i first met chris holden, co-founder of precision tool brand ajoto, at the launch party for form lifestyle store towards the tail end of last year and ever since then, i’ve been coveting one of the brand’s sleek bullet shaped pens.
i’m not the only one. the brand, founded in 2011, has gone from strength-to-strength since then, garnering praise from the likes of wallpaper*, the telegraph and port, and collaborating with the wall street journal and laywines to create special limited editions of their precision crafted tool.
a few weeks ago i headed across town to meet with chris and marketing/operations manager marta verdes-montenegro in ajoto’s design studio, located in a red brick grade ii listed former cotton mill in the heart of the historic ancoats district of manchester. from this light and airy fourth floor studio space the ajoto team strive to create the world’s most beautiful tools that combine the precision of advanced manufacturing with the soul of craft, and enable them to share the incredible story of creativity, design and manufacture.
every project starts with the team getting out from behind the computer screen and exploring the world around them. as soon as i arrived at the studio – on an uncharacteristically warm and sunny manchester day – chris and marta took me out onto the studio fire escape to present me with a panoramic view across the centre of manchester, through their ancoats home and beyond to the northern suburbs of the city.
the studio sits in the heart of what was once the world’s first industrial suburb; the first cotton mills were built there in 1790 and alongside the production of cotton in the area, engineering factories and flint glassworks also thrived. of course, this hive of industrial activity in the area has long since gone; following a slump in the cotton industry in the 1930s the area progressively became very run down and notorious for deprivation and crime. recently though, the area has seen enormous regeneration, and the landscape surrounding ajoto’s cotton mill home has been transformed in the five years they’ve been based there, with multiple high-rise blocks of flats popping up and artisan coffee shops, craft beer bars and fine dining destinations opening en masse.
only after opening our senses, having new experiences and being creatively curious, do we begin laying the foundations for our creative work. ~ ajoto
it’s evident that the team are deeply affected by both the heritage and the ongoing transformation of their surroundings, taking core inspiration in what they term the greatest of human endeavours: the journey.
this simple action, born from curiosity, is at the core of everything from the greatest works of art and literature to the pioneering innovations of business and science, and the focus at ajoto is to create the ultimate collection of timeless tools for your journey, each with a unique story that celebrates the people, places and process involved in their creation. indeed, the brand’s name is derived from the japanese wordじょうとう (joutou) meaning to advance and aljote, from the original nomadic language of europe meaning to another place.
“the story begins with the most important of creative tools, the pen,” explains chris. “this simple tool is at the heart of the toolset that we are developing to not only preserve the wonders past but more importantly inspire the innovations of the future.” “a wiseman once said that ‘the journey is the reward’, and we couldn’t agree more,” says marta. “we wanted to do justice to the most important tool we use everyday. this is why we created the pen, a tool that not only tells a story but marks the beginning of a journey that will last a lifetime.”
in designing the pen the team developed a completely new and bespoke mechanism, a design which was only made possible with the use of advanced precision machining. the resulting twist action is effortlessly simple and unique to ajoto. this detail, although simple, has taken years to refine but the end result looks and feels inevitable. the body of the pen is precision engineered from a solid bar of metal, which is drilled, turned and cut using the latest computer controlled machining technology, usually reserved for the manufacture of satellites and formula 1 vehicles. the result is an innovative tapered form that distributes the weight of the metal along the pen. it’s a pen for the modern minimalist; simple without being too utilitarian.
to produce each pen we combine precision processes, used in the production of satellites and high performance vehicles, with hand crafting techniques steeped in tradition dating back thousands of years. ~ ajoto
the brand’s core collection offers individually hand finished pens in spun aluminium, brass or stainless steel, with further limited batch run options in classic brass, northern coal aluminium, ebony stainless steel, rose gold and sterling silver – it’s hard to choose a favourite amongst them! alongside the pens, ajoto have also designed a sleek italian vegetable tanned leather pouch available in a number of shades, including black, caramel and burgundy.
given how closely connected to their manchester surroundings they are, i asked chris and marta to share with me their insider tips for this city they both now call home..
chris & marta, ajoto
how long have you been living in greater manchester and whereabouts are you based?
we moved to manchester 5 years ago, after starting ajoto and living in london for several years. our studio is currently based in a victorian cotton mill in manchester’s historic ancoats district, surrounded by artistic and creative people.
what drew you to the city initially?
chris: after initially setting up ajoto in london 7 years ago we always knew that our true calling was to run our business from a smaller city so 5 years ago we made the move north. for us manchester offers three important attributes: 1) it’s got a great innovative community and that city buzz with plenty on offer culturally; 2) you can escape into the countryside in a matter of minutes by bike, train or car and be in the wilderness exploring nature, whether that be the peaks or cheshire or with a bit more time north wales, the dales or the lake district; and 3) it is well connected with the best airport outside of london and trains to every corner of the uk so exploring a world beyond the city is easy. 3b) the rent and living costs are a little more affordable to be a small creative manufacturing business than in london.
marta: after my university studies in madrid 2 years ago, i was looking to get more experience abroad. i applied for a program funded by the spanish government where they promote practical internships for spanish university graduates in companies around the world for 6 months. my mentor sent me the ajoto vacancy and i thought “i like the product, the ethos of the company and why not manchester to have an experience abroad and improve my english?”… and the rest was history.
what’s your favourite thing about the city?
you can walk almost everywhere in the city, it’s well connected with the rest of the country and if you love to travel like us, the farther-flung destinations are in easy reach from manchester airport.
best place for a morning cuppa?
we love mornings at federal coffee shop for a slow brew coffee and an indulgent breakfast. also, pollen bakery in the new islington marina; the combination of fresh coffee and sourdough bread is amazing.
favourite place for a design-fix?
grab your ajoto pen, head to fred aldous and pick up a sketchbook then explore the streets to sketch the ever changing landscape and architecture of the city. inspiration can be found in the most unlikely of places.
can you share an insider’s secret spot you discovered in the city?
ancoats; the independent food and drink scene is booming in this area. between its streets of old cotton mills, you can find entrepreneurial cafes, restaurants and bars with a real focus on quality. or mancoco under the arches of 84 hewitt street, where you can get some fresh roasts to take home or enjoy a quick espresso with friends.
favourite way to spend a weekend in the city?
buy some ingredients for a barbecue and head north to heaton park or south to tatton park to relax and enjoy good food, great company and the sunny afternoon.
all imagery © ajoto, used with permission.