Watching it grow - an interview with Pete Sunderland of Instrmnt

Instrmnt is a multi-disciplinary design studio with a love for minimalist, utilitarian design, totally unbound by any one type of product. It’s easy to presume that these guys deal in watches or accessories exclusively, but that’s just because of the roaring success of the studio’s debut release - the Instrmnt 01 timepiece.

At a time where content and product consumption certainly aren't slowing down, it’s nice to see Instrmnt honing in and committing to one product and doing it really, really well. The stripped back, quality over quantity mantra has certainly turned a few heads over the ten months that’ve passed since 01’s release, with it gracing the physical and digital pages of Esquire, GQ, Hypebeast and Highsnobiety... Not bad from a studio yet to reach their first birthday.

“We never wrote a business plan or committed down a certain path, so we have the ability to be fluid about what we do. Our first piece was a watch, and that really took off so we have had to commit a lot of time to that, but we are going to have a few different things going on at the side.” - Pete Sunderland, Instrmnt.

I caught up with Pete Sunderland, one of Instrmnt’s founders, to find out a little bit about their influence, background and the watch that started it all, as Instrmnt begin to take stock of what I imagine has been an amazing year. Here’s what he had to say...

On Instrmnt’s origins…
“Ross [Baynham, co-founder] studied graphic design and I studied product design. We met at university where we shared a studio space, we quickly realised we had a similar aesthetic and interest in minimal industrial design. After graduating I worked as a freelance product designer and Ross went on to open an independent menswear store, Harrison & Fyfe with Thomas [Potter, the third and final founder] before we came back together to launch Instrmnt in early 2014.

“We have only been trading since last November, so we are still in our infancy at the moment. As I said earlier we are quite fluid and everyone throws in different ideas for different aspects of work. Thomas is based in London, so he handles our London appointments when we can’t get down and basically keeps a bit of interest down there for us. Myself and Ross are based in Glasgow and are more involved in the day to day running of things as well as the creative aspects of the company. The easiest way to explain I guess would be that Ross takes care of most of the graphics side and I handle the product end, but as I said, it really can’t be split as easy as that.”

On the initial idea…
“We were both very interested in watches when we met, however we found we shared an annoyance with the products and brands on the market: there was always some feature or detail that we weren’t entirely happy with on every watch we saw. Ross had gained some good manufacturing and sales contacts from running a store and one day - very selfishly - we decided to just make the exact watch we wanted to wear instead of purchasing from someone else. The aesthetic came very naturally.”

On fashion…
“I guess it depends on the definition of fashion, but we deliberately place Instrmnt in fashion circles. I think you have to establish a complete picture of what you are trying to achieve. This is why we do ‘content’ posts, it plays into a whole ethos and sets a context for the consumer. Its about creating a brand. However this does not mean we limit ourselves to clothing or accessories, neither does it mean we adhere to seasons or immediate passing trends.”

On the influence of the Instrmnt 01…
“Instrmnt draws on many sources for inspiration including architecture, fashion as well as huge influences from mid century design. The direct inspiration for the watch was taken from industrial measuring gauges, such as amp meters. Their utilitarian and purely functional design provides a level of basic readability that we both really liked.

Their sole function is obviously to be accurate measuring devices and we felt this lent nicely to a watch. It suggests accuracy as well as providing a large expanse of white space, I think its sparse in the nicest possible way. This simplistic monotone influence is something you will find throughout our work.

“This industrial and stripped back aesthetic is carried through to the packaging. The box for instrmnt 01 was very much a large part of the product. It comes delivered in parts, so each separate element can be individually appreciated. It also gives the end user an insight into how a watch is put together. They learn a new skill and they also feel an enhanced connection to the final product as they have been involved in the realisation.”

On sourcing the right materials...
“A lot of trial and error really. Samples are the most important and often one of the most exciting parts of the job, discovering either new and different materials in fields such as packaging or just discovering someone that is doing something really beautifully like an old artisan maker. It was important when we set out to get samples made up from different companies and live with them ourselves for a while. As we said the watch was designed for us, so we wouldn’t want to give anyone else something we wouldn’t wear daily either.”

On releasing other products…
“There are a couple things in production at the moment however we aren’t sure when we will publicise them. We will have our studio soon and the design and fitout of that for me will be seen as Instrmnt 00. The watch has kept us busy since our inception so it will be nice to getting round to doing some design work again. Saying that, there are a few collab versions of Instrmnt 01 to come one at the end of the year and maybe a couple early next year as well as a few more left field pieces.”

“The collaborations will be available in limited numbers before the end of the year, we also hope to have our studio shop open in some form. We have just started to announce a select number of retailers that we are really happy with, there will be a couple more added to the list in the next few months too.”

On crowd-funding...
“Kickstarter for us ended up being the only viable route for us really... We had to balance two thoughts; it had the potential to give us the money we required, but we thought it might be detrimental to the brand in some ways.

There was a feeling that we might not be as valued as other brands that hadn't been crowd funded, but my view of that has totally changed. It is now almost that we have more legitimacy as a brand as people have invested in us from ground level. I also quite like this level of transparency.”

On the best thing about Instrmnt...
"Working for yourself I guess! (it can be a blessing and a curse). Discovering other small brands that are also doing amazing stuff and like minded people too! The beauty of being a brand at the moment is that there are a lot of really good people around to help and collaborate so we can both use each others skills to come up with something that is interesting and works for both sides." 

Check out the Instrmnt 01 watch in more detail here, (they have a really, really nice blog, too).