Acufocal is a camera bag brand founded by London-based professional photographer and FStoppers.com editor Robert Baggs. Launched after years of exasperation at having to lug around ungainly, unsightly rucksacks, Acufocal released their first design, the Orwell, in Summer 2017. Fashioned from quality, heavy duty black canvas while sporting stylish leather straps and glistening chrome buckles, the Orwell is just as slick and sophisticated as it is rugged and utilitarian.
Modestly priced in the £150 bracket, the Orwell’s stand-out feature is its bipartite design. Splitting the bag into two compartments, separated by a simple zip, means easy access to important gear – imperative for photographers working in testing environments. The fact that it’s beautiful and practical in equal measures is more than just a bonus: it makes it a no-brainer for freelancers for whom image is so important.
FAULT: There are a few designers out there trying to offer what Acufocal does. What gives you the edge?
Robert Baggs (Acufocal): What makes us different is the motivation behind the brand: my needs as a professional photographer who enjoys fashion. I don’t need to research what photographers need in this area, I just need to look at what it is I can’t seem to find when buying a camera bag and create it.
You’re a photographer yourself, and your website goes into a lot of depth describing your frustrations with having to choose between “function or fashion” in camera bags. Do you think that’s a universal concern among photographers or just for those who work in particularly fashion-conscious environments?
Acufocal: I try to remain as transparent and honest as possible, and the answer to that is: no, it’s not a universal problem. There are, I’m sure, myriad photographers who don’t care how their bag looks and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I also know there are lots of people like me who would love the functionality and the care for its contents that a good camera bag has, but with a design that looks more like a backpack from a fashion label. This has been confirmed by all the attention the Orwell has garnered and positivity, which has been gratifying. From the start my aim for Acufocal was and is to create products for photographers that don’t compromise fashion or functionality, despite how difficult it might be.
What were your top 3 concerns when developing the Orwell design?
Acufocal: That’s a tough one. Again, in the interest of honesty, the final design was far from the first sample we had made. My number one concern was always “where will I be expected to compromise functionality or style, and how will I get around it?” Second was creating enough space, padding, and pockets to house the plethora of gear us photographers carry, without infringing on the design; that was what changed the most from the first sample to the final product. Thirdly was achieving all my above goals, the highest quality materials I could get my hands on, weather proofing the materials (which takes a week), and heavy-duty zips and clasps, all without causing us to have to put a huge price tag on it.
What would you say the “hook” of the design is, functionality wise?
Acufocal: The bag being essentially comprised of two bags with the middle being unzippable to access the bottom section. Rucksacks make for great camera bags because equipment is heavy and it’s the best way to support the weight. However, trying to wade through everything at the top of the bag to get to the stuff at the bottom was so much hassle. To bypass that problem, the Orwell unzips in to halves.
You worked on the Orwell with the help of a fashion designer, and you’ve admitted that the prototype wasn’t perfect (to be fair, they rarely are!). It sounds like it was a bit of challenge to translate your understanding of how the bag should work into a final product. Did that come as a surprise to you?
Acufocal: Yes and no. I expected there to be problems before I’d received the first sample, but the areas that I wanted changed were not what I expected. The first prototype had a lower grade fabric, rougher cotton inside, cheaper leather, and so on. So, even after we made several changes to the design, I then had to just concede that I couldn’t accept a product that wasn’t the best we could possibly make, and so we upgraded every single element of the bag to the best quality we could get. The difference was utterly staggering and that really did surprise me. They say you get what you pay for and I’ve never seen that truer than in manufacturing.
Let’s talk price. For a boutique brand, your prices stack up remarkably well to your more mainstream competition (some of the nattier Nat Geo bags are priced in the region of £200). Is that sustainable for you, or will you be upping your prices for the Orwell or other products in future?
Acufocal: As you can guess from my above answers, money was a real consideration for both us and our customer base. We didn’t and don’t have any investors, it’s just me and my business partner trying to realise my vision for a brand. I have spent twice what our bag costs on an ugly (albeit functional) camera bag and I really wanted to avoid that price tag. The price is sustainable, yes, but it wasn’t set by the business side of my brain, that’s for sure. The price won’t be going up though. I want to see my bags being put to good use and enjoyed, not just something for the elite.
Are you planning on developing other products to expand the line?
Acufocal: That’s top of my list. I would like to add more products and more colours of the Orwell, but as I say, this is my passion project and I’m not the front man of a large corporation. As we continue to grow I will put my ideas to our designer and see where we go.
What are your plans to grow the business in general? Where does Acufocal go from here?
Acufocal: My end game is to comprehensively fill the void of fashion-conscious bags for photographers. I will continue to weather the headaches in order to never compromise on function or style and it would make me very happy if one day we’re the go-to for photographers who care what they look like when they’re out and about.
What has been your proudest moment working on Acufocal so far?
Acufocal: Without question it’s seeing top photographers enjoying the bag. After all the work, time and effort that has gone in to transitioning from a dream of mine, to having the bags on sale, to having a photographer tag me in a picture of his Orwell was so rewarding. One of our customers is a videographer working on the Olympics opening ceremony and for whatever reason, that was particularly pleasing!
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