Afternoons with Albert
Q&A WITH SHANE THOMPSOM – FOUNDER AND DESIGNER
Tell us the story of your business – was there a particular moment, person, or need that inspired it?
As a child I spent Sunday afternoons with my grandfather (Albert) in his shed. He was an avid carpenter and tinkerer. I would pass him tools and do the small jobs, eventually graduating to making stuff of my own, with his guidance, for the family home. After the work was done we would retire to the garden and eat cake and drink tea, lovingly prepared by Nanna. This memory forms the basis for the name of the label.
After he passed, I was given all his tools, and set them up in a shed of my own. It was a place where I would go to get lost in ‘making’. I would dream up designs, then go create them. Seeing them come to life was amazing, and as a kid very liberating.
This background, coupled with my inquisitive nature means that I always have to know how something works – I am forever interested in the design of functional, utilitarian things.
When I became an international pilot for Qantas at 25, I was suddenly exposed to an entire world of design (pun intended). Having the globe as inspiration, and a jet to access it all has only strengthened my interest and passion in the design space.
I have always loved music, and am often transported to another time and place when I hear a certain song. Entire periods of my life can be characterized by particular albums – my late 20’s were Hot Fuss by The Killers, and Sex on Fire by Kings Of Leon, for example.
One of my favourite things on earth is to get lost in a new city, listening to music … just walking around for hours, in and out of coffee shops, down lanes, talking to strangers.
But it struck me that I never remembered to take my charging cable – so my phone would always run flat before I was finished exploring. Even worse, stuffing my earphones into my pockets would always produce a horrible mess, and I found I was taking endless amounts of time untangling these things, when all I wanted to do was be in the moment and enjoy wherever I was.
So I guess I had a ‘there must be a better way’ moment, and begun experimenting. My creative process is incredibly authentic, in that it’s not forced – if I don’t like a design then I can’t workshop it. But when I do resonate with something, it becomes part of me, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I know I am ready to put the pen down and bring the tools out when I can see the design in my head in 3 dimensions, I can turn it around, up and down and inside out, and look at it from every angle – that’s when I know I’ve got something. The Cord Roll was born like this.
What first steps did you take to turn your business idea into a reality? Was it difficult, or did everything come easilY?
My first steps were born from advice given to me by someone who had tread the path before me. The best advice that was given to me when starting the brand was:
Rule #1 is focus
Rule #2 is focus
Rule #3 is focus
The most exciting thing in the world for me is a shiny new product idea. Getting lost in the possibilities of a new design is intoxicating. What’s the most succinct way to describe what it does? What other problems can it solve easily? How will I package it? I can go down these roads for hours on end.
It’s a learned skill to be able to silence the noise and discipline yourself enough to give birth to the fruit of your focus. Our attention in the modern (western) world can be so scattered, there is a lot of things competing for it. You must live life on your own terms – FOCUS is the only way to do this.
Authentic design is a natural by-product of the above.
It was both scary and difficult at times, yes. I launched on Kickstarter, so putting yourself out there in such a public manner was something to get past. It was difficult in that there is no rule book for beginning a brand and designing a product. I didn’t have a background in anything that spoke to bits required to get where I wanted to go. So focus and learning was required.
Once I got going though, I found that it was a matter of following the energy. I think authenticity breeds and energy that relates to many. That bit was easier.
Tell us three things that make your product stand out.
SIMPLE & INTUITIVE: Simplicity was the critical design rule and The Cord Roll’s highest virtue during development. The relationship between the form of the Roll and the leather it is crafted from puts to use that physical principle that as a pilot I am usually happy to do away with – friction. This seamless interplay complements both aspects, culminating in a design that does its job in an effortless, selfless manner. The logical, intuitive nature of its form also cuts through language barriers – a nod to the trueness of a design that combats a global problem head on, replete with style.
CRAFTSMANSHIP: Leather was chosen as it ages beautifully and tells a story. For a travel accessory this was ideal. It also addressed the requirement to be minimal in nature, removing the need for hemming as leather does not fray. Finally, it is extremely durable, which addressed the important requirements of integrity and longevity.
AUTHENTIC: It’s frustrating to interact with products that were clearly not road tested. Bad design is so damn frustrating. What is more authentic than someone who travels every week (an international pilot) designing a travel accessory?
Describe how you felt when you started to get your first customers. How has your relationship with your customers grown / changed since then?
The point of purchase represents the culmination of so many things. So much time, so many (unfounded) fears, so much blood, sweat and tears. I don’t think you can quite describe the feeling that comes at this apex. But if I tried, it would be exhilaration.
We treat our customers like family. I’ve personally driven 45 mins across town to drop a Cord Roll at a customer’s house after Australia Post lost it – endangering the birthday party the following day. It’s so nice to create win-win outcomes like this.
Describe the kind of person who buys your products. Why do you think they love your business? How do they benefit from your products?
We have 2 main customer segments – the guy who appreciates being organised and ready for anything, and the girl/guy that wants to buy a gift that is UNIQUE and DIFFERENT.
They love the brand for it’s authentic STORY. The story is so real (boy spends time with his grandfather and grows up to make things in his memory) that they often recount it to friends when using and/or gifting the product.
My Dad bought me a Swiss Army knife about 30 years ago. It still WORKS. It still looks the same. It still does what it was designed to do. Our customers feel the same way about The Cord Roll.
Tell us three things that excite you about doing what you do.
1. Living my passion
2. Seeing people enjoy the product
3. The unbounded nature of a design led brand
How do you keep your business fresh and exciting? Do you have any new, upcoming products in the works that you can tell us about?
Since COVID, I’m working on a product tailored to working from home.
What energises and inspires you?
Travel inspires me. The world is such a massive place - everywhere I go, I meet people unlike anyone I’ve met before, each with their own take on life. Interacting and learning from their different points of view gives me an incredible opportunity to add to my own views, while also challenging some assumptions that often creep in. It keeps me fresh, and open minded. Taking all this in and expressing it through a creative exploit is incredibly aligning.
I am an idealist in many ways. I am inspired by the cities I visit, the world around me – the everyday things that should be better. Lazy, thoughtless, ugly design frustrates the hell out of me. When I interact with products and processes that are harder and less intuitive than they need to be, my mind starts to wander and dream up ways to get from A to B faster, with a more pleasant experience, culminating in a better result.
Who is your biggest inspiration, and why?
I am driven personally by a knowing that I have a finite time here on earth. This in turn fuels the desire to do things that I enjoy, such that my experience in life is a positive one – both for myself and the people around me. I enjoy the feeling of learning and growing, so as hard as this inevitably is, I am drawn towards things that challenge me.
Where do you think your area of design is headed in 2020/2021? Are there any design or business trends that you’ve identified? Have they affected the direction of your business?
The work from home sector is something that will breed a ton of design led solutions. People will still travel, but our focus has always been on the ‘urban commuter’ anyway – our products speak to both urban and international travel.
What kind of role has community and/or the support of retailers played in the success of your business?
Retailers have been huge for us. They saw the attention to detail and the quality of the brand and those aspects were something that a lot of shops gravitated towards. Again here I’ll mention the story – it’s so relatable and therefore easy to remember, it’s often used by staff to give life to the product. In this way it’s a very effective selling tool for the retailer… and enhances the symbiosis between them and AWA. Win-Win.
What advice would you give to someone who has a creative business idea?
Start before you are ready, and when you do, start smart – work out what the market wants within the concept of your idea and offer this to them (thou shalt know thy customer).
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