“Together Bowlus and Byam created the curved, smooth, iconic design that came to symbolise the freedom of the open road for generations of Americans.”
Jackson Centre, Ohio – population 1,462 – is located just off Interstate 75 at Exit 102, north of the Shelby County seat of Sidney. Clustered around a wide, straight main drag with two sets of traffic lights, Jackson Centre is like so many other small American towns. Aside from a Subway sandwich shop, Jackson Centre has a bank, a hardware store, a small grocery store and a drive through pizza and liquor store. The local residents are currently raising money to pay for the Elder Theatre cinema to convert from 35mm film to digital. Otherwise the old picture house faces closure, depriving Shelby and Logan counties of their last place to go and see a film.
And it was to this place, in July 1952, that Wallace Merle Byam, known to everyone as Wally Byam, came and built a new factory for his growing business: Airstream Inc.
By the time Byam died, on 22 July 1962 at the age of 66, he had an obituary that spanned some of the greatest and also the darkest days of modern American history and which credited him with designing an American icon.
As a child Wallace traveled widely in the US with his grandfather, who led a mule train from Baker, Oregon. Later Byam worked as a shepherd living in a two-wheeled cart, cooking on a kerosene stove and washing in a bucket.
After a stint in the merchant navy, followed by a law degree from Stanford University, Wally owned an advertising agency and then became a magazine publisher. In one of the issues of a magazine he published, there was a feature on how to build a caravan. The designs were untried and when readers complained that they couldn’t follow the plans, Byam tested them himself. He found the plans were most definitely flawed.
So Byam set about building his own ‘travel trailer’, dropping the floor down between the wheels and raising the ceiling height, so that it was possible to stand upright inside. When Byam wrote an article describing how to build his trailer, for under $100, there was a huge response. The airstream was born.
Wally’s ideas were of their time. By the start of the 1920’s Americans were looking for ways to spend their leisure time and explore their country. Byam sold plans for his trailers for $5 each as well as building caravans for customers in his back garden. The Airstream Company was incorporated in 1931 and five years later acquired the struggling Bowlus Company.
Hawley Bowlus had been the chief engineer on the Spirit of St Louis, in which Charles Lindbergh completed the first non-stop flight from New York to Paris in 1927. Bowlus was already designing beautiful, sleek monocoque, riveted aluminum caravans when he met Byam. Caravans that had much more in common with the aircraft of the time than any road-going vehicles.
Together Bowlus and Byam created the curved, smooth, iconic design that came to symbolise the freedom of the open road for generations of Americans.
That the Airstream had endured for so long is not surprising. They are beautiful, practical and designed for the 76,000km of highways that criss-cross the US. The Airstream also received the stamp of approval from organisations as august as NASA: in 1969 the crew of Apollo 11 were quarantined in a modified airtight Airstream trailer, until doctors were sure that they had not carried some sort of lunar pathogens with them.
Now Airstream is owned by the biggest manufacturer of caravans in the world and continues to innovate. But whilst the company is still true to its roots, in Jackson Centre, Ohio, the true romance of the Airstream will be the originals – the shining, magnificent Silver Bullet. Truly an American icon.
Sheep almost certainly started being farmed, for meat and for their skins, in Asia Minor over 10,000 years ago. By 3500 BC people had learned to spin wool and sheep were selectively bred for either meat or wool. It was immediately clear that sheep were a hugely useful domesticated animal.
The Romans were instrumental in cross-breeding different sheep to create certain characteristics and that they prized, including selectively breeding to obtain the most high quality wool that they could. Contemporary record show that the Merina sheep produced the finest diameter wool fiber and is said to have descended from a strain developed during the reign of emperor Claudius.
It is thought that the Merino breed resulted from a crossing of the Tarentine sheep of Rome with the Laodician sheep of Asia Minor by breeders in the provinces of Terraconenis in Spain.
And it was Spain that remained the epicentre of merino wool production from Roman times until the late eighteenth century. In fact, until 1786 the penalty for removing a merino sheep from Spain was death.
However in 1786 the ban was broken when Louis XVI imported 386 merino ewes into France to start a breeding programme. From that point on, merino sheep started to reach the farthest flung corners of the world.
