These long months of lockdown have had a profound effect on the travel industry. As restrictions begin to lift, where we choose to travel and how we choose to travel may have been dramatically altered.
“I wonder whether lockdown will encourage people to reconsider the places to which they travel, and think about exploring the incredible places that are closer to home,” muses Ian, founder of Wirral-based Oldfield Workshop, who create canvas and leather goods to support the refined traveller. “I’ve always felt there are a huge number of places here in the UK, or close by in Europe, that are too special to be ignored but that feel relatively unexplored.”
His childhood was filled with Summer road trips through the mountains of Northern Spain, and Winter weekends spent in the snow capped hills of North Wales, and the time spent in both territories fostered an attachment for the lesser known walks of life. “From a young age I had always dreamt of being in full control of my future,” he says. “I was brought up by parents who owned their own business and worked hard to make what they had, but also enjoyed the time they made for themselves.”
After studying at the London College of Fashion, Ian moved on to work in menswear marketing in a role that allowed him to experience many facets of the industry. “It was eye opening, enticing, and kind of addictive!” he tells me, “but it still never quenched my thirst for building something that I could call my own.” Returning home to the Wirral provided the time and space he needed to put those dreams into action. Having fallen in love with the beautiful materials and fabrication methods in quality garment production during his time at college, Ian was determined to build a business that celebrated the inspiring stories of craftspeople and fabricators, and explore why specific materials were used to build items in certain ways.
When considering all of our products, we begin with the fundamental characteristics of materials.
Embracing the use of materials that have been relied upon for centuries for utilitarian purposes, each piece in the Oldfield collection embraces the elements of design and production from traditional outdoor pursuits, whilst ensuring high levels of functionality and fashionability for the modern world. There have been huge technological advances in material development for the outdoors market, but Ian believes there is something special in using a material that was created by the same people who needed it, hundreds of years ago. “When considering all of our products, we begin with the fundamental characteristics of materials,” he tells me. “For example, we use a densely woven waxed cotton canvas for many of our carry options, a material which was first used by Scottish mariners in the 1500s who discovered that impregnating their cotton sails with certain oils gave them a resistance to wind and water. Since then the material has been adopted by outdoors folk across the planet.”
Looking to the past is crucial for Ian, but he also likes to think that Oldfield bags begin their life as a new story, yet to be told. “With use, waxed canvas and leather will slowly start to soften, age, and form a patina over time. This patina is unique to the owner, revealing experiences and signs of time as the most personal expression.”
Still a fairly young company, Ian concedes that they still have a long way to go when it comes to operating in an ethical and sustainable way. “What we have focused on from the beginning, is the lifespan of our products. With the ways in which we as a society consume fashion on a faster life cycle, it’s important to produce an item that slows everything down, and stops that thought in its tracks.” The Harkbridge Weekender Bag for example has been designed to survive the hard wearing needs of unpredictable daily travel. A duffle bag crafted with a heavy duty waxed canvas and genuine cowhide leather, it has a highly durable finish. The leather carry handles are lined with cotton for a forgiving hold of a heavy load, and there are both exterior and interior catch all pockets, for organisation and easy access to valuables.
In creating utilitarian style products built to last through a durability and resistance to time in the elements, Oldfield believe their bags should stay with their customers for many years. Caring for waxed canvas and leather is a simple process provided you use the right tools, and doing so can enhance the existing patinas, colours, and ensure the piece stands the test of time. “It’s this mindset that consumer culture isn’t really used to any more,” says Ian sadly, “and a change that seems a long way off for society.”
Quality = durability to Ian, and this belief extends to his own wardrobe. He has a huge passion for vintage clothing. “Whether that be American workwear, military surplus, or hard wearing denim, these are the items I’m hunting down because I know they have been made with incredible quality and craftsmanship. There’s something pretty exciting about stumbling onto and bidding for the only piece out of hundreds of listings on eBay that ends up looking good, fits well, and is in pristine condition.”
There’s a hope that restrictions on people’s behaviour during quarantine will have altered mindsets for the long term. “It really is amazing to see the local businesses in my home town thriving in uncertain times as they are beginning to reopen, with an overwhelming support from the local community,” he says.
He would love to see more people travel longer distances by car rather than air, road tripping through cultures different from their own to experience the real side of that country or area, rather than simply flocking back to a popular tourist destination. “But then again, maybe the places I have grown to love, on the lesser travelled sides of the world.. maybe that’s what makes them special?”
All photography © Oldfield, used with permission.