The Brown Buffalo: There are so many new up-and-coming bag companies here in the States and overseas. I couldn’t be happier…
When I first started designing bags, it wasn’t like this. People used to laugh at me and didn’t understand why I didn’t want to be an apparel designer. At the time in action sports, being an apparel designer meant flying to Hong Kong or London and buying samples, then flying back and copying them, meanwhile convincing yourself that you were a designer. But for me, and for where I grew up, there was a phrase we used in skateboarding and graffiti – “no biting”. That meant no ripping off other styles.
I tried it, but it wasn’t my thing… I basically asked myself, how many times could I do this until I was going to be jaded. Not growing up in the beach culture, I really think it helped me set myself apart as being an independent problem solver. I had no pressure of success or ideals, I was actually an underdog. I have been my whole career, I love it. You ask anyone who has worked with me, they’ll probably say I’m confrontational, serious and obsessed with details… I really didn’t like that as a character trait when I was young in my career; now I’ve gone on to embrace it and channel my energy to the right places. I made my mistakes like any young designer, I think that’s where college would have helped me work out some of those kinks. So be it, I learned on the job. I learned fast though, that was just street smarts from growing up in LA -> you didn’t want to get caught half stepping and blow your gig.
I fell in love with bags at a young age. With my mom being a photographer, we traveled so much as a family that bags were a constant. It was basically a natural thing… we didn’t have a lot of money, both my parents worked their asses off so we could see the world and get cultured. They are both drinking margaritas up in heaven now, but there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t thank them for everything they exposed me to.
I really made some traction when I joined Burton Snowboards. I was originally brought on to design the Gravis bags, but after a year Jake Burton and Greg Dacyshyn promoted me into Design Director of all Burton brands. I can’t disclose too much due to legal obligations, but I also just really have Jake and Greg’s back on keeping my experiences at Burton private. That’s what makes Burton, Burton. Someone once compared Burton to the Hells Angels; until you are patched in you’re just a recruit. Getting patched in takes years, even if it is Jake or Donna who hired you. You need to prove yourself, just like the athletes do. Jake and Greg have seen it all, so you are going to have to bring your A+ game or don’t bother. It’s the same type of attitude the engineers have at Apple. I did it for 8 years and I think it worked out pretty good.
To see where carryism has taken off to, it’s purely mind-blowing. To be a good canvasworker these days, you really need to bring something original to the table. It’s not just about the silhouette; it’s about the complete package. Much like apparel, there are young designers who travel to Tokyo the first time and think Head Porter, Visvim and Master-Piece are the end-all to bags. I would beg to differ…spend some time looking at Louis Vuitton. There is a level of methodical craftsmanship that is second to none. Have you ever noticed how with the stitch count on LV carry products, there is never a half stitch? I like to think that’s one way they can know if it’s counterfeit, as no other makers could pull that off. You can learn a lot about a carry product by their stitch count.
There are basically three tiers of Lifestyle bags now; action sports, boutique bags and outdoor. I purposely left out sporting-goods.
Outside of Burton, most action sports bags have traditionally been low price point bags and poorly constructed carry solutions (sorry guys, it’s true). Dakine was good, but something happened after they slid under a public company umbrella, and they started chasing margins ahead of great product. Their travel program took a shitter and the aftermath was leaking into their other products. Now I’m sure there is someone saying they sell a lot; remember don’t be confused by the dollar -> it’s always about the brand value.
Boutique bag brands are the little guys who are giving the monsters a run for their money. I think the younger culture just got sick of cheap product and wanted an alternative. When you look at Mission Workshop, Killspencer or Philosophy bags, it makes sense why those brands resonate with people. It’s a no-brainer. People are spending money on product now, more than they ever have in my lifetime.
As for Outdoor lifestyle, well it’s easy to sum up…The North Face. TNF hands down designs, develops and manufactures the best quality bags in the outdoor lifestyle segment. Their testing standards are the highest in the industry as well with their product teams. That’s the reason I went to work there. Up until that point I had worked on quite a few projects, roughly 40 brands in 5 years. It was never about the financial gain (I learned that early from my grandfathers). TNF had been a client for about 2 years before I joined the team in San Leandro. I knew what I was getting into and who was on the team. Everyone is passionate about product and their activities, and that’s a hard thing to find within a company culture.
Currently, I’m working with select brands on technