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How It's SFMade: The Custom Bag Revolution

Caleb Pershan | May 9, 2013 | Lifestyle Story Shopping

If America is driven by a consumer culture, then San Francisco is driven by a smart consumer culture. You know: local, sustainable, savvy. That also describes SFMade, a non-profit organization of over 400 city manufacturers that’s the next coolest thing to a guild. Through Sunday they celebrate SFMade Week with special tours and events, and we observe with daily profiles of need-to-know SFMade brands.

In a bike commuter city, lugging your belongings on your back is a form of self-expression. After all, aren't the things we carry a reflection of what we do and who we are? Here, the three most prominent SF bag brands with which to make your own statement.

Rickshaw: Perhaps the company with the closest SFMade ties (Mark Dwight, CEO, is SFMade’s founder), Rickshaw Bagworks is also the newest of our three bag titans. Dwight conceived of SFMade in 2004 while he was CEO of Timbuk2: he started Rickshaw after leading his now-rival to a successful turnaround that involved moving some production to China. Dwight theorizes that the functionality of messenger bags and other items tends to gain cache. “It’s often the case that a working class product becomes a hip consumer product, like boots and jeans, you name it.” Rickshaws bags are made right in Dogpatch: “We are to San Francisco what Brooklyn is to New York in terms of all the maker activity,” says Dwight. Take that, Oakland.

Chrome: Though not technically an SFMade member, to leave out SF-headquartered hip-bag giant Chrome would be a huge oversight. At the company’s SoMa “hub,” a retail store plus coffee shop hangout for customers and locals, it seems like everyone has just come from a bike ride or surf session. Chrome’s brand story revolves around repurposing a seatbelt buckle for their first messenger bag’s (now iconic) strap. “To live in SF, especially now, you’ve got to be resourceful” says chrome President Steve McCallion. Their custom in-store sewing program is more expensive than grabbing a bag off the shelf, but gives you complete design control: after all, “your bag is your bumper” says McCallion.

Timbuk2: As the brand that claims to have launched the first online customizer in 1999, it’s no surprise that half of Timbuk2’s online orders are custom. It’s also not much of a stretch to call Timbuk2 the unofficial briefcase of San Francisco cyclists, but design director Greg Bass says they’ve “moved beyond the hardcore bike messenger.” According to Bass, Timbuk2 builds bags for the future by predicting our behavior years from now: what kind of bikes we’ll ride and which tech products we’ll carry. (For example, the brand correctly anticipated that smaller tech devices like tablets and e-readers would mean bigger business for their smaller bags.) But that's not to say Timbuk2’s products aren’t long lasting: “people always brag about how old their Timbuk2 is,” says Bass. From a retailer’s perspective, “it’s a blessing and a curse.”

Monday: The vibrator with flash storage.

Tuesday: The presidential iPad case.

Wednesday: Be a custom wood cartographer.

Friday: Bi-Rite for you pet.

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