By the time Spain lifted the export ban on merino sheep, the English had a thriving wool industry at home and had already reached Australia and colonized much of it. So it was not long before merino sheep were imported to Australia. The man credited with starting the Australian merino industry was called Samuel Marsden. In 1797 he acquired some very valuable Merinos and started a breeding programme.
Merino wool – perfect for endurance sports
Before long, Australia had positioned itself as a prime source of merino wool and Sam took his merino sheep and started new sheep farms in New Zealand, from where ashmei gets the wool for its apparel.
From the very earliest days of sheep farming and wool spinning, the material has been coveted for its ability to provide warmth and comfort, for its durability and for its versatility. But merino wool took those qualities to the next level.
Merino has proven invaluable for people looking to thrive in the outdoors. From mountain climbers to sailors and from skiers to cyclists, merino has proven to be a peerless fabric time and time again. Indeed when George Mallory’s body was discovered on Everest in 1999, he was found to have been almost exclusively wearing merino clothing.
Merino has a great history and its development over the centuries has led to a point where the fabric is now ideal for endurance sports as well as many other sorts of pursuits. It is highly wicking, never stinks, is hard-wearing and environmentally friendly and that is why it has stood the test of time.
When it comes to your running, do you always opt for the easy option or do you strive to be the best you can be? Is running the thing that you do where you try to get away with doing the minimum? We thought not.
When it comes to apparel, however, the trend since the introduction of synthetics fabrics, has been a ‘race to the bottom’ – a process of doing less and less in the way of innovation. As a simple experiment to prove this, go into any running store and take a selection of t-shirts, tights or jackets and cover up the logo: we think you would be very hard pressed to differentiate between one brand’s product and the others.
That is why ashmei uses merino wool: because for us, the focus is all about creating the ultimate apparel. We know that by creating the best, we can offer runners kit that they will treasure as it fits with their aim of being the best they can be.
Key to creating the ultimate running apparel is making sure that the material used is the very best available. Merino wool is peerless when it comes to performance: it is anti-bacterial, non-itchy, warm when it is cold and cooling when it is warm, recyclable and sustainable.
First of all, here is the science: sweat contains not just water and salt, but also oils, fat and other organic compounds as well as anything that was on our skin, such as lotions. As the water in our sweat wicks through synthetic fabrics, these constituents of sweat get stuck in the pores in the material’s fibres. The trapped materials create an irresistible feast for bacteria, which create the smell that is synonymous with endurance sports kit.
Merino wool fibres are different to synthetic fibres for two simple reasons: the surface does not provide a matrix that for the compounds in sweat that bacteria love so much, to cling to. Merino fibres also do not hold a static charge, unlike synthetic materials, which makes merino even less attractive to bacteria.
There is a misconception that merino wool is itchy. This is based on the fact that normal wool is not all the smooth. However merino wool, and especially the merino that we use for ashmei kit, is incredibly soft, smooth and strong, So our garments are non-itchy, smooth, thin and incredibly strong. Just the way nature intended.
Merino wool has been proven to be the ideal temperature regulating material: warm when it is cold and thanks to its natural feel and superior wicking properties, cool when it is warm.
Better for the environment
Synthetic materials are bad for the environment, not only because of the petrochemicals used to manufacture them, but also because of the aggressive chemicals required to clean them and the fact that once the stink gets too bad, they are not easily recycled and usually end up in landfill. Not so, merino wool.
The source could not be more natural. There are no requirements for chemicals to keep the nasty smells at bay. And after years of use, when you do want to replace your merino apparel, it can be recycled or is completely biodegradable.
So there you have it – merino wool is quite simply the best material available when it comes to delivering high performance material. Allowing you to focus on delivering your own high performance.
Justin joined the ashmei ambassador programme as the first recruit. He immediately made an impact, bringing a unique outlook – and a unique way of running – to the team. Justin is a dedicated and committed runner. His forte is in longer distance races and he revels in marathons and races beyond that classic distance. What really sets Justin apart, however, is that he runs barefoot. Not in ‘barefoot’ shoes mind you: completely barefoot.
