Our latest brand arrival is a hugely inspiring British independent, The Level Collective. Since establishing in 2014, their goal has been to craft outdoor gear with a relentless focus on quality and performance.
The Level Collective founder, Mark Musgrave, wanted his gear to comfortably handle both nomadic explorations into nature and pioneering adventures in the urban concrete jungle. Not only that, he wanted to operate on a ‘level’ playing field with ethical considerations being a huge part of the business. This shared focus was a big part of what made collaborating with Mark a priority for us.
We were immediately impressed by Mark and his work motivations. Both his unassuming character and sheer determination to create a brand with integrity inspire us to help his mission. He is challenging the notions of mass produced bags and hopes people are willing to back him on the journey. To delve into all things “The Level Collective” we sat down with Mark to learn about his inspiration.
The Level Collective founder, Mark Musgrave wearing the Winnats Roll Top Backpack
B & B: Tell us a little about yourself and how you went from an outdoor wandering nomad to British made, outdoor gear pioneer?
MM: I’m a designer based up in Sheffield. It’s a great area to be based. A creative city surrounded by the beautiful Peak District National Park so I get out there quite a bit – usually hiking or road biking. But my favourite things to do are surfing and snowboarding… which Sheffield is less good for being the furthest city from the coast, and having no mountains.
For me a real catalyst for starting The Level Collective was travelling and volunteering with a charity in Romania. They have a project teaching women in the communities how to hand knit products which can then be sold to provide income for their families. I was blown away by the potential to bring positive change to people’s lives through fair employment that benefited everyone in the process. So when I got back to the UK I knew I had to start something – a brand for people who shared my love for travel, the outdoors and my convictions.
Through Instagram, I managed to connect with people who seemed to share my passion for being outdoors and desire to shop ethically – gaining customers in over 45 countries across the world. Since then, I’ve grown the collection slowly, creating new products one at a time. We’re not into ‘fast fashion’ so we don’t have loads of different seasons. We create timeless products and let them run their natural course with our customers.
B&B: With the majority of your product being made within the UK, what challenges does this bring?
MM: Honestly, I’d say the biggest challenge is cost. However, the positives far outweigh this. Whilst designing the Winnats Roll Top backpack, I visited all of my fabric suppliers and met them face-to-face. British manufacturing has a heritage of producing the highest quality products that are finished to an incredible standard. I’ve been really impressed with the level of care and attention to detail from the artisans I’ve worked with.
I think people are realising the value of paying more for something that they know has been made in small batches, in ethical conditions. There seems to be a desire for British made products, perhaps in a backlash to generic mass manufactured items and the desire for something original with integrity.
Where it all started with charity work in Romania
B&B: The Level Collective differs from other brands in that it is actually a collective of adventurers, explorers and like-minded globetrotters. How did the strategy for this develop and how did you select the ambassadors you wanted on board?
MM: It all came about quite organically really. Through Instagram, I was connecting with fellow outdoor dwellers and travel lovers. Most of my ‘ambassadors’ just came across my designs and got in touch to see if I wanted to collaborate and it’s just grown from there. My brand seems to particularly resonate with folk from the Pacific Northwest. A few of them even invited me to go and stay with them so I got the privilege of travelling down from Vancouver to Santa Barbara.
On reflection, I didn’t really plan anything. The whole trip could have been an absolute disaster but it just so happened that the people I met already had some cool plans. Everyone was so welcoming and so much fun. I could really see why my brand was resonating so well with people in that part of the world. They were raised loving the outdoors and being so proud of their national parks.
I think people are perhaps re-discovering an appreciation for the outdoors and the benefits it offers to our well being. The value of these things becomes part of your identity and clothing is a great way to express this. I also collaborate with some pretty awesome illustrators and typographers from around the world to create the designs for our organic graphic tees and sweaters. I think this also really add to the ‘collective’ feel of the brand.
B&B: Take us through the design process of the Winnats Roll Top Backpack. What did you want to see from a backpack that was being neglected by other designers or brands?
MM: I started with endless sketches of design ideas; different shaping, different proportions, different closure systems. Then researched lots of different British suppliers and ordered various samples of options for the main outer shell, webbing, zips and buckles. I chose my favourite ingredients, which of course all turned out to be the most expensive! Next, I began to create some prototypes using just a humble office stapler and some offcuts of fabric. Quite a primitive toolkit, but it was really flexible and effective for rapid prototyping ideas and adapting them as I went.
I met with a small manufacturer up north who specialise in designing and making high-performance bags. They helped me to refine my prototypes until we arrived at a production-ready backpack. It was a challenging 18 months designing, testing and refining the backpack but I thoroughly enjoyed the design process. And of course, it’s really satisfying to take it from pencil sketches to an actual product.
I think there are a lot of outdoor backpacks out there that are very plasticy. They are designed with endless toggles and buckles which creates quite a cluttered appearance. For most people who perhaps don’t need to strap an axe to their bag, they’re just unnecessary. So my design decisions were influenced by my desire to create something really simple and minimalist. At the other end of the spectrum, you get fashion bags that are marketed as ‘outdoors’ but the fabrics they use aren’t even weatherproof and they don’t have padded straps or water bottle pockets. I’ve used highly weatherproof impregnated hybrid waxed cotton that doesn’t crack or transfer on to garments. It also ages beautifully and gains shiny marks and scuffs through use, adding to the character.
B&B: How do you see the range developing in the future?
MM: At the moment I’m getting back to my sketchbook, exploring various ideas for different sized bags and packs as well as a few other products. I’m also working on some fun collaborations to expand our collection, but I can’t say too much at this stage. All I can guarantee is that they’ll be small batch and super high quality.
B&B: And the Level Collective brand, in what direction do you see it heading going forward?
MM: In addition to making more beautiful products, I’m keen to develop our community more and give our customers and ambassadors more of a platform for sharing their adventures. I’d also love to be able to support more really worthwhile social purpose projects that make a positive difference in the world so these are two themes which I’ll be exploring in the coming months so again, watch this space.
The Winnats Roll-Top Backpack is an impeccable example of British craftsmanship, design and performance. It has been handcrafted in the UK with each component being of the highest quality.
- All-round design – the Winnats Backpack has been designed to tackle nature head-on, whilst looking the part in the big smoke.
- Streamlined style – 15L capacity offers a perfect combination of storage space without being too bulky.
- Waxed cotton construction – it has been crafted using durable Halley Stevensons hybrid waxed cotton that is super waterproof.
- British leather detailing – has been used for the grab handle and touchpoints for added durability.
- Additional lumbar support – provides comfort during even the most taxing of adventures.
- Internal laptop sleeve – fits laptops up to 15″.
- Waterproof zippered pocket – found to the rear of the pack, it has been designed with a storm cover and waxed cotton inner sleeve.
- Dual bottle pouches – located to either side of the backpack.