Behind-the-Seams: Our Design Process
We handcraft our gear right in the heart of the Carolina mountains. From testing new fabrics and employing LEAN manufacturing to exploring micro-innovations and prioritizing customizations, we’re constantly searching for new ways to exceed our customers’ expectations. We’re excited to be taking you ‘behind-the-seams’ of our production process—from the design and sourcing to the sewing and upcycling—of your favorite bags and tents. This week we’re giving you a peek at our design process with our Design Engineer Allie Durr.
Three brilliant ladies make up our R&D team: Design Engineer Allie, R&D Director Lisa Brill, and Diane Duncan. Diane alone has been sewing and pattern-making for 38 years. Learn how this talented and experienced team brings our designs to production, from their initial idea to the final sample.
Brainstorm + Storyboard
Like many projects, our product designs begin with a good ole brain dump. During this step, we take the time to fill out our ‘objectives template.’ This document, which lays outs our initial intentions for the design, keeps us on track throughout the entire design process. If any suggested changes conflict with our original objectives, we must agree upon them as an entire team.
Though we look everywhere for inspiration, we also spend a lot of time digging through our old catalogues. Here at Diamond Brand, we love breathing new life into old favorites. We’re constantly hearing from longtime customers who still use their Diamond Brand classics after 30-plus years. We love taking a 20th century favorite and giving it a 21st century twist.
Doing so has brought us recent outputs such as the Great Day Pack. This modernized gear bag featuring a pair of detachable satchels was inspired by its ‘80s predecessor. It has also brought us upcoming releases such the much-anticipated Free Spirit. This updated tent with an avant-garde double A-frame design was likewise inspired by its ‘70s forerunner.
“We’re at a really unique time with our brand,” Allie explains. “We’re adding new products where there have never been any, or where there haven’t been any for many years. It makes things so fun and exciting on any given day, trying to find a combination between the old and the new.”
Once we’ve agreed upon an initial design, we begin mocking up a prototype with scrap materials. During this step, we’re mostly paying attention to form and function. Does the product do what we want it to do? Does it stand up to the riggers we want it to stand up to? An engineer by degree, Allie sees this step as her greatest strength.
“I think the creative side is definitely something that takes a little bit more nurturing, whereas the technical side definitely comes naturally to me,” she says. “I’m comfortable with the numbers and the functionality side of things. I’m learning a lot more about the aesthetic and the visual side of things as I’ve been working here.”
Working at Diamond Brand has taught Allie that aesthetic is often as important as function. And she has learned to strike a healthy balance between the two.
“I’m really good at working through different solutions and finding the best one,” she says. “At the end of the day, everything that we do needs to serve a purpose and needs to solve a problem. But you’ve got to hook the customer with the looks of a product and then you’ve really got to hold on to them with the practical function of the product.”
Once we’ve mocked up a prototype with scrap materials, we then begin searching for the actual materials. And we look to some unconventional places for inspiration. We’re not content to stay within the confines of bag or gear design. Instead, we frequently stray to the world of furniture or clothing design for influence.
“We want to think outside the box as much as possible,” Allie explains. “We found that a lot of different looks or functions or hardware or fabric can be used in ways that maybe it wasn’t necessarily originally designed for. As long as it meets those basic requirements for what we’re looking for—which at the end of the day is durability, ease of use, and visual appeal—we try not to restrict ourselves.”
It’s why you can find upholstery fabric in our updated Biltmore Collection. Upholstery fabric is durable, easy-to-clean, and visually appealing. So while it may not be what you’d expect to find in your favorite tote bag, it fits the bill. Best of all? It comes from Revolution Fabrics right here in North Carolina.
“We try to work outwards from where we’re located when we’re looking for new items, new fabrics, new hardware,” Allie says. “We do make a conscious decision and effort to start as locally as possible and expand out from there if we’re unable to find something. We want the best that’s out there.”
Prototype + Review of Prototype
Once we’ve sourced our materials, we begin putting together another prototype, this time with the actual materials. During this step, we’re also paying attention to visual appeal and aesthetics. Does the product look how we want it to look? Does it tell the story we want it tell? We tend to lean toward warmer hues in our color lines, as a way to keep things natural and organic and a way to continue to blend the old and the new.
During this step, we also take the time to fill out our ‘specifications template.’ This document, a sibling to the objectives template, allows us to see what changes have been made to the original design during the process. Once again, if any suggested changes conflict with our original objectives, we must agree upon them as an entire team. Some of Allie’s favorite prototypes have been the ones that have pushed the boundaries.
“One of my favorite fabrics to work with is a lightweight 70 denier fabric, like what we use in our Freedome,” she says. “It’s a lot lighter than anything else that we work with on a daily basis…As an engineer by trade, I’m fascinated by how incredibly durable and functional a fabric is able to be being paper-thin and weighing no more than 2 ounces.”
Once final decisions have been made, it’s time to get the design on the production floor. Our meticulous sewing instructions, material lists, patterns, and tech packs make the transition from the design team to the production team as seamless as possible. But our work doesn’t stop there—we leave part of the design in the hands of our customers.
As an American-made brand with a small team, we’re able to prioritize customization and personalization. Whether it’s picking a fabric, color, size, or accessory, we want our customers to have a hand in the design process. We know our customers and their needs are different. We believe their bags and tents should be, too.
“I think more and more people want to feel like they had a part in making or designing what they’re purchasing,” Allie explains. “They want to feel connected to it and like it’s something that’s unique to them. We want people to have choices. We really want them to be able to have input in the products that they’re buying.”