“AJOTO was born out of both love and frustration,” says co-founders of the precision engineered pen brand, Chris Holden and Marta Verdes-Montenegro.
“Firstly, we love heritage and craft, but we’re also obsessed with state of the art technology. The vision for Ajoto was to bring these two worlds together and develop a range of timeless, practical and functional everyday items that were beautifully designed and made to last.”
Most importantly, Chris and Marta wanted to make items that they would use and continue using everyday, overtime building the perfect toolkit for everyday life. “We were frustrated with the false romanticism, lack of transparency, and smoke and mirrors behind how many products were made and marketed,” says Chris. “We wanted to counter this by building a brand that celebrated the entire process of production openly and honestly, by building a unique network of specialists across the UK and Europe that we could proudly share and celebrate.”
Our view is that responsible design shouldn’t be an afterthought, but a prerequisite of the process.
Their creative process begins with casting out a wide net to soak up inspiration. “This is a constant process,” says Marta, “and can be inspired by observing a juxtaposition of colour and texture on a walk in the hills, to learning about new processes while visiting manufacturers.”
“Once we have the gem of an idea, we delve straight into pen and paper roughly doodling, making notes and mapping out our thoughts,” Chris continues. “As ideas start to form into interesting concepts, we make lots of sketch models from paper and scraps of material to better understand the form, scale and function.” The next step is two-phase, as they begin to refine the design, while exploring and analysing potential materials and processes. “It’s a balancing act, as sometimes the design informs the material, and other times the material can inform the design,” says Marta. “Once we have a solid concept the final phases are more fine tuning and refinement, which involves 3D printed models, computer visualizations and renderings and sample models. Lastly we produce the technical information needed to produce the item, whether that be artwork for packaging and print or technical drawings for the production of moldings or machining.”
The pair are quick to point out that throughout this process keeping a focus on the material process is just as important as the ethics that guide the people they plan to work with. “Our view is that responsible design shouldn’t be an afterthought, but a prerequisite of the process.”
Their new collection is formed around two main ranges: the Core range, which they consider to be the timeless and central point of their entire collection, and the Editions range. “The materials of the Core range are focused and free from any additional aesthetic treatment and embellishment – the purest form of the products we make,” says Chris. “For the Pen the focus is on four main metals, with a hand brushed finish: lead-free Brass, high grade Aluminium, Stainless Steel and 925 Sterling Silver.”
“The Editions range is where we have a little more fun with materials and finish,” says Marta, “channeling inspiration from the industrial history of Manchester, to the wonders of scientific and astronomical discovery. These pieces are limited in number and created in collaboration with various technical specialists from across the UK.” To complement both collections, Ajoto also offer a luxurious tailored pouch for their pens, crafted from Italian full grain vegetable tanned leather and designed to form a sealed barrier between the pen and your pocket or bag, to minimise the risk of damage. Each pouch is produced in the UK, using hides which are cut, embossed, stitched and finished by hand. In total, it takes 32 individual processes to make each Pen Pouch.
The most exciting development for their new AW20 collection is their newly refined packaging. “After seven years of slowly iterating our original packaging, we knew we had to improve and do something better,” they tell me. “Learning from feedback from customers who requested a little more practicality, and also an internal drive to make our packaging even more sustainable, we went back to the drawing board.”
“We are very happy with the result, that combines paper from the finest paper mills in the world – Gmund in Germany and James Croppers in Cumbria – with blind embossing and letterpress techniques produced by the renowned printers Blush in North Wales. As with our previous boxes, the centrepiece of our Pen packaging is the moulded cork tray that can be turned over once opened to form a Pen rest that will sit beautifully on any desk or table.”
“Our ethos is the result of being fed up with the disposable nature of consuming, the questionable ethics around production, and the short obsolescence of products that can’t be fixed or repaired,” Chris tells me. “When we began AJOTO we knew we couldn’t force the world to change, but thought we could do our bit and try to inspire others through our actions.” “We are constantly challenging ourselves to improve every single aspect of our business,” Marta continues, “from operations through to how we design. We enjoy meeting people and listening to their stories, exploring different and innovative materials and seeking out approaches to our work that are not only profitable for ourselves but also our wider community.”
“The careful selection of not only materials and processes, but also the people and the factories we work with, is something we are very proud of. For our packaging, this can range from ensuring all our paper is FSC certified and produced in the most sustainable paper mills, to using carbon positive materials such as cork. In regards to our products it’s exactly the same process; ensuring that each facility we work with meets with exacting environmental requirements, and operates to the highest ethical standard, to ensure everything from safe working conditions to fair wages. It’s a holistic approach, but working together with world class people helps make this a simple process.”
“It may sound counterintuitive to some, but although we make products for a living we aren’t materialistic, and don’t have lots of items in our house. Our home is a mix of second hand and antique furniture found at auctions, along with a selection of products and artwork from smaller independent companies and brands. Although that said, we do have a few items from Ikea and John lewis lurking around!”
“On a day-to-day basis we are in a constant process of switching out unsustainable everyday products for more ethical and sustainable ones. For example, a year ago we switched to bamboo reusable kitchen towels and loofa washing-up pads, instead of polyester sponges. We have made lots of similar smaller changes, but in the long term they have been beneficial for our health, the environment and our pocket. Our vice is definitely food, and we tend to enjoy saving any spare money we have to splurge at a really good restaurant. At home, cooking and growing food is definitely where we enjoy to indulge and experiment a little more. Just recently we managed to secure an allotment! It’s one of our bigger projects outside of AJOTO that we are quite excited about, and hopefully will bear fruit next year.”
“Although we have our studio in Manchester, we are still looking to find a more permanent place that will let us grow while maintaining the lifestyle that we enjoy,” they say. “Over the longer-term we’d like to see AJOTO mature and offer an even better service and considered collection of everyday items.”
“Internally we’d like to see more vertical integration of our production to give us even greater control over our output and quality, but these things take time. In the meantime we are happy to keep making even better products, and continue to show the world that our approach to design and business can still be profitable.”
Ajoto lifestyle photography © Dan Watson; cork packaging © Flore Diamont; all used with permission.