Justin had tackled many, many runs with nothing on his feet, including the Brighton half marathon in 2012 and then the first Milton Keynes marathon as his first ever marathon. Nothing stands in Justin’s way – he runs on all surfaces and in all conditions, dealing with the discomfort that comes with rough, hard man-made surfaces without a word of complaint. He has even taken on 24 hour races solo and made it all look easy!
Justin has ensured that the ashmei range has really been given a thorough testing, in hot and cold conditions as well as wet and dry. We are confident that if Justin has thrashed our kit, then it will stand up to anything.
What’s next for Justin, we can only imagine. But we are happy to support him in his next adventure.
Olly Sussams joined the ashmei ambassador programme in 2013 and quickly established himself as a dedicated athlete and great fun to be around. He had not had the chance to run in ashmei apparel before becoming an ambassador but has described the range by telling us that “I’ve never trained in such premium training wear”. The great thing about Olly is that he trains and raced hard and so we know that he is giving his ashmei gear as hard a work-out as he is giving himself.
Olly is 24 years old and originally from Hertfordshire. He now lives in north London whilst working as a designer for a brand & communications agency in Soho. Thankfully he still finds time to take on the hills of north London, both running and cycling. There is also some swimming in there too!
Olly has always been interested in sport although he only started running 3 years ago. Hellrunner was his first race: 12 miles of hills, mud and mayhem which he recommends to any running enthusiasts.
After the Hellrunner Olly was hooked, entering race after race as fun days out with friends, getting muddy as well as aiming to better his times.
In 2013 Olly has been taking his competing to the next level, tackling a half Ironman and chasing a sub-1:30 half marathon.
Aimee is a dedicated runner who joined the ashmei ambassadors programme in 2013. Running has become a big part of her life and something she is really passionate about. Since leaving university in 2006 fitness and exercise have become part of her weekly routine – sometimes becoming a daily ritual.
Despite initially starting to run to counter the effects of a typical student lifestyle, Aimee soon found that exercising became part of her routine: something she couldn’t imagine doing without. In 2013, Aimee has really developed her running. She joined a running club (Run Club London) in June 2012, which gave her the confidence required to enter a few races. This culminated in running the Paris marathon 2013.
Training for the marathon did not go entirely to plan: Aimee was hit by a hamstring injury. After a few weeks rest and strengthen sessions Aimee was allowed to run again, starting with a few shorter 10km runs and progressing to a 24km. All of which went well. In the end Aimee finished in a little over 4 hours 15 minutes. And that was just the start. Throughout the year Aimee has trained and raced whilst testing all the female gear we have been producing. Both her performances and the gear have been brilliant. Long may that continue.
How do you showcase the ultimate running apparel range? What is the best way to give runners the opportunity to get up close and personal with your highly technical, totally innovative and beautifully designed kit? These were the questions that we have been wrestling with as ashmei continues to establish itself as the ultimate running brand. We have had many questions from curious runners who were not aware of the benefits of merino wool in running apparel as well as the many clever design elements that have gone into everything we produced. We needed a way to allow runners to discover ashmei for themselves in a suitable environment. We needed a pop up shop.
The answer came in the form of a beaten up, unloved and empty icon of the road: a 1964 “Overlander” Airstream caravan.
This abandoned beauty was rescued from the US and shipped across the ocean to start its new life. The intention was that from being a home away from home for American families, it would become the home of ashmei on the road. The fact that it was empty suited us perfectly. We had grand plans and they needed space.
So now we had a suitable shell – albeit one that would require some work – we needed to create the ultimate interior: to make it definitively ashmei and the greatest pop up shop ever.
The airstream – now known as the AirshopPhoenix – contains a sofa, a bed, a pop-up flat-screen television, a coffee machine, a wood-burning stove and, of course, the entire ashmei product range. It it really is a perfect home for the ultimate running apparel.
So where can you see the AirshopPhoenix? Well we are going to be at as many races as possible from now on. And not just in the UK. One of the AirshopPhoenix’s earliest outings was a trip all the way to Chamonix for the Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc week. In the coming weeks and months we will be on the road, so check back to find out where we will be and if you see us on the road, be sure to let us know – tweet @ashmei_running, tell us on our Facebook page or just give us a toot and a wave!
