From August 13th thru the 16th, the 2014 IDSA International Conference is bringing a list of provocative speakers to Austin, TX, all in the name of sharing valuable, practical and enlightening information with the masses. Core77 is proud to sponsor the event so we wanted to introduce you to one of this year's Conference speakers, Maria Boustead of Po Campo. Maria will be speaking about Designers as Entrepreneurs, a topic she is quite familiar with as the founder of her own bike-centric bag company. We asked Maria about her journey from designer to entrepreneur, where she finds the best creative exchanges and for a preview of her Conference presentation.
What limitations in circa 2008 era biking gear led you to start Po Campo?
At the time, I was working at a design agency. I liked biking to work or to meetings or wherever; I found it to be enjoyable and a good source of both exercise and new ideas. Of course, you need a way to carry your stuff and I quickly learned that backpacks and messenger bags would make my back sweaty and that they would be uncomfortable if loaded up with too much stuff. Therefore, I was on the hunt for a bag I could attach to my bike while riding and then easily detach and carry around as my normal bag throughout my day. There were plenty of good quality bike bags on the market, but they were built more for bike touring and weren't really designed to be carried around, both aesthetically and functionally. When I couldn't find a bag that fit the bill, I decided to design my own.
How did you get into softgoods/bag design?
I graduated from college in 2001, just when the first tech bubble burst. Hardly anyone was hiring junior designers so when I got a job at Arctic Zone, a manufacturer of sewn coolers and lunch bags, I was beyond ecstatic. I had always enjoyed sewing and was interested in softgoods, but hadn't had any experience in cut-and-sew manufacturing before that job. I really fell in love with it; it is perfectly suited for how I like to create. It is a truly iterative process because there is little to no tooling that you have to invest in, so you can literally update and tweak with every production run. I also enjoyed discovering new fabrics and experimenting with textures and colors and prints. Your palette is so much bigger than with other materials, and I find that to be a lot of fun from a design perspective.
Where do you find your most valuable creative exchanges?
Now that I identify more as an entrepreneur, I consider my business to be my ultimate design project. I go to a lot of small business events and like to exchange ideas with others about how they solve certain issues or what steps they have taken to start making their vision a reality. It is helpful to talk with other design entrepreneurs, but sometimes I find my biggest a-ha moments when talking to people in completely different sectors, like the arts, or service based businesses. It's shown me that I always approach problems kind of the same way, using my "design thinking" methods, which generally yield good results, but it is nice to shelve those processes sometimes and go at it from a different angle.
Why do you think more women don't bike to work/errands/for fun and what can be done to change that?
I think there are two main reasons. The first is confidence, in that they don't know if they can bike in traffic safely or that they feel they don't know enough about how to do it to try it out. The second reason is one of logistics: women tend to make many more daily trips than men (go to work, drop kids off at school, go grocery shopping, pick-up dry cleaning, etc) that taking a bike doesn't always seem practical because they're going to more places and transporting more things on each trip.
Better bike infrastructure, like protected bike lines, are proven to dramatically increase ridership. Since human nature encourages us to fit in with people like us, the more women that are out there riding, and the greater variety of women (different ages, different ethnicities, different fashion styles) the more people will be able to see themselves in the bike lane and will try it. When I'm riding, I kind of think of myself as a role model, in that I hope women will see me and think, "Oh, she looks like me. If she can do it, I suppose I can do it too."
As far as solving the logistical issues, I like to think Po Campo is chipping away at this problem. I suspect that part of the reason I couldn't find a bag I needed back in 2008 was because men run practically all the bike businesses in this country and they didn't perceive the need to carry stuff all day as a problem to solve. Now that more women are joining the bike industry, I think we'll start seeing a lot more products emerging that help women integrate biking into their lives. These will be some fashion items like apparel and bags, but also hardgoods, like cargo bikes, things for children, etc.
Photo credit: Chris Walker / Blue Sky / Chicago Tribune
What about the United States overall? How can we become a nation of bikers?
More people biking encourages more people to bike, so implementing more bicycle infrastructure across the board would be the most helpful for exponential growth.
As a society, we also need to fall out-of-love with cars a bit to become more open minded to other forms of transportation. I feel like this is already starting to happen, but for the longest time, owning a car and driving it everywhere seemed like a national goal, kind of a rite of passage and part of the American dream. There was a stigma attached to non-car transportation, like you'd only bike or take the bus if you were young and/or poor. A shift away from thinking of cars this way would free people up to try different modes of transportation and choose the solution that makes most sense for the trip. Sometimes cars make a lot of sense, but for most short trips, there are other options that are better.
What are you most personally proud of regarding your company?
One of the reasons I wanted to start my own company was because I wanted to have the "dream job." I always wanted to work in a place with flex time, that encouraged travel and "giving back," that honored introverted tendencies, that was built on mutual respect of the different strengths of all the people involved in the business workings (i.e. no egos). I'm most proud of building a company that is now like that, and only becoming better as the team is growing and our culture is taking its own shape.
Where or to whom do you turn for inspiration?
I have my best ideas on my bike, so if I feel stuck, I'll usually go for a ride along the lakefront. I'm also an arts lover, so I try to see or do something arts-related (museum, play, concert, deep dive into a novel) every week to just get reinvigorated.
How about a preview of what you'll be presenting at the IDSA Conference in August?
I will be sharing some of the ups and downs from my entrepreneurial journey, and how I believe that my industrial design background both helped and hindered my business's growth. The session is intended largely as a Q&A, in which I hope that design entrepreneurs can learn from my real-life lessons and be better prepared for business success.
Register today to hear Maria and many more informative speakers present at the IDSA 2014 International Conference from August 13–16, and don't forget to join us at the Core77 Party on Friday, August 15!