Seventy Eight Percent are passionate about bags. In their eyes, a bag must be ergonomic, functional and stylish. We couldn’t agree more. The challenge of bringing these elements together is what the brand enjoys most, and as we learnt from founder and co-designer Shai Levy recently, beyond the long design process involved with making bags of this caliber, Seventy Eight Percent has four specific elements crucial to sourcing materials of a successful new product.
Can you give us a brief rundown on the history of Seventy Eight Percent.
Seventy Eight Percent was conceived in 2007. I started designing the urban bags I always wanted but could never find; functional, stylish and of high quality. A few intense months later I had completed the designs for the Schults, Dimitri and Zazie, which formed Seventy Eight Percent’s debut collection – Back to Old School.
It took more than a year to to turn the original designs into products. Finding the right materials and crafts-men took quite a while, as did making samples that reached the level of quality I was after. Finally, in late 2009, after the first collection was tested and perfected, Seventy Eight Percent was launched.
Was making bags something that came about organically or was it premeditated?
I have always loved bags. They might look simple at first glance, but they are very complicated and technical products to design. Outdoor bags have evolved so much since I started using them as a teenager, and I have followed these developments with great fascination.
As a user, I always got a kick out of tweaking and improving my gear, and in retrospect I think that being a bag designer was in my cards. That said, my first bag project landed on my doorstep by coincidence, as a result of other projects I was involved in. Luckily, the bag world found me while I was looking in another direction.
How has the industry changed since you began?
When I started, the outdoor industry and the fashion industry were estranged. There was no synergy, and the two industries did not inspire or influence each other. This has changed significantly. High fashion became more practical and outdoor sports gear became more refined and stylish. This is an interesting development, and not just a short-term trend. As a product designer who worked in the outdoor industry and now creates functional fashion, I am fortunate to be in the forefront of that movement.
How do you think changes in the tech gear we carry will alter your products/company in the next 10 years?
Technological development will surely affect some functional features of our products, and I can think of one product that might no longer be with us – the wallet. However, I do not think that tech gear will be a significant driver of change in the world of carry or in my company.
People will still be traveling and commuting ten years from now, and will have to carry things, not all tech related. In fact, I am quite sure that the owners of our current products will find them as relevant and useful in ten years as they do now. Our attache cases, for an example, which are tailored to fit the specific Apple MacBook range, are often used to carry other items; they will outlive the tech-gear they are designed to fit.
There are signature elements of a Seventy Eight Percent bag, how did the look and feel of Seventy Eight Percent come about and what inspired you?
The look and feel of our products reflect my personal taste and aesthetic preferences. Many things inspire me: all things beautiful, strange, refined and meaningful, be it man-made objects, living creatures and plants, food, music, movies and what not. They all shape my designs.
I believe in the power of minimalism and subtlety, and think that an eraser is the most important tool in a designer’s pencil-case. I am also a very practical person – my design is function driven. Our signature elements formalise when we tackle functional and constructional challenges with our aesthetic philosophy, trying to convert functional requirement, or constraint, to beauty. With very few exceptions, every element is there for a practical reason.
What is the design process like for Seventy Eight Percent and how has this changed since the brands inception?
We do not have a fixed, by the book, design process. In some cases ideas just come out of the blue, while in others we follow a longer, more methodological, approach.
Regardless of the actual design process, we usually build paper mockups. This helps us perfect the lines, curves, dimensions and proportions of the bags. We put logic aside and sculpt. When that is done, we make a proper sample and test it in the urban jungle. It usually take three rounds of sampling to get the products ready for market, but sometimes more.
In the early days I was designing by myself. Now we are two designers having a dialogue, with me usually taking the back seat as a mentor and a critic. The process itself has not changed much, but the outcome is better and designing as a team is, naturally, more fun.
A bag can only be as good as it’s components. What do you look for when choosing or designing materials and other elements? Why do you choose one material over another?
This is absolutely right. There are four factors that we look for when choosing materials: Firstly, they have to grab our attention and capture our senses; it is hard to explain but they have to radiate. Secondly, they have to age beautifully and endure, rather than wear-out . Thirdly, they have to meet the requirements of the design, in terms of aesthetics and structure. Last, but not least, they have to tell a story; there should be something interesting about the way they are made.
What is your favourite feature of a Seventy Eight Percent bag, and what products are you most excited about in the current range?
What I like the best about our products is the way they age. They become more beautiful and treasured the more they are used.
It is hard to choose my favorite products. Like my kids, they are all exciting to me, and I love each one of them in a different way. I have a special spot for Schults, our large satchel, because just a few years ago there was only one Seventy Eight Percent bag in the world – it was a Schults, and I was the only human being who had it. The products I use on a regular bases are Dimitri, Gustav, Eli, Fritz and Emile.
Is there anything you are working on currently or have in the pipeline that you are getting excited to ‘bring to life’? Can you give us an idea of what we should expect to see?
We are about to launch more travel bags as part of our latest Jet Laag collection. Their development took a long time and we are looking forward to seeing them in the market. They will include carry-on bags for a few days on the road as well as daily urban backpack and briefcase.
Hong Kong seems to be a really happening place for design at the moment, and the base of some the world’s leading companies. Why do you think this is?
Hong Kong is the base for some of the world leading companies because it is located extremely close to their suppliers in China. It is also the gateway to East Asia, where their most promising markets are. It would not make sense for them to run their operations from anywhere else. Also, because of its financial infrastructure and straight forward administration, Hong Kong is very easy to run businesses from.
It is a bit more difficult for me to say why the design scene has been evolving here the way it has. I think that Hong Kong consumers, who were totally addicted to brand-name products, are opening up and looking for new, non-branded and unique things. This has brought in small, emerging international brands, which inspire local designers. I also think that HK consumers, like anywhere else, appreciate local talent and give it a chance. This attracts talented designers who have the option to work in other places. Both expatriates and Hong Kong born designers, who studied in the best international schools, are coming to work here. This creates a community and elevates the local design standards. I hope this trend will continue.
Shop the range of Seventy Eight Percent bags and accessories now at Rushfaster.