Meet the former Kiwi Olympian designing sustainable bags inspired by New Zealand’s landscape

''We want to inspire people to get out there and enjoy what New Zealand has to offer. This country is amazing – everything is so close and accessible.''

Former New Zealand Olympic skier Lyndon Sheehan may have left competitive skiing behind but his head is still very much in the misty mountains of Aotearoa – in fact, he’s recently launched a brand of handcrafted canvas and leather goods inspired by nature.

“The outdoors is where my values come from, and I wanted to create products that drew me to thoughts of hiking and adventuring with friends,” says Lyndon.

Those values include a deep respect for the environment and a desire to raise awareness of the fragile nature of our world through subtle design elements and the brand’s impressive list of sustainability measures.

All the materials used in Forest Lane backpacks, laptop cases and day bags are traceable, sustainable and accredited. “The meaning is there without it being in your face,” says 30-year-old Lyndon.

One of the things that sets Forest Lane bags apart is their extremely sturdy construction – the bags include recycled-rimu components and tough copper rivets.

It’s all in the details, including leather sourced from a New Zealand tannery that adheres to strict environmental practices; wax from a local beekeeper; timber panels made from recycled rimu flooring; sustainably made zips by YKK; and all thread bought through Coats, a manufacturer that aims to eliminate hazardous chemicals from the textile supply chain.

The ‘slow fashion’, eco-conscious ideals embodied by Forest Lane are ones that the Mt Maunganui-based designer and his wife Olivia, also 30, try to live by.

They are, in fact, the perfect poster people for the brand and model the range on their website in beautifully evocative imagery that inspires a sense of everyday adventure.

“The Forest Lane adventure is easy,” says Lyndon. “We are always out and about, hiking, biking and exploring with friends and family, and naturally the bags come with us.”

The bags work in the city but cross over to weekend trekking and camping. “We want to inspire people to get out there and enjoy what New Zealand has to offer. This country is amazing – everything is so close and accessible.”

The ethos of the Forest Lane brand is all about getting out into Aotearoa’s beautiful wild places as often

as possible – a philosophy the founders live by every day.

That’s the informed opinion of a guy who spent his early years in Australia where, thanks to his parents, adventuring got to him early.

When Lyndon was 4, the family spent an unforgettable six months exploring the Outback.

Other adventures included regular treks to the coast, where his dad got him into surfing.

The setting changed dramatically when Lyndon was 7, with the family trading waves for mountains when they relocated to Wanaka – an entirely new playground of ski slopes and mountain-bike trails.

Whatever nature presented, Lyndon embraced.

A natural skiier, he developed his skills on the Southern Alps and was accepted into the New Zealand national ski team when he was 18.

That same year he received his first international sponsorship and spent the next 10 years travelling the world with the sport.

While the outdoors has driven the direction of his life, fashion and design have been long-time passions.

As a kid Lyndon used to stencil his own T-shirts and, as an adult, he developed his photography skills during his international travels and later studied graphic design.

It wasn’t until 2014, when he retired from skiing, that thoughts of dovetailing his passions began to develop.

Two years ago, during his final year of a Bachelor of Creative Industries, Lyndon began researching sustainable design and how to put this into practice with Forest Lane.

Sourcing ethical suppliers and forging relationships with them all takes time, as does designing a product that encompasses beauty, practicality and comfort.

The Forest Lane brand was launched nine months ago and now offers eight products, with plans under way to expand into knitwear.

“We are looking to branch into products that align with sustainability and stay true to what we believe in,” says Lyndon.

The Forest Lane team have taken their time sourcing ethical suppliers and designing products that encompasses beauty, practicality and comfort.

Its idyllic, outdoorsy lifestyle aside, Mt Maunganui is proving to be an ideal hub for this artistic and innovative couple.

“A lot of our friends are creative people and we feed off each other and help each other out,” says Lyndon.

Come summer, the Sheehans will be living and blogging the ethos of the brand when they hit the road in a campervan and take on some of New Zealand’s Great Walks.

You can be guaranteed there’ll be a Forest Lane product or two right behind them.

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