As part of our HUCK Indies 2013 exhibition, we meet Scottish bag-makers Trakke.
“The first fifty bags we made were entirely out of stuff we found in skips; tarpaulin, roofing material, old suitcases, anything we could lay our hands on really,” explains Trakke founder Alec Farmer over the phone from his workshop in Glasgow.
Trakke and their high quality adventure luggage began life back in 2010 when Glasgow School of Art students Alec and his friend James Ring started rummaging in skips as a distraction from their courses. These Frankenstein-esque messenger bags were sold to friends as a way of raising some extra cash.
It may have been a truly environmentally friendly venture, but recycling whatever they could scavenge came with its downsides. “Finding materials, and ones that would last, became problematic,” explains Alec. “For example, we would make bags with old advert banners that had faults in the material so the bags were being returned.”
After turning to using standard bag materials such as Cordura, Alec became frustrated with the conventional route Trakke was taking. “It never felt that I was making a product that I could be proud to sell,” he says.
So Trakke took a new path in 2011 with Alec forging on by himself. A new approach saw Trakke focus on making carefully designed functional bags and accessories in tough, durable materials like waxed cotton and stainless steel, all sourced from UK manufacturers. “We want bags to be functional on a bike or on a mountainside, but also look good around town as well. You get a point where you’ve got a bag for everything but there’s no real cross over. It’s nice to make products that people can use for all the things they do in their life,” says Alec.
Nowadays, Alec – as well as handling all the “boring business stuff” – spends his time in the workshop handmaking new prototypes and designs. This before working over the designs with his machinist to be put into production right there and then. Despite only selling their bags from their website, they’ve still managed through word of mouth to attract customers from the US, China, Japan and even a scientist based out in Antarctica! They’ve also recently made a collection of bags with fellow Scottish cloth makers Harris Tweed.
But nurturing a small independent operation can be a tough way to make a living and Alec makes ends meet working part-time in a bike shop/cafe in Glasgow. “While Trakke builds up, I need something to pay the rent,” he says. “The sooner that can change the better. But I’m lucky that I’m also around people who are into cycling and have a lot of shared opinions. So I have a lot of people giving me feedback about what they want from a bag.”
Alec insists that he’s a “designer not a business man” and that at the core of Trakke is a simple desire to make some great products. “I want to make company sustainable so the money takes care of itself and I can focus on design,” he says. “It’s a job that I love to do, so it’s not really about the money, it’s about making bags that other people love.”