either outdoor/tactical focused with straps aplenty, or stripped-back panel loaders in primary colors that screamed ‘school’ in every way. Burton and Dakine were bringing lifestyle features to surf and snow sports, but their youthful colorways made them challenging to bring into an office. Luggage was generally constrained by small wheels or burdensome weight. And wallets came with their own postcode, bulging beyond what most pockets could hold.
But there were also glimmers of hope. A little brand called GORUCK had kicked off in 2008, with a goal to make military-level durability accessible to civilian audiences. The founders of Chrome were just getting started for a second time, launching Mission Workshop to evolve backpack ideas they’d only started to explore with Chrome. A brand called Herschel was kicking off, bringing more urban colors to classic JanSport forms while helping rebirth the Pig Snout as a symbol of a heritage aesthetic renaissance. KILLSPENCER was launching with a new take on utilitarian luxury. In Japan, Yoshida & Co. were giving professionals hope that two straps could look as good as one under their Porter brand. Within a year other Japanese were discovering a specialist American maker called Mystery Ranch, and started introducing their life-critical packs to an urban audience. $300 was an extreme price-point for anything outside of the luxury space.
While there were seeds of awesomeness, there was also plenty of ‘under-developed’ carry goods. We made a call early that we didn’t want to diss brands. We were designers ourselves and we knew how hard it was to make really great gear. We didn’t want to be the trashy film critic. We wanted to focus on the things people were doing well and to be able to champion, with our hand-on-hearts, the gear that was truly awesome, while giving positive feedback when something didn’t hit the mark, so folks could get better.
This supportive focus was important for another reason. While Carryology was taking shape, a few of us were also trying to create our own brand called Bellroy, which launched with a range of five slim wallets in August 2010.
In other industries that could have been a recipe for disaster, as some of our core team members were contributing to both Carryology and Bellroy. So we knew we had to maintain objectivity, and demonstrate our good intentions in everything we did. Luckily we had a leg up thanks to being friends with many of the brands we were writing about, so they knew that we were values-driven people. In the early days, those friendships got us enough access to samples to write about, and gave us the opportunity to demonstrate our desire to be objective and to really celebrate the good stuff, no matter what.
Some early milestones
In 2012 our desire to celebrate the best of the carry world led to us establishing our annual Carry Awards. Lincoln spearheaded these first awards to recognize the efforts that we felt were being missed in the mainstream. We wanted to shine a light on the best innovations in the industry in the hope of pushing the needle, just a little bit, every year.
Around this annual drumbeat, we were interviewing heroes, attending our first OR, sharing Japanese carry culture, making friends, and praising Big Blues. We were exploring the fringes of carry, the cutting-edge ingredients of carry, whilst also telling stories about the foundation pieces that helped shape our passion. Heck, we were even working out how to carry babies as we faced those challenges ourselves.
By the end of 2013, we could see that our hobby blog needed a full time pilot, which is when our search brought us Mike as a Managing Editor. Mike came from the worlds of streetwear, music, urban subcultures and writing. His carry apprenticeship began immediately.
Let’s hand over to Mike…
When I first rolled into Carryology HQ, it was a bit of a shock, to be honest. There, in a small shopping square, a short walk from Bells Beach, I stepped into an office front no bigger than your local takeaway shop, with twelve of the biggest and warmest personalities you’ll ever cross paths with inside – some with hair that was sandy from the surf, and everyone smiling and laughing and working their butts off.
There were hugs and high-fives and more utterances of the word ‘rad’ than a city boy like me was accustomed to. By the window, whiteboards were scribbled with new plans and designs. There was a small kitchen at the rear where making coffee was a ritual. And a mountain of bags stacked in the back corridor, one on top of the other, as high as the ceiling. So big, in fact, that there’d be the occasional bag-o-lanche if the wrong piece was removed without enough care.
On that first day, I was given an Arc’teryx Khard 30. “Here, take this for a week or two. Make notes. Tell me what ya think,” Andy said. The next week, it was replaced with a CamelBak Tri-Zip. The next, a Mission Workshop Arkiv Modular Pack. And on it went, week after week. I spent those early days consuming all of the past articles, immersing myself in the community the guys had built. Learning about the brands they gushed over, and finding out why they were so special, so cutting-edge.
I digitally met our team across the Pacific: Catherine, John Canfield, Mike Weiss, Brian Park, David Vo, Mr Zing and a character called Taylor (who at the time had a finger-twisted moustache and was yet to grow his infamous red beard). The months and years that followed were a ride. I’d scored the gig just as Carryology was blowing up and things moved quickly.
Our Carry Awards grew and grew, with brands reaching out months in advance for selection, and what seemed like the whole industry converging upon the blog for that month of every year. We pushed our photography and content to higher levels, connecting with the world’s best designers, collectors, brand HQs, and talking to specialists in their fields about what they carried (including war reporters, firefighters and storm chasers). All the while, ticking things off our dream list, like gaining access to the hallowed grounds of Yoshida & Co. or visiting the famed Böle tannery.
New and legendary contributors joined along the way. Frank Sedlar took us to the flood-riddled streets of Jakarta, Ace brought his stamp of outdoor nous, Piotr Ma led us along on his amazing field tests, and we pushed the first big wave of video with Bo Ismono, Zeke Kamm, 1iOPen Productions, Excessorize Me, and Chase Reeves and Pack Hacker in their early days.
We changed the way we scored, giving more detailed breakdowns of the criteria that we felt gave the whole picture of great carry. Then worked hard to build the world’s first interactive buying guide and product finder, grouping the world’s best carry in one spot, ranked.
Soon, we’d dive into our most ambitious project and tick another box on our dream list. We’d build a concept store. But not just any concept store. In our eyes, it’d be the greatest carry store in the world. Every brand we loved, from every corner of the globe, all in one clean gallery-inspired space, designed to celebrate gear, with no distractions.
A few years later, and one of my favorite moments, on day three of Outdoor Retailer, over a plate of some of the worst Italian food on the planet and some crisp beers, we were offered our first collab with Topo Designs. The type of ‘imagine if’ moment that Andy, Taylor and I had only dreamed of years before. It would be the opportunity to pump all of our learning and passion into a pack that we could give back to the community, with the hope of sparking imaginations.
Now, having released five collaborations in total, they’re something that has meshed into our DNA. And so too building community via Carry Classified and our new Carry Collective meet-ups, popping up all over the globe. Finding ways to bring folks together, online and IRL.
It’s an exciting time for Carryology. Looking back, we’ve achieved so much, but what’s more exciting is what lies ahead. Watch this space. We’ve been working behind the scenes for a while now on a new vision, and plan to build our team for 2020 and beyond, diving more into video and improving our tools to help you find the right gear.
Also look for more boundary-pushing collabs with brands we’ve raved about for years (I have a prototype on my desk right now that we’re calling ‘The Unicorn’ that you’re gonna LOVE!) and more experiments in the event space. There’s lots of things we’d like to try. And we’d be totally stoked if you came along for the ride. Carry on!