Usually with product features on Y&Y, we tend to review while they’re still new and base it off a week’s worth of usage. This time with this backpack, it’s a little different – I’ve been wearing it for almost two months and for someone who owns over 5 bags, it’s fair to say this is by far the best one I’ve owned. It’s perfect for my lifestyle, always on the go and always comfortable even carrying a crap load of stuff (Macbook Pro, SLR and gym gear). Standardly I remained behind the lens for the shoot, Derek – the leader of the Y&Y’s internal #teamimageting stepped into the frame.
It’s funny how I first came across AZO. They commented on one of my old tweets (over 2 years old) on a Grafea backpack that we had reviewed. I knew oh so little about backpacks back then, it was definitely more style > function. Even if my shoulders were destroyed by the tough leather straps, I looked damn good, right? At least I hoped so. The past few years of lugging camera gear and a laptop around has helped me develop an appreciation for good-sized, stylish and most importantly comfortable. The last is what many people overlook for style reasons but the most important.
Boom. Y&Y’s very own in-house ninja in action here as we went exploring through Clerkenwell’s Smithfield Market. For those that haven’t been to the market, it’s London oldest meat market which has been trading on the site almost one thousand years.
Designed by the same architect responsible for Billingsgate Market in East London; the Central Market was inspired by Italian architecture began in 1866 and was completed a few years later for £999,816. Guess how much the site is worth now? £76 million. The market is also renowned for large public gatherings where quite a few reputable people have been executed, including the likes of William Wallace and Wat Tyler.
It’s a fascinating structure that I’m blessed to walk through/past 5 times a week for work,London has so many gems. To see it still being used is great, it’s done well to shift and evolve along the years.
It’s a work of art that’s been made and designed in the UK. A complete rarity nowadays as most brands choose to manufacture for cheaply in the East. AZO Equipment have chosen to create a backpack with the finest British wax cotton that’s rot-proof and UV resistant thread and webbing. It’s the rigid shape that I can compliment the most, this bag never loses its shape! it’s always solid and stands up right which is perfect for photography when I’m out and about. Two months in, I can honestly say they’ve stayed true to their ethos of creating a bag that’s weatherproof and durable. It’s already travelled with me to Malta and Crete as well as withstanding the daily commutes up and down our city.
I had the opportunity to send over a few questions to the founder of the brand, Dan to find out more about AZO and its roots. Heck, I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce the name so had to make sure haha. Read on.
1. Why AZO? First of all, how do you pronounce it and what does it mean? Hope I’ve been pronouncing it right for the past few months.
Azo is pronounced ‘Az-o’, it’s the Amharic word for crocodile.
For those who don’t know that’s Amharic is a Semitic language spoken in Ethiopia.
2. How did the AZO journey begin?
The Azo Equipment journey really started in 2005, I was part of a scientific expedition to some really remote parts of Ethiopia’s Amhara region. There were a lot of people, experiences and visual inspiration that played a part.
3. Let’s talk about bags and accessories. Why did you decide to start
the business specially focused on this area?
There are lots of companies that make fantastic bags out there, but when it comes to the backpack, as a consumer I felt I needed to move away from a sports brand or a fashion accessory brand. I wanted something that looked classic and considered but has the reliable build quality of a rugged outdoors bag, this motivated me to start making backpacks without compromise in either durability or style.
4. In the past few years, we’ve seen a boom in brands that specialise
in this area. Especially across Scandinavia. What makes your products stand
out from the rest?
It’s great to see the backpack getting some respect and becoming such a part of the fashion landscape for both men and women. I think what makes our bags different is the quality of our materials and the way we manufacture our products – many backpacks you see in shops these days are mass produced and these companies, being volume smart big businesses, are choosing cheaper fabrics to be economical and serving a more mass market that demands a cheaper brand of ‘stylish’ – not necessarily providing longevity or the highest quality and best finish that we demand.
5. The backpack stands out amongst others, the rigid shape and qualitywaxed cotton & leather is better than any bag I’ve owned in the past. Where have you gone to source the materials for the Bashilo backpack?
Thanks, glad you like it! The waxed cotton is from a UK supplier – it’s unique because unlike many waxed fabrics its dry to the touch, light and holds shape but is still waterproof and durable. We are proud of the rigid shape, it came from wanting a backpack that can stand up on its own – we have had so much feedback from people traveling and telling us how useful that feature has been. We also intentionally didn’t fill the bag with pockets so that you can make use of the full volume if needed, but we are introducing some inserts in the near future that allow you to organise things like camera lenses and accessories.
I look forward to that since I’ve been placing another camera pouch for 5D Mark II and a 2 lenses.
6. What was the design and manufacture process like? I’ve read that you guys do a lot of it by hand and have handpicked the materials yourself.
We spent 2 years tweaking our design, testing and adjusting every aspect of the bag. We are 100% made in the UK. Our leather work is all done in-house and hides are selected individually, its all vegetable tanned and we buy it in the UK. Some of our favourite parts are the metal hardware on the bag – the rubber coated metal D ring is made exclusively for us. The zip is also an Azo touch, oversized so its easy to use and can crunch through any debris that gets stuck in there on dusty travels.
Smithfield Market, after hours. Eerie.
7. Has social media played a big role in reaching out to your customers?
Yeah, I think for any developing business it’s a great help. We are slowly but surely letting more people know about what we do. Its also fun to see what people think of our brand and get direct feedback.
8. What does the future hold for AZO? More bag silhouettes? accessories?
We have several new backpack designs in development. The smaller 13” laptop sized Bashilo backpack is not far away from being released, we had a lot of feedback that a smaller bag for women would be much appreciated and so we doing our best to get that finished. Although you can see the current 15” size has this mysterious ability to not be too big for anyone. Our Dessie pouch is also in production, available online soon. We’ll keep you posted on anything new as it rolls out.