I’m really excited to give my readers an inside look at the brand Oughton Limited, a line of equestrian inspired bags and accessories designed in Pawlet, VT. When I was home a couple weeks ago I had the chance to sit down with founder Daphne Markcrow to talk more about the roots of the brand and her mission to create products that are both beautiful and functional. And not just for the avid equestrian, but the busy modern woman too.
Q. When did you found Oughton Limited and what inspired you to begin the brand?
A. I began Oughton about 5 years ago; it grew out of a specific need for a particular bag . . . I was shipping my horses from my farm several times a week to a nearby facility for training. To carry and keep organized everything I needed for these trips, my traditional show trunk was too unwieldy. I wanted something I could lift myself and “work out of” once I got there. It had to carry a saddle, bridle, brushes, my hat, etcetc. Nothing really existed in the marketplace that would work. In fact there were no good looking bags to carry riding gear at all. There was only cheap nylon bags that I had as a kid. I was looking for something a bit nicer. So I had a bag made and loved it: the materials were especially great and I realized how important packing properly and being organized is to me.
So also evolved how this product filled a need in the market:
I believe “A GREAT TRIP BEGINS WITH THE RIGHT BAG” . . . that I can relax and have fun (or focus on the job at hand if needed) if I feel well prepared and have everything I need. In the horse show world, the tagline is also a double-entendre: a “trip” is short hand for your turn in the ring. And this was very applicable as well: if I am organized, I’m clear-headed and competitive. But it can be applied to any trip, thus the rest of the tagline “WHETHER AROUND THE RING OR AROUND THE WORLD” . . .
As I carried my bespoke bag to horse shows, several people saw how useful it was and wanted one to . . . and so it began . . . with no idea how to get it affordably made, I have several “sold”.
Finding the right production took a lot of perseverance and commitment and several trips around the globe, quite literally. After initially being committed to US production I ultimately found the best quality production in South America where there is also a tremendous horse tradition.
I was also tremendously excited by the materials I had found. Waxed canvas seemed to be the perfect material for bags and luggage: lightweight, water resistant, tremendously strong and tear-resistant and really good-looking. I loved the patina it acquired, that it literally showed evidence of your life travels. It reminded me of my grandparents’ steamer trunks, emblazoned with their ports of call . . . I also loved the history of the material . . . a classic American waxed canvas, it was originally designed for the US Army as ponchos that convert to tents at night . . . and, as such, it needed to be lightweight yet very strong, water-resistant and breatheable, with a unique “dry” finish that is not oily or sticky. Soon after I found the waxed canvas material, the iconography of the halter square hardware developed . . . I was spending some time at a friend’s broodmare farm in KY during foaling season. She had over 60 mares due to foal between Jan 15 and end of March and needed help. At night, while waiting for the mares to foal, we would cut the brass halter squares of old [rotten/broken/torn] halters that were to be thrown away. Before we knew it we had 2 huge trashcans full of brass halter squares of every size, from foal halters to heavyweight turnout halters. They were the PERFECT hardware for my bags!
The aesthetics resonated within the horse world . . . it is a world steeped in tradition and history. Quality is defined by the craftsmanship, performance, by how well something works and how long it lasts. Heirlooms, meticulously cared for through the generations, are a point of pride.
It struck me how different the general consumer world had become, where the idea of provenance and unique histories had been totally lost . . . and supplanted by flash, trend, etc. In retrospect I think this became the opportunity for the company . . . to offer a different viewpoint, to offer classic, timeless pieces (much in the way the ultimate luxury houses such as Hermes have done for centuries) that will be heirlooms for the next generation . . . who will wear the patina of their ancestors travels with pride. I wanted to create a line that was the antithesis of the trendy bags and what I perceived as the waste and self-consciousness that had reached epic proportions.
In addition to the waxed canvas and halter square motif, I offer brass halter plates [engraved with a name, farm name, stallion, etc] . . . it was a way to add an element of customization by repurposing a halter plate that is so typical in the equestrian world. It has proven to be incredibly popular with customers and it was a nice expansion of the heirloom idea. It has also, I think, opened up the idea of the bag as a fantastic, personalized gift for someone that is special, meaningful and longlasting.
Thus evolved the line and its aesthetic . . . waxed canvas trimmed in leather and an iconography of halter squares and halter plates. It is inspired by a life lived with horses and the “quiet” classic chic of country life . . . an aesthetic sense of long-lasting utility and timelessness over trend.
Q. The design of your bags are a marriage of form and function. What is your process for designing the collections?
A. I really design to my own needs and tastes, for better or worse. This means I am able to think through pretty clearly every single element of the bag and often imbue it with more quality points than is typical, but conversely, it also means I can’t really design it if I don’t feel it myself, which is why the line has such a strong point-of-view.
Q. Where do you find the inspiration and drive for your work?
A. In terms of drive, I really love what I do, I don’t have to consciously conjure up energy for it, although its busy, it gives me more energy that it depletes. I also really enjoy the customers many of whom have become friends.
As far as aesthetic inspiration, I would say instead of a person as a muse, I often see an interior and say “wow, that is so cool, I want to design a bag that looks like it should be sitting right . . . there.” I also, though, euqlly find inspiration in a lifestyle story, a family that lives here, travels there, kids are suchandsuch, often my inspiration boards (pinned with a random selection of lifestyle imagery at any given time) automatically group themselves in a cool “composite” family that I see pretty clearly and design things for . . .
Q. How important is sourcing the appropriate materials for your designs? And what makes them special to your collections?
A. Ahh, well I talked a bit about this above. I think that was the real catalyst. Finding the materials and the manufacturing pieces that begged to be combined into luggage. Waxed canvas is perfect is so many ways, beyond the great inherent properties of the material such as exceptionally strong, waterproof yet breathable . . . I love the history of the material [it was developed during the Civil War! To use as ponchos that converted to tents] and how it shows history by becoming patinae . . . showing evidence of your life travels . . . but that it will also re-finish itself when put out in the sun as the wax melts and re-distributes.
Q. What have the challenges and rewards been of running your own brand?
A. The economy has been the hardest thing I think, but hopefully it has just sharpened us so we learned at warp-speed (which I feel like the last few years have been) and are better able to capitalize on opportunities that may come our way when things get back on track.
Q. Do you have some exciting new things in store for Oughton Limited?
A. Oh YES! I am more excited about 2013 than any year prior as we are launching a small capsule collection made in Italy of truly luxury quality handbags and small leather goods.
Q. What inspired the choice of the brand’s icon?
A. The ringmaster is found today at many of the most prestigious equestrian events across the country. Largely ceremonial, his presence is a nod to the tradition and rich history of many of these events. Typically he announces the arrival of grand prix level classes and the highest caliber of horses and riding at the event. We found this was emblematic of how beautiful luggage announces ones arrivals and departures with a certain amount of style and presentation . . . as a friend says, likening my bags to his vintage Porsche, “its all about arrivals and departures!” . . .