Jennifer Meredith talks to Claire Davis of Ashdown Duffle, Suffolk-based manufacturer of fashionable and functional duffle bags
Can you tell us about your business?
I was a woman who had a problem. A bag problem! I constantly overloaded my poor handbag, giving myself painful neck and shoulder problems. I needed a bag that, even when full, was gorgeous and comfortable. So, I searched for a strong, quality stylish bag that wasn’t a handbag – something that could be worn on one or both shoulders.
I have always liked the duffle bag design. When I was little, I had a very fetching duffle bag that I used as a school-girl to ferry books, my uniform and the odd tennis racket around in. I always liked the design but what held it back was the cheap cord that could bite into your shoulder.
My business grew out of these two impulses. The Ashdown Duffle label started because I wanted to buy a traditional leather duffle bag but couldn’t find one. So I decided to make one for myself. My specification was for a bag that was strong and easy to manage yet still stylish, i.e. a duffle bag that you can carry over your shoulder and still look fabulous. A bag with comfortable leather straps!
What inspired you to reinvent the traditional duffle bag into the modern classic?
My Ashdown Duffle design was created to solve a problem: the timeless duffle bag design is useful, hard wearing and simple but frequently made with cheaper materials and rudimentary designs. The cheap materials are unappealing and can even be abrasive to the touch.
Our handmade Ashdown Duffle bags preserve all the positive qualities of the design but with quality materials. Made with soft appealing leather and strong canvas or stunning Harris Tweed. Our bags capture the timeless beauty of the duffle design with a modern, high-end edge.
how important was the choice to keep the bags manufactured in the UK?
Our Duffle bags are made in Britain which is a really important ethos for us. We really wanted to create a brand that could be trusted. The only way to do this was to build a close relationship with a British manufacturer. The benefit of having the bags made in Britain is the ability to work closely with the manufacturer. The challenges are that you do pay more for a quality hand finished product but you know that it will last for many years.
You’re based in Suffolk – how does this affect your brand?
I am born and bred in Suffolk. I adore the countryside of fields, woodland, rivers and sea; I feel very privileged to live in Suffolk. I believe that living in such a beautiful environment is going to inspire gorgeous designs.
My favourite places in the region seem to revolve around food and walks with the dog. Aldeburgh has a lovely café at Hall Farm where dogs are welcome outside. One of the best kept secrets locally is The Old Stores at Tuddenham St Martin. This is an old converted Chapel with a wonderful ambience.
What can we expect from Ashdown Duffle in the future?
We have recently brought out a gorgeous Houndstooth Harris Tweed and leather range. In the near future I would like to introduce more choice in the size of bags offered. We would also like to add more colours and textures into the range.
Browse the Ashdown Duffle collections at www.ashdownduffle.co.uk