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Design Heads :: Interview with Chris Pitts

by , March 7, 2014

Carry design is harder than it looks. You need to balance soft forms with hard objects. You need to understand space and volume as much as drape and color. It means that when someone gets good at carry design, they are often approached by many brands and used across several projects.

Chris is one of those carry designers that have it worked out. In an influential career he has helped shape many softgoods for many brands. So as we try to map the awesomeness in carry, we get to share some of Chris’ thoughts and insights gained from years of carry experience.

Who do you look to in the bags world? Who does rad stuff (brands or designers)?

There’s a lot of cool brands out there now in the bag world. I think Mystery Ranch is doing some pretty rad things. I like what they’re about, quality and innovation that is made in the US. And it’s my take that they care about product and their end user rather than “growing their business”.  Boreas is another cool brand. Visvim of course. And you can’t leave out Arc’teryx. They do some pretty unusual things with bags that most other people couldn’t make work. Just about every time you try to get tricky with how a bag works it usually just ends up being not very usable.

Are there any trends or things folk do in carry that drive you nuts?

Tricky openings! I’m actually not a fan of the flap top openings that all these outdoor style bags have. They look cool but I hate using them. Especially when there’s that inner liner that makes it like 3-feet deep to get to the bottom of the bag. I’m not a big fan of all these homemade, DIY, Etsy-type messenger bags and backpacks that all look the same because it’s the easiest pattern to make and sew. They look like bricks. No style…

You’ve worked with a number of different teams and brands. What are some of the ingredients that help you make better designs? Is it about good managers or good customers?

Good managers are important when it comes to having someone to back you when you want to do something different. Having other good designers around you that inspire you is always a good thing. But being in an environment where product is the most important is what helps you get the best designs. Unfortunately, right now the biggest problem with most companies is trying to get a high margin with a competitive price. It just doesn’t work and you end up taking quality out of the product so the customer gets shafted.

What are your tools of the trade?

Pen, paper and Illustrator. I still like to throw some marker down from time to time.

What sort of brief do you love to get?

The one that says go crazy, price is no object…ha ha.

Do you like working as a team or going solo?

I’ve been working by myself now for almost a year and I have to say you can go a little stir crazy. I like to vibe off other people, bounce ideas off them, check out what they’re doing and get inspired. It’s cool to look at a jacket pocket or some cut lines on some boardies.

Do you have to go to the maker to make a good bag? Can carry design work remotely?

It can work remotely if you have a great pattern maker but that’s pretty rare. It usually works best to go to the factory. But I have to tell you, a pattern maker can make you look like a rockstar or a hack.

I’ve heard folk say you care a lot about the details, and that you push to get better results. Is that fair? Is that the only way to get good design?

Ha…that’s funny. I’ve had factories tell me that I’m a pain in the ass. Maybe that’s what you’re referring to. I guess I just want to get the best product possible. If something looks like shit or doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to I will keep saying something until it’s fixed…or I run out of time. I spend a lot of time thinking about how the bag will be built and I spend a lot of time drawing it up. It’s funny, I won’t miss some details, things that people may never notice, but then other things blow right by me. And to answer your second question you have to push to get what you want, otherwise you’ll just have an average product.

What products are you most proud of?

This is a Fox hydration bag I did a few years back. I was pretty happy with how these turned out.

This is a Fox gear bag. The coolest things about this bag were the TPR’s that I got to make.

This Stormproof pack was part of the first full collection I designed…about 10 years ago. I’ve actually seen people in airports with this bag and others from this collection and that stokes me out because I’ve made some product that has stood the test of time.

 Quiksilver Stormproof3 - Chris Pitts INT

Do you have any burning goals or desires for your career? Are there things you really want to achieve?

I’m making it my goal to make more shit with my own hands. Back in school we had to make all our own projects and since then I’ve been dying a slow death in front of my computer. I’m going to build a bag which will be a challenge because I can’t sew for shit. Then I won’t have anyone to blame but myself when my bag looks like crap.

I’d have to say my burning desire is to design things that will stand the test of time. I’d like someone to be able to use a bag for 10-15 years. Too much crap goes into the landfill and I’d like to stop being a part of that problem. I will say though…when I saw my OG Quiksilver bags, bags I designed 10 years ago, being carried through airports it really stoked me out.

Do you have any favorite tips or habits for carrying better, either EDC or when traveling?

Hmm, interesting question. I like bags with lots of exterior pockets and one large main compartment. That way I can easily get to stuff. However, I really like bags that look clean on the outside. Go figure. I might not be the best person to ask that question to. I change my bags all the time and lose shit in them all. I’ll find snack bars that are like 2 years old in a bag I’ve pulled out of my bin of bags. I suppose I should start putting all the stuff I carry into pouches and then move those from bag to bag…but that might be too organized for me.

What bags do you run with daily?

As I said before I change bags a lot. I did have one Black Diamond bag that I always used on bike rides but my dog just chewed it up. I almost took her out for that. It was one of my favorites and it was about 8 years old!

So you can see from one of the pics that I have a shitload of bags. And those duffles are full of bags so it’s a challenge to find things. I’m building an office in the back half of my garage so it’s a bit of a mess.

Here’s a messenger I designed about 4 years ago. This is a colorway that never got made. That front pocket fits an iPad perfectly which is lucky since they didn’t make them back then. I use it from time to time.

Messenger

There’s a Komunity Project backpack I did about 5 years ago. That’s the bag I travel with. It can hold an extra set of clothes (just in case luggage gets lost). All the exterior pockets come in pretty handy when it’s in the overhead. I love those heavy duty YKK zips. Those things are solid!

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