Ashley Watson is a London-based menswear designer engineering functional clothing for the road.
Having spent seven years designing for a number of leading UK labels, he set out to produce a range of clothing on his own terms. Inspired by the freedom of exploring on two wheels, Ashley uses the knowledge gained riding year-round and in all weathers to guide his work.
Partnering with specialist factories across the UK and Europe, piece by piece, he is building a collection of purposeful clothing that’s hardwearing, reliable and essential to any trip – be it a short run across town or weeks spent on the road.
My Story So Far…
Around eight years ago I graduated with a degree in Graphic Design. It didn’t take long before I realised that the path I was on wasn’t really for me. I needed to change direction and so spent the next six months working out what was important to me. I tried my hand at everything, I painted, built furniture, took countless photographs – you name it. By the end of the year, I knew that I felt most comfortable creating objects that serve a purpose in daily life. I can’t really put my finger on it, but for some reason, clothing felt right.
Soon after, I got my break – designing prints for Ted Baker. I spent three years working in-house and then another four as a freelance designer for a number of UK labels; learning the ropes and honing my skills as a designer. I will always be grateful for being given the room to cut my teeth, however, I often felt that the work I produced didn’t reflect my tastes, values or lifestyle. I knew that I wanted to do things on my own terms and so began to search for the specialist manufacturers that could bring my ideas to life.
I would like to say that when I started, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to design but in reality it’s been an evolutionary process, born out of necessity.
Around the time that I set out on my own, I had lost my house keys a number of times and my landlord threatened to charge me for replacing the locks if I were to loose them again. I needed something to keep my keys secure and so the first product I developed was a belt clip.
The second product was a cardholder, designed because this time I had lost my wallet. A belt, woollen hat and baseball cap followed – all produced for similar reasons. Over an eighteen-month period, I developed a small collection of staple accessories, which I launched in September 2014.
I love the variety of life in London but often feel the need to balance the pace of the city with trips out of town in search of space. My favourite way of doing that is on my motorbike. The notion that a road, starting at your doorstep, connects you with the remote reaches of the world is something that has always captured my imagination. To me, whether it’s a short run out of town or an expedition further afield, at their core, they both represent the same sense of freedom. This is what I design for.
When travelling by bike, space is limited. Packing fewer items that can adapt to a variety of situations frees up room for other essential equipment, which in turn means you can go further. I ride year-round in all weathers, so I understand what’s needed – what works and what doesn’t. I let this knowledge inspire and guide my work – using it to question each and every detail in a design.
I know that if I keep sight of the purpose, a design won’t lose its way. It’s a simple concept, but one that I’ve taken a time to fully appreciate. As and when I’ve seen a need, the collection has grown – one product at a time.
It’s an unorthodox approach. I would sell more if I created a new range every six months, but I believe that if a piece of clothing still works and looks good several years down the line, I’ve done my job properly (although my accountant would probably disagree!). For me, there’s beauty in an object that functions so well the design has remained unchanged for years. By taking my time I am able to properly test each product and ensure that my work is always of the highest quality.
It’s not until recently that I’ve taken a step back and noticed a shape to my work. I’ve never tried to solve the same problem twice and so there is no crossover between products. Each fulfils its own purpose. Together, I can see that they are organically forming a kit bag of the staple products needed for an expedition. The designs that I’m currently developing are set to fill in the remaining gaps.
If you speak to anyone that’s set out to do their own thing they would be lying if at times, they had been unsure of their path. I’m no different and having that realisation was a big moment for me. It felt like something had clicked. To see where you’ve come from and where you’re going in sharp focus is a great feeling.
I can see that as my experiences and interests have widened and evolved, so too has the direction of my work. I would like to think that I’m building a platform that will allow me to explore opportunities as they present themselves – whatever they might be. It’s easy to get caught in a comfort zone and so looking to the future, I hope that I have the confidence to continue to forge my own way ahead.
– Ashley Watson