Pausing to Disconnect: An Interview with ATELLIA Founder and CEO Ashley Etling

“What are we missing when we live so much of our lives online?” It is a question I stop to think about and grapple with on a daily basis–in regards to myself and my patients. How do I remain centered, sane, calm, and emotionally present when modern day society requires me more and more to be a multi-tasking, 9-headed social media robot?

Personally, I sometimes decide not to post on social media for weeks on end in an effort to be more present during the day; or, I leave my phone on airplane mode all weekend, dreaming about the old days before cell phones existed. It’s not easy, or even the best thing if people are trying to reach me, but it’s a small attempt to disconnect from digital overload and live in the real world.  

Ashley Etling asked herself this question and the result is Atelia, a Portland-based company that seeks to spread the joy of analog experiences in order to get us off our screens and back into the present moment.  

 I discovered Atellia on a trip to Portland last spring. A friend I visited out there told me about it, thinking it would be right up my alley. She was right. Browsing their website, I loved their vision and products based on bringing more analog experiences back into our lives, such as the hourglass. So I was thrilled to get to speak to Ashley Etling, Attelia’s founder, and CEO, and ask her to share some inspiration, goals, and ideas on surviving the modern-day screen takeover.

1. How would you describe Atellia? Tell us about your vision and the path to how your company started and what inspired you?

Atellia is collectively creating high integrity objects and stories that inspire people to slow down. Specifically, the inspiration to take digital breaks was sparked while building a tech company in the Bay Area. The journey taught me many things but the two that stuck out the most were taking breaks and to enjoy life’s simple pleasures.

While taking a breather myself, I spent a good amount of time thinking about what good innovation means. The result eventually morphed into the mission of Atellia where we believe good innovation means telling the whole story —of people, place, and product.

The first collection, The Hourglass, rooted from the idea of enjoying the simple things in life. After many chaotic years, I hit a point where all I wanted was to enjoy a hot cup of coffee. At the same time, a friend gave me a 3-minute hourglass which I ended up using each morning to time the steeping of my coffee. It was a simple yet inspiring routine that brought with it a pause in the day.

2. One of your top products is the hourglass. The hourglass dates back to as far as 150BC.  How did you rediscover this product? What’s the importance and significance of the hourglass in our lives today? Who is the hourglass for?

Another goal behind the brand is to solve new world problems with old world solutions. I love and thrive via technology. However, I started to notice the problems with digital overload. The team and I at Atellia started to ask the question: what are we missing when we live so much of our lives online? We quickly came to the conclusion, well, a lot.

We want to inspire all people to spend time in the real world — even just small increments, like 5, 15, and 30 minutes. The hourglass became the solution.

3. I love how you state on your website that simple tasks such as building a fire or watching sand funnel through glass slows us down, brings us into the present moment and removes us from digital overload. How have you seen these analog experiences improve our health and our lives? Have you seen changes in your own life?

We set out to design 3 small increments of time for the hourglass to inspire breaks. A five-minute glass is great for steeping tea or doing a short meditation, whereas a thirty-minute glass is better for helping monitor meetings or a yoga session. The hourglass has served as an inspiration for these pauses in the lives of people and especially mine. I have one in each room of the house as a subtle reminder to enjoy the moment.

4. How has being based in Portland, Oregon influenced your company?

Well, I am actually based in Telluride, CO. a small mountain town in southwest, CO. Being surrounded by 14,000-ft mountains, blooming Aspens, no stop lights and birds chirping happily naturally encourages one to enjoy the simple pleasure in life. Over the years, friends continued to encourage me to share these delicious moments with others. Their encouragement eventually brought Atellia to life.

5. Can you tell us about the production of your beautiful products?

One of my idols is Dieter Rams, who inspired the design and production approach; good design accelerates sustainability and innovation—it takes care and considers people (those who design, make, sell, and use our products), place (the spaces and environment where our products are used), and the product itself (its usefulness, aesthetic, and value). 

This led us to working with an incredible design team out of Auckland New Zealand, Think and Shift. They collaborated with Grant Frank in NZ and Doug Navcour in Lorain, Ohio to produce the collection. Each brought to the project a heightened vision, a talent and a perseverance that was unmatchable. All three were key as we quickly realized the engineering feat we were all up against. Who would have thought time is finicky in so many ways? For me, the process has been a beautiful reminder of how important patience and time is in such a fast-paced world.

6. What can we expect from Atellia in the future?

We are looking at how we can truly continue to improve the well-being of people and the planet. Specifically, the last mile of a product. I can’t wait to share more soon. ATELLIA