If you’ve ever wondered how it’s possible to fundamentally progress the concept of a personal backpack into the future, you’ve been thinking on the same wavelengths as Solid Gray.
Founded by former students of the Design Academy Eindhoven, Herman Lijmbach and Jasper de Leeuw, Solid Gray refused to leave the time-tested and practical design of the backpack in the 20th century. Instead, the company’s designers retained the bare minimum qualities that would evoke the idea of the backpack, and then proceeded to strip everything else that you may typically associate with that idea. Doing so has caught the eye of the contemporary-savvy and fashionable alike in major metropolitan areas. We decided to find out more through our latest interview with one of the founders, Jasper de Leeuw:
What inspired you to create a backpack that is so unorthodox in its design?
Inspiration came from nature/ bio-mimicry. Such as crustaceans and beetles, using a thin layer of material to make a strong shell. But also robotics, Gundam and sci-fi in terms of style and looks.
The starting point was the material. Using a “new” material and exploring how you can work with it. What can you make of it, how can you process/manipulate it, what would really benefit in using this material. These are all questions that we worked with.
I imagine that was an exciting but fairly complicated starting point. What would you say was the biggest overall difficulty in creating your backpack, in any facet of the process?
Well there were quite a few. Obtaining the right material was a definite first. As it is not a stock material and now custom made for us. After a long search, the first sheets we finally obtained were part of a small run for another company/application, and they had a small pile of surplus production. The investments we have to make in the material are substantial, and were hard to make from the very beginning. That’s why we were lucky to get that first pile of sheets to start with.
In the design process we had many hurdles to take. Figuring out how to close/lock the lid of the backpack took a lot of work. We’re proud that these current locks work so great and look so natural. When in fact we made hundreds of prototypes, to end up with the current solution. Optimizing the folding lines is another technical difficulty that took a lot of work. In general, designing all aspects of the backpack and producing the backpack, it all comes down to working with an accuracy of a tenth of a millimeter.
Speaking of the material, that’s really a defining trait of your product. What kind of options does working with plastic present in the design that a conventional backpack may lack?
This enables us to create a lightweight hard-shell backpack. This is the biggest obvious feature, with its distinctive look. But is also enables smaller features. Such as the “hidden handle” we designed. Or our own “Solid Gray Switch System”, to switch your shoulder straps. This could not function on a conventional backpack. It enables us to design a “base” (the backpack) on which we can build further. Our aim is to expand with more and more modular systems/items/accessories. It enables the option to customize it with stickers or decals. It enables us to think and design in a ways not possible with conventional backpacks.
We find it a nice feature to solve as much design issues (pockets, clips, locks) with the same material.
Did any of those design issues result in you making any sacrifices in utility or practicality in order to be able to realize the look you were going for?
One of the few sacrifices we’ve made is having “outer pockets”. So everything is locked inside.
The upside of this is that the backpack is quite “theft proof”. No one is going to open the backpack without you knowing it. Nothing to steal from a small front package. No cutting to bottom of the backpack and steal the content.
The other “sacrifice” is to commit to a certain size. We wanted it to fit all 15” (15.6) laptop. But it won’t fit the huge 17″ gaming laptops. We do get requests for this. But the backpack would just be too massive (maybe in another form in the future 🙂
What other kind of requests do you get, in regards to receiving requests to fit 17” laptops?
Special editions, working with special color straps and/or decals. Private or Business to Business such as the nice collaboration we did with New Balance for example.
Modified backpacks. For example, we once added small widows to show the LED-illuminated hardware a company placed inside the backpack. These things are costly but great for exhibitions.
We recently get a lot of questions to use the backpack to store/house hardware and power for virtual reality gear. That way you can walk around with the PC and battery-pack in the backpack and the VR-glasses on, complete freedom.
That’s definitely something I’d be wary of doing with a regular pack, seeing as it wouldn’t have that extra protection. Have you considered applying the concepts behind the Solid Gray packs to other items?
We sure have. But it must be absolutely legit. The Solid Gray backpack has a great balance in form and function. We do not see the design as a “sauce” that can be applied to any product. We’re really careful with that. We always test our designs, they need to be legit. – Why does is work like this, look like this, what does it bring to the table. These are questions we ask ourselves. For now we keep focusing on the backpack and (near) future accessories/expansions for the backpack.
That’s a strong design approach and philosophy. Were you working on similar principles at the Design Academy Eindhoven? Do you think your schoolwork had a large impact on your work on the Solid Gray design?
We were both studying at the Activity department, designing consumer goods. Always working with prototypes, and always trying to come up with new features, working with new material, re-thinking how something should look/work/interact/etc. The way we worked at school, still resembles a lot of the way we work now.
The very first rough concept of the backpack was created during the study, and left untouched for a while. We fully developed/designed it when we decided we wanted to try and design/produce/sell our own product.
So you have been working with Herman before Solid Gray? What’s the work dynamic like?
We sure have. We did a few things back in school, and a lot when starting our business together. We did a lot of things, post graduate, before Solid Gray.
We really complement each other in the design process. We don’t need a lot of words and drawings to know what the other one is talking about. Ideas are very quickly explained. Working on a design is great fun, we start with an idea, and we alternately have input that improves the design in any way we see fit. This process goes very fast between the 2 of us. The starting point of an idea, and the result, one hour later can be of great difference. Having a much, much better concept in a short amount of time.
As we do not have a lot of time to design these days (keeping the general Solid Gray day-to-day business running), this really is a great benefit! 🙂
I can imagine that running Solid Gray doesn’t leave much free time to waste. What was it like seeing people first wear your ideas?
Awesome! Just awesome 🙂
Especially when we started with Instagram, we saw more and more people wearing the backpack all over the world! We already knew we sold it all over the world off course, but actually seeing in on photos in all different setting is just great. A rewarding feeling.
We have friends of ours spotting the backpack in all sort of places from Amsterdam (local) to LA (friend on holiday). And they often send us a pic! 🙂
That’s great, just goes to show the universality of the product. Looking towards the future, do you have any plans you’d like to share for Solid Gray?
We just want to grow on a steady pace. Keep making quality and high original products. And conquer the world one step at a time 🙂
We are looking forward to see Solid Gray grow into a company that we feel comfortable to work with for many years to come.