The airshop Phoenix was unloved and abandoned until we gave it a new lease of life. Here is the story of how this Phoenix rose from the ashes.
When, in 1804, William Wordsworth wrote the immortal lines:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
He was evoking the beauty and serenity of the trails that criss-cross the land bordering Ullswater, in the Lake District in the UK. Wordsworth was clearly enchanted by the beauty and magnificence of the area around the lake, in the way that people have been for as long as they have explored this area. With the ashmei Ullswater 2014 race, runners would themselves be able to take in stunning views of the lake and the surrounding hills and challenge themselves at the same time.
One of the attractions of trail running is the camaraderie that develops between the competitors and the ashmei Ullswater 2014 races really epitomised this – whether it was the runners at the front of the field gunning for the win or those at the back, taking their time and challenging themselves in their own personal ways, there was a shared sense of wonder at running around what many regard as the most beautiful of the English lakes. However as all of the runners confirmed after the races, with the beauty came brutality in the form of lung-busting ascents and quad-thrashing descents. Truly this race had it all.
The ashmei Ullswater 2014 was a great event – a perfect expression of what the brand stands for and a weekend that will live long in the memories of those who took part. Even the weather was in on the fun, contrary to what the weather man had suggested earlier in the week. As Wordsworth wrote, so elegantly about when he recalled his trip to Ullswater
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
We couldn’t agree more, William.
The 18th August 2013 was a big day for ashmei, another big day in the life of this energetic, growing brand. This day saw the launch of the first ashmei race – a trail race around the beautiful Ullswater lake.
The race took in 20 miles of trails and paths, always in sight of the beautiful lake, often compared to Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. The runners who took on the loop around Ullswater were treated to a typical Lake District narrow “ribbon lake” which was formed after the last ice age when a glacier scraped away the valley floor and the deep scar filled with meltwater.
What lay behind the success of the race, was a race director cutting his teeth on this beautiful, adventurous event: Stuart from ashmei.
In part one of this interview, we ask Stuart about the race from a unique perspective – that of a race director:
Pursuit: What were your aims and ambitions for the first ashmei race?
Stuart: The idea for the first race was that the event would run smoothly and professionally and that we would have a race that could accurately be described as ‘epic’! From our point of view, we wanted to keep things simple and learn as much as possible.
Pursuit: What were the key factors that you saw in the race that would make it a success?
Stuart: I thought that the key thing would be the scenery. We believed that as a trail race the weather conditions would be less relevant than the location and one of the wonderful things about the Ullswater course, was that there would always be a vision of the lake throughout the race.
Pursuit: How did you decide on the distance and format of the race?
Stuart: The distance was dictated by the fact that the race was around the lake and the fact that we wanted to stay on trails as much as possible. There were some compromises that we had to make due to access to certain bits of land, but the course was generally really well received. [to be continued...]
We live by three words at ashmei, Performance, Quality and Style and always in that order. We achieve this by following our mission to develop sportswear using only the very best quality and performance materials, components and labour possible.
The ashmei mission statement explains that when it comes to designing apparel, only the best will do. That ethos informed the design of Pursuit: creating the ultimate online expression of a brand that aims to be the best.
Pursuit will be the place where we curate all the things that fascinate us; from information about ashmei’s ultimate sportswear to news about the iconic pop up airshopPhoenix. And from our ambassadors’ programme to Brief where we will report on anything that catches our eye. Pursuit will not be a typical corporate website, that is for certain.
What is key is that everyone who visits Pursuit finds something for them, whether that is carefully crafted articles, beautiful visuals, information about cutting edge ashmei apparel or news from our exciting events. We want you to contribute too. Tell us if you have seen the airshopPhoenix, let us know about your favourite runs, rides or races, tell us what you love or would like to change on our clothing, suggest stories that you would like to read in Brief. Pursuit is the new online home for ashmei and the people who make the brand what it is: our customers.
We hope you enjoy it.
You can contact us via the contact form in the ashmei shop.