In 2014 Sligo native Ashleigh Smith founded a small and special brand called The Atlantic Equipment Project. She designs and manufactures a growing collection of backpacks and satchels, inspired by Atlantic adventure.
A youth spent exploring the rockpools and surfing the powerful waves along this coastline, partnered with an education in Industrial Design and the design process led her to setting up her business.
From this, she created a family of products designed to support the experience of wilderness. AEP champions natural fabrics, small supply chains, and classic minimal design to deliver beautiful and functional bags.
Ashleigh sells her bags on her website and in selected shops.
Ashleigh will speak in the LookWest.ie Marquee at SeaFest on Friday, 30 June at 1pm. See full details of LookWest.ie at SeaFest here.
Where do you live? Why do you like it?
I am blessed to live in Sligo, a miraculous place with so much to offer, from waves, to beaches, to mountains, to lakes. It provides inspiration for our designs and a wonderful collection of connected, interesting and very alive people.
For two years, while studying a Masters in Design I lived in The Netherlands.
Why did you return to the West of Ireland?
I returned for the sense of wildness here, for the lack of population density, for the energy and genuinely realness of the people here, and for the waves.
What is your employment status?
When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this?
2014 officially launched the business. The belief in the brand values: Atlantic Coastal Heritage, Shared Exploration, and Honest Design.
What were your start-up costs? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?
To begin a business in my area of work, often doesn’t require as much capital as people think. Initially I just needed a fund of around €2000 to purchase the first industrial sewing machine, rent for a small workshop and to get a launch video. This in part came from a family member who now has a shareholding in the company. The support of your close network and family, when starting a business can make all the difference.
Where is your market? How have you targeted international markets?
Thus far 10% of our direct sales from the website are exported, so I would say our main market is still in Ireland. 20% of the shops we stock are abroad, so again most of our wholesale market is Irish. To be honest, international reach for direct sales hasn’t really been planned for yet, it has been happening organically so far. Our wholesale international market was acquired through trade-shows.
How long did it take you to get everything your business off the ground?
Around about 6 months of planning, and prototyping to build the initial three designs that we launched with. This was a really intensive learning time for me and I remember being so excited all the time!
How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful?
I was fortunate to have had a great education in strategic and product design in both the University of Limerick and the Technical University of Delft, NL. I learned about tools and skills to help the design process. Lots of research, reading, planning. But, the implementation of the business plan, actually just doing things taught me the most practical skills. Trial and error is the best learning tool, no matter how scary it is.
How do you promote your business?
Social media, e-newsletter, attending shows/events, PR agency, press interviews
What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?
I love the flexible time, as in my life right now that is especially useful. I also love the occasionally feeling of self sufficiency. There are moments in between the busy-ness and stress where I remember that I am paying my way with my own sweat and graft. The draw backs are the high stress levels, the inability to disconnect from work for a minute, and of course cash flow challenges!
What should happen in the West of Ireland to support self employment / entrepreneurship?
A lot of great mentoring is available to help you start and learn. What is missing though is a practical vehicle for helping start-ups. Things like promotional video content to drive traffic to website can be so effective and transformative for sales, but prohibitively expensive to implement. A ”mentor” board of practical skilled people eg. photographer, videographer, stylist, PR, support that could be funded or part funded would be extremely useful.
If you previously lived outside the West, how does the cost of living compare with where you previously lived?
Cost of living here is average I would say.
What are the main advantages and disadvantages of relocating / living in the West in terms of working and living?
Don’t find that there are any, just that lots of startup supports such as talks, events, workshops, from for example DCCOI or Enterprise Ireland (the good big name events) all happen in Dublin
How do you find accessibility to where you live and access to public transport / road networks / airports?
Poor, without a car one cannot live here and remain connected
What advice would you give to anybody thinking about a life in the West?
Be sure of some kind of supporting income, and then just do it. You will be healthier, more active, more connected to community and nature. You will eat well, dance a lot, have a wind burnt face and it’d just awesome.
You will find Ashleigh’s beautiful bags for sale on atlanticequipmentproject.com. She’s running a promotion for Father’s Day with free shipping for online sales before Sunday, June 11th.