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Layla LE : Behind the Scenes

Collaborators Kate Shea and Nicole Mansfield share insight into its creation and impact.

The world’s first limited edition life jacket designed specifically for women

This summer, Astral introduced the Layla LE, the world’s first limited edition life jacket designed specifically for women. Collaborators Kate Shea and Nicole Mansfield share insight into its creation and impact.

Nicole Mansfield wearing Astral Layla LE life jacket, looking down as she stands in a river, with a blurred out forest and river in the background.

Why is this Layla LE project important to you?

Nicole Mansfield (NM) : I love playing outside and I love colorful and creative things.  I really enjoy seeing how people’s creativity manifests itself in so many different ways – whether it be through visual or literary mediums, or a unique line through a rapid, styling a trick, or finding a new first descent.  When on the river or in the mountains, I want my gear to be functional, but I don’t want it to be boring.  So, it’s fun having the opportunity to be part of a project where art is interfaced somewhere it often isn’t – a PFD.  

Kate Shea (KS) : This project is important to me because in my opinion it is rare to find technical gear with a creative or illustrative aspect to it, more specifically female focused gear. So, I really think this is a cool project and something I haven’t really seen before! A true coupling of my two favorite things, art and outdoor activity 🙂

Nicole Mansfield, Kate Shea, and Eliza Carver prepping their gear outside of a truck where a kayak is strapped to the roof. Each paddler is wearing dry suits, helmets, and Layla life jacket.

Why is the project important to the river/water community?

NM : Leading the charge in many avenues, I admire Astral’s dedication to innovation and creativity.  They have designed quality life jackets for a variety of water recreationalists and developed numerous originative LE models. But, most of these LE projects have been geared toward the Green Jacket wearers. This one’s for the gals – specifically those who appreciate a women’s specific fit. The Layla is not a shrink it and pink it and I am excited for those members of the river community to have the opportunity to choose a lifejacket with a bit of flare.  

KS : I think this project will be important and well-received by the river community because it is something for the everyday paddler and not just aimed toward the class V boater. It gives a wider range of the community the opportunity to enjoy something a bit more unique and maybe even give someone a little boost of confidence. Look good, feel good…right?!

Astral Layla LE life jacket with an illustrative design of mythical creatures and a river woman painted on the PFD canvas.
Shot of Nicole Mansfields wearing first-ever Layla LE. She's in a river with splashing around her, viewing the back of the PFD. The back of the life jacket design features a teal, pink, and purple river woman and a bear holding a fish in its mouth with the Astral lotus icon in the top right corner.

Why is the artwork special to you?  

KS : The artwork is special to me because it really just flowed and came to fruition so easily… like it was meant-to-be! I drew the original piece by hand on a long piece of paper with a pen in one go. Then it really didn’t take too much editing or altering to fit to each piece of material. I love the river and grew up being on the Ottawa River nearly everyday and this just represents the peace and inspiration I get from being amongst it and everything and everyone that comes with it. Nature, the community, the love and the loss…

NM : Whimsical. Daydreamy. This artwork reminds me of nature’s imaginative power and the thoughts inspired by river trips floating through immense canyon walls, sleeping under the stars, and existing amongst the natural world. Paddling can satisfy a variety of needs depending on your desires – it can be exhilarating, it can be intense, it can be exhausting, or it could be relaxing. As adventures on the river do, this artwork speaks to me differently at different times.  It’s not meant to be specific, but to inspire your imagination to take it where you want it to go.  

Nicole Mansfield, Eliza Carer, and Kate Shea stand by a river bank's edge scouting the water. Each is wearing a dry suit, helmet, and Layla life jacket.

Who/what inspired this project?

NM : There are so many people and places that have influenced my connection with whitewater and consequently have inspired this project. I have been attracted to kayaking for numerous reasons, but ultimately it has been the people that keep me coming back.  

One such influential person is the talented, hard-working, laugh while you’re sweating savage operator, Louis Jull, who reminded us to seize and enjoy each moment because we are living the dream and ‘always winning, never not.’ 

I wanted to celebrate this – the river community, the camaraderie, the incredible places we are fortunate to experience. For this, I approached Kate Shea, who not only is an endearing member of the whitewater community, but also expresses her creativity in a snowboarding style that, like her art, is dreamy and distinctly feminine. We spoke about what whitewater has meant to us and the magnificence of the places it takes you. With this common appreciation of outdoor grandeur, unique perspectives and immeasurable inspiration, I was excited to see what Kate would create on this canvas.  

Three kayakers paddle down a river. Photo is taken from a distance, bird's eye view of the massive river. Forest lines the top edge of the shot.

How will this project help people develop a deeper connection to nature?

NM : I hope this project inspires people to let their imaginations run wild, think creatively, and go outside to do whatever their heart desires. Go to your backyard run. Do the slowest descent, the fastest descent, make it an overnighter, bring a picnic, and find new waves, new eddies, and new lines. Explore new zones and find new runs. Portage new rapids. Splat. Freewheel. Boof. Shudder Rudder.  Head Rudder.  Squirt. Make a sand castle. Watch the fish. Watch for bears. Swim. Draw. Build a fire. Take a nap. Take another nap. Daydream. Be thankful. Have fun doing whatever it is.  

KS : I think this project could help someone dive deeper into nature by helping them feel more confident on the water. I also think this piece of gear could even be a bit of an ice-breaker or a conversation starter. I know I was intimidated getting into the whitewater scene and looked like a total gorby, maybe if I can some female specific gear that fit properly and had some cool designs I wouldn’t of taken so long to put myself out there and try more things on the water.

GIFF of Astral Layla LE life jacket with an illustrative design of mythical creatures, a river woman painted on the PFD canvas, and eyes on the front.

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