Project Latitude is more than just another cool backpack

Project Latitude Backpack
Images courtesy Project Latitude

(Ed note: As of 4/18/2016, Project Latitude has adapted their campaign to also donate water to assist with relief efforts after the devastating earthquake that occurred in Ecuador over the weekend.)

We were introduced to Danny Collins by a friend who met him while hiking in Minnewaska State Park. It turned out that Danny, who’s an architect by day, was about to launch the first campaign for Project Latitude which features a stunning, well made backpack, designed for the outdoors but perfectly fit to work as an everyday bag for commuting around the city. While the bag was initially what caught our eye (we do love gear), we quickly learned that Project Latitude is more than just another purveyor of trendy outdoor gear.

The real idea behind the project is to curb the cost of volunteer building trips through the sale of sustainably created outdoor goods. Project Latitude chooses the location of the builds and in a nice gesture of synchronicity, also manufactures the product that will fund the build in that community—further benefiting its patrons.

For their first project, Danny and co-founder Javier Roig have designed a backpack called the Chaski. As outdoorsy people living in NYC, it’s no surprise that they designed the pack to withstand tougher outdoor conditions but also look good in more day to day situations like commuting. The pack will be manufactured in Ecuador which is where the first Project Latitude led volunteer build will take place.

You can back the project and secure your own Chaski on Kickstarter.

Sorta Outdoorsy: What came first—the idea for a project that funds volunteer builds or the idea to create sustainable products that support certain communities?
Danny Collins: Javier and I traveled to Zambia Africa in the summer of 2015 for one of the most enriching experiences of our lives, but unfortunately, that trip left us with some burning questions about the current volunteer system. For a successful build, each volunteer has to raise a hefty sum–sometimes reaching over $2,000. For Zambia, the two of us alone had to fundraise $3,800. I can’t tell you how many times my Facebook timeline is littered with requests from my friends asking for money so they can travel to a destination to improve the lives of the community members there and return with an unforgettable experience. The difficulty of fundraising established the foundation of our company.

We’ve never done a volunteer build. What are they like and what makes them so expensive?
The typical build will last a full week. In Africa, we traveled from the U.S. to Zambia by planes and buses on the weekend. During the week, we worked until 4pm each day and built a single family home. The trip allowed us to see the location through the lens of the local residents. On all the builds I’ve done, I always attempt to combine the build with some sightseeing activity. The week after the build in Zambia I traveled to Tanzania and summited Mt. Kilimanjaro. I am a hiking guide here in NYC so the concept of combining a volunteer trip with culture and adventure travel into an all inclusive package is the next step for trips with Project Latitude. The cost of the trips will include materials and labor as well as volunteer support, such as transportation, food and accommodations. These fixed costs are what Project Latitude is aiming to subsidize through the sale of locally crafted products.

Project Latitude Backpack
Images courtesy Project Latitude

How did you get started doing volunteer builds?
To me, life is all about experiences–not the possessions I can accumulate. Javier and I both live in the dense urban world of New York City, but we take advantage of every opportunity to get out and explore the world around us. Whether that is going out for a day hike upstate, or checking off another bucket list location on the map, we believe the way to live life is through experiences and exploration.  Javier alone has visited near 100 countries in his life and I have the goal to climb all 7 highest peaks of the world. This is what brought Javier and I together—our passion for new experiences.

And as we are both architects, we obviously are curious about the world built around us. That is one of our favorite parts of the builds, seeing how lines we draw each day on the computer become a real, constructed and inhabited, space. We just want to do our small part of using our strengths to do good in the world and have fun while we are at it.

How did you select Quito, Ecuador for the first volunteer build destination?
Project Latitude has two goals at every location we travel to: We want to discover the project that will be most beneficial to the community and the special skills that community has that we could apply to different products. This ensures that we can provide the community with the infrastructure they need and provide locals with jobs building our products. That way, every part of Project Latitude is benefiting the community where we build. We went to a handful of places around Ecuador before finding the community of La Isla, which is a small village near Quito. The members there expressed the desire to have a better facility for their already existing production of fabrics.  We knew quite quickly that this is the perfect fit for our first project.

How did you go about sourcing the materials for the Chaski Backpack? How do you ensure that the materials you’re using are sustainable?
We were extremely lucky to be introduced to a man in Quito who has made products from completely recycled materials for years. He was very excited by our designs and the fact that we planned to use completely local materials, and therefore was beyond happy to help us find the remaining materials that were necessary for our backpack. The bag has many different sustainable materials from hand woven textiles to rubber detailing made from 100% recycled car tires.

Project Latitude Backpack
Images courtesy Project Latitude

Who designed the bags? What did you look for when they were being designed and what sets them apart from other bags?
Actually, we did. Javier and I were inspired by the vibrant textiles that are all over the highlands region of Ecuador.  We knew immediately we wanted these fabrics to be the highlight of the backpack. Therefore, we made the exterior of the bag black so that the straps, made from these colorful fabrics, would really stand out and be the visual focal point of the bag. We also want our products to reflect the community where they are built; that’s why we decided to have the Chaski homemade from recycled materials. And other details ensure the quality of the bag, like the quick release buckle (these are military grade–they are strong, and look awesome). This backpack will hold up to the conditions and give you a taste of Ecuador while you travel.

We wanted this first product to be useful to anyone and everyone, people all over the world who are like us. The Chaski is great for weekend getaways in the woods and for everyday use in the city. We wanted to design a backpack that would serve many purposes. Oh, did I mention how sweet the buckle is yet?

What products can we expect to see from you next?
The company is named Project Latitude and each project within the company is named after the latitude coordinates of the community location. Ecuador is at latitude 00, so this first project is named Project 00.  Every product is tied to its community for the life of its sales.  They are inspired by and produced by the community they will support.

Our goal is to have a larger product line supporting each project.  We are already cooking up the next products that will help support Project 00.  Each of these products will have relatable features that tie them to each other in aesthetics and function, such as the vibrant fabrics.  We plan to add other style bags to the Project 00 product line such as another backpack and a larger duffle bag.

Project Latitude Backpack
Images courtesy Project Latitude

What is your dream destination for Project Latitude?
Project Latitude’s dream is not to be based in one specific location, but having a whole catalogue of amazing products being manufactured in communities all across the globe. Our mission is simple—to get as many people to explore this amazing world we live in and to do it through volunteer build projects. And what better way is there to make those experience more affordable than to support awesome, locally-made products that enrich the community where they are built? We want everyone to know the feeling of helping others out and to learn from experiences that a person cannot obtain without delving deep into a culture different than their own.  Project 00 is what we hope to be the beginning of something big, projects all over the world that are both supported and built by people like you.

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