What better name for a series of hand-assembled design projects than Assembly Line? With this series, accessory/fashion designer Maggie Allingham has challenged herself to walk a path between the opportunities and limitations of available construction techniques. As a result, her creations often appear to be unions of origami integration, experimental joins and 3-D printing. The innovative Assembly Line product line, many of them assembled by hand through a series of folds—much as a piece of paper origami would be.
Origami-style Kit Assembly
Ethical, sustainable, innovative, and future-focused: all of these are words that can be—and have been—used to describe the projects of Assembly Line. The brainchild of accessory/fashion designer Maggie Allingham, Assembly Line is composed of, at its essence, innovative, origami-style, kit-assembly design. “I wanted to engage the modern consumer in the finishing of their desired pieces,” Allingham explains, “doing so through flat-pack kit design or unique customization.”
Allingham finds herself inspired by that which constrains her. “The concept of inviting the user to enter the assembly line has been a challenge; the communication of this process has become as important as the user engagement itself.” She does not seek perfection; rather, she lets her ideas emerge through a process of trial and error.
“Failures are really important and a necessary part of material and process experimentation,” she says. “Sometimes we forget to impart that seemingly intimate detail of life and work. It can’t all be perfect from the start.”
“I wanted to engage the modern consumer in the finishing of their desired pieces,” Allingham explains, “doing so through flat-pack kit design or unique customization.”
Each Assembly Line project is an investigation, of sorts, be it of process, material, or other. The S M L line, for example, utilises dovetail joinery to bring to life sewn pieces and flat elements. This design technique is meant to minimise the need for specialised machinery and its accompanying outsourcing. Although the self-assembly concept is simple, its application has broader implications. By using a build-it-yourself approach, Allingham bypasses the high costs and depersonalization of factory manufacturing. In addition to keeping much of the assembly in-house, this process allows for customization by way of limited edition designs and seasonal styles. “The ‘projects’ approach works like fashion seasons,” Allingham explains, “moving on once concluded.”
Project n°4, entitled S M L, is an exclusive Assembly Line collaboration with The Loppist. Through this line, Allingham has streamlined the flatpack process. The line offers three styles of bags, each hinging on the dovetail joint design.
How Items Connect Together
Like any innovative, involved, and inspirational designer, Allingham is particular about where she sources materials. Assembly Line leathers come from Germany primarily, although she also utilises sources in the U.K. and Italy on occasion. Her preference is vegetable-tanned leathers and cowhides, which impart a distinctive design to her works.
“The approach of flat-pack making is another way I keep production local and affordable.”
Assembly Line products are made with the end user in mind; as such, their creation incorporates immeasurable hours of conceptual development. Allingham admits a continual desire to innovate and experiment, to see where her constantly developing ideas may lead. Looking forward, she hopes to bring even more production locally, to shift from overseas development to neighborhood processes. She cites 3-D printing as one way to accomplish this, with kit design a close second. She explains, “This technology can exist around the world. It can be built into the production process, whereby we no longer source and ship items, but can design and print them locally.
Due to the variety in Assembly Line’s product line, Allingham approaches the production of each work differently. One example she gives is the Tenon bag, which is part of Project n°2. The first step is to create a focus—which, in this case, is a look at how items connect together. “Next,” Allingham outlines, “comes the detailed design work, with a focus on overall shape and the assembly process.” Also important at this stage is making CADs for the featured hardware part, including pattern making and material selection. Material sampling, prototype printing, and model creation follow; once the designer is satisfied, the project moves to production and sale.
The Geometry of Patterns
A native Australian, Allingham studied fashion and textiles design at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and was 1 out of 12 finalists at the nationwide Fashion Graduate of the year award. Following that, she studied computer-aided design (CAD) at the now-defunct 3rd Ward in Brooklyn, New York. She refers to herself “design curious,” and mentions how much experimentation has helped to chart her path. Allingham’s thirst for design and creation was further inspired by exciting material developments, such as lab-grown leathers, Suzanne Lee’s work in grown cellulose fabrics, and OAT’s biodegradable sneakers, as well as a building process in product design and architecture. She has also been driven by an aim to marry the handmade process with technical opportunity. “Adoption of new, diverse, and sustainable materials is an important part of our design future,” she asserts,” and I would like to be a part of that.”
“Adoption of new, diverse, and sustainable materials is an important part of our design future, and I would like to be a part of that.”
After school, Allingham moved to Berlin, intent on changing the way fashion accessories were made. It was after working in both high-end designer and commercial fashion design followed by a stint in buying when she began her accessory project. Maggie envisioned small-scale, local, hand construction. She views design as a thrilling juxtaposition between problem-solving and aesthetics, and approaches her work this way. “I was curious about how traditional cut-and-saw techniques could be reconsidered,” she relates. “The more I ruminate, themes of folding, threading, additive utilitarian design, and 3D printing emerged.”
A self-described over-thinker, Allingham embraces a continuous desire to learn. “I examine and challenge my process on a daily basis,” she says, “always striving for something better.” When she finds herself faced with a limitation, she embraces it, believing open-ended opportunity to be somewhat stifling in the design phase. “For me,” she says, “resolving the geometry of patterns to achieve the desired shape of a piece, and subsequently realizing this in final materials, is very satisfying.”
Alilngham is thankful for her customers’ support in allowing her to follow her muse. “I think, like anyone with a particular skill or pursuit they enjoy, you find ways to work it into your life wherever possible,” she explains. “Right now, I am lucky that I can center my world around doing what I love, and am acutely aware of such a privilege.”