Industry Interview: Joey Pringle
We knew we had to interview Joey after hearing him explain tentree’s Mobius Backpack he designed at the 2018 Why I Design event in Vancouver!
In this Industry Interview, we chat with Joey about his work at tentree, the design process behind the Mobius Backpack, and his advice for aspiring designers.
Walk us through your background and how you got into fashion!
I am originally from the north of London, England. In England, I studied BA furniture and product design at university. Three years into my degree, I did a work placement in Melbourne, Australia for a company called Crumpler Australia. That experience was where it all began for me. I was fortunate enough to be mentored by a guy who used to work for Samsonite and later worked for Louis Vuitton Paris and Timbuk2 San Francisco. He gave me an incredible education where I learned to design a product that was sold online. At the time, it was pretty amazing to see my work sold on the internet. After my placement ended, I went back to England to finish my last year of university.
After graduation, I wanted to go overseas, so I moved to Canada. I chose to go to Vancouver because I had a network there. Originally, I thought the fashion industry would be in Toronto, but after lots of networking, I quickly realized that Vancouver had a big fashion scene.
In the beginning, it was hard to jump right into the fashion industry but I was content with just the experience of living in Canada. However after a few years, I wanted to get back into the industry, but I had a lot of difficulty cracking into it. I eventually got my first break at MEC on a 6-month contract. When it ended, I went back to the drawing board. However, MEC was a reputable name on my resume, so it was a little easier second time around. After interviewing for a variety of positions, I ended up at tentree. When I first started, I was the 14th person employed at the company. That was almost two year ago. Since then, we have grown to 60+ employees!
Can you give us an overview of your role at tentree?
I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to wear a lot of different hats because tentree was a smaller company when I joined. Back then, it was an all hands on deck mentally with everyone doing a bit of everything. Personally for me, I thrived in an environment like that. Throughout the last two years, I have done material sourcing, social compliance for our factories, merchandised the line, designed accessories as well as developed accessories. Now, my role involves developing products, meaning I bring products to life after the design. In doing this, I will continue to focus on maintaining our overseas relationships and sourcing sustainable materials.
Can you walk us through the Mobius Backpack and your inspiration behind it?
The Mobius Backpack started off as a blue sky project. Tentree had made backpacks before but with the size of the company at the time, they couldn't put serious resources and focus behind it. In the beginning, I was given free rein to create anything. My philosophy when approaching the project was that the backpack market was totally exhausted. I would ask, does the world need another backpack from another new brand? How could it be approached differently? There were a lot of technical backpacks with loads of features, but what I didn’t see on the market was a product designed purely on sustainable values without losing aspects of functionality.
The Mobius Backpack is proudly made from 31 plastic bottles (the main fabric and lining), recycled zippers, recycled webbing, cork trims and buckles made out of post-industrial waste (waste from the factory floor, not consumers). We have multiple sustainable material stories but the story I am most proud of is on where we used pond algae as our foam. It was great to use pond algae because nobody had ever used it in a backpack as it was more costly. That being said, if tentree could make it happen, it just proves that with faith, anything is possible in the industry. I am not going to lie, it was a challenge but when everything started to come together, it was really exciting and rewarding. Other members of the team started to see what was going on and that’s how the Kickstarter strategy came to the surface.
Is there a reason why the Mobius backpack sold through Kickstarter versus tentree’s site?
We sold the backpack first through a Kickstarter campaign because we didn’t know what the market appetite for an upcycled backpack would be. Also, it was tentree’s first big foray into backpacks, so we wanted to gauge the demand. Ultimately, we didn’t want to produce too much, since it generates more waste and causes us to overbuy materials. I strongly recommend companies to take this route because you can guarantee that the product is going to be used.
That makes sense! For tentree’s other products, how does the brand decide how much material to order?
That’s also part of my role — diving into the logistical puzzle to see what is possible. I typically look at the minimum order quantity (MOQ) to figure out how much we have to order. For the Mobius backpack, the Kickstarter campaign was great because we could see if there was enough demand to hit the MOQ.
For the accessories category, we also take a lot of liability fabrics from our mills as well. That means if the mill produces small runs of fabric for testing or sampling purposes sometimes they happen to have 20 odd yards left. For a larger company this isn't enough, but for us, it’s enough to experiment, try things, etc. If the 20 yards is a success it gives us way more confidence in hitting a larger MOQ.
What materials do you like working with?
I love working with hemp and cork. Hemp is great because it’s an organic material (not a fossil fuel like polyester), so from a growing perspective it has low dependence on water use and has a better farming footprint in comparison to other organic materials. It is more expensive though which is why it’s harder to see on the market.
Cork is also amazing and the Portuguese are the most famous for supplying it. The bark is pulled off the trees and re-grown over 30 years. It’s in the farmers’ best interest not to chop down these trees because cork re-grows, so it’s amazing because you’re able to get materials from trees without having to cut them down (unlike the logging industry). There are some great videos on YouTube if you want to further educate yourself.
What’s your dream project to work on?
I really enjoy thinking about new, innovative campaigns and making a statement in the world. From a design perspective, I’d love to create the next sustainable luggage line. It would be neat to make a suitcase from recycled materials to help travellers offset their carbon footprint when they fly to various destinations.
I would also love to create fully compostable items. For example, if you get a hole in your sock, you could dig a hole in your backyard and throw the sock into that hole because you know it’ll decompose. That would be the dream for me and the company, and ultimately it’s what the planet really needs right now.
What sparks your creativity?
Sustainability and innovation will always drive my creativity. I always try to be multi-functional, meaning I aim for something to serve 3-4 purposes, not just one purpose. I am also heavily influenced by biomimicry, the design influenced by nature. For example, we plant mangrove trees in Madagascar and the leaves have these lines and patterns which have inspired some of my designs. Also, tree roots, other tree leaves, honeycombs… all those parts of nature I try to put back into our products, be it for functionality, or aesthetics.
What message do you have for aspiring designers and new designers that are graduating?
Getting into the industry is hard, so you have to network and not give up! Go to events, talk to people, etc. I graduated when I was 22 and finally got into the industry at 27. It can take time, so it’s important to persevere. It was tough getting back into the industry, but MEC gave me a break. When I got the offer, I found out it was because of my drive and values towards sustainability and the planet.
Also, see the value and find rewards in jobs you fall into that might not be related to the industry. In my life, I have been in sales, hospitality, and was in a two-man construction business before working at MEC. Sometimes you think you're going backwards, but little did I know I gained so many skills that are applicable now. Hospitality and sales provided me with confidence in speaking to people and construction provided me with budgeting and project management skills. All skills now that are part of my day to day at tentree. So always see the learning opportunities in everything that you do!
Lastly, stay creative, keep your portfolio up, and continue to design. That way when you get a lucky break, you’re prepared and have something to show companies. Being proactive and showing initiative goes a very long way to a hiring manager.
Anything else you’d like to share with the readers?
Support tentree and spread the word! It’s because of all the people that follow the brand and care about sustainability that we are where we are today. Rome wasn’t built in a day I always say— we’ve come so far as a company in two years and some brands take 20 years to get as far as we have. We’re proud that 96% of our materials are organic or upcycled, and we’re aiming for 100% very soon. Ultimately if you support us, we can continue to do all the great things we’re doing.