What could be simpler in appearance than a conventional backpack? Shoulder straps, a waist belt, a compartment. Think again. Nothing is normal about the way products are designed at the Annecy Design Centre (ADC). "We went from a rigid world to a soft world," says designer Serge Chapuis. "The S-Lab Peak Bag is a precursor in the way it uses constructions, methods, lightweight materials and the stretch quality taken from the world of garment. A backpack is no longer a bag attached to shoulder straps but a vest that hugs the body and releases tension areas while spreading efforts over larger areas."
The development of the S-Lab Peak Bag bag was done with an apparel state of mind "and was as complex as a shoe or clothing," Chapuise says. To create the pack, the prototyping team traveled to manufacturing plants overseas to understand how clothing is made. "They were used to working with thicker materials, without stretch, and now they can assemble complicated materials,” says Salomon Product Manager Fabienne Richard.
“Peak Lab solves a complex equation: a large volume of 20 liters with a skin bag construction (such as a shaped vest or jacket) for an autonomy of several days,” Richard adds. The Peak was born from the need of Ryan Sanders to be autonomous for 3-5 days while running, and it was Francine's talents with scissors that made the crazy idea of this backpack possible, as well as Serge's ability to solve the shortcomings identified by the athletes during testing. The two manufactured countless prototypes during the development process.
Witnessing their precise dance in the workshop is impressive—a ballet made of questions, errors, trial and insights taking place between the large rolls of fabrics and huge tables where parts are assembled, all of them set to the hum of sewing machines. Francine builds a prototype, then Serge takes it for a run and delivers feedback. Francine helps him fine-tune prototypes on the spot. “Serge knows the nuts-and-bolts of trail running and Francine knows everything about fabrics,” says Fabienne.
“With every prototype, we learn,” says Francine, while stitching a long elastic seam on a Peak prototype. “On every material, there is a direction that stretches more than the other, so you have to find the right way that follows the movement of the runner, which is important for comfort. I have no computer screen when I work, and I do not want it.”
It’s a perfect blend of innovative product and traditional methods. Despite the modern fabrics, the sound of the sewing machine remains the same. The word you hear often in these parts is iteration—evolutions with small successive steps; micro-improvements validated on the field. "From the prototypes field-tested by athletes, we do iterations and then progress from there,” says Serge. “There are some key points: the water-bottle holder at the front, the side pockets and the constant battle of the designer against the rebound of the load during the race.”
The one distinguishing characteristic of S/Lab products is the personal hands-on experience of people from different backgrounds coming together, making it possible to build a backpack that’s like nothing ever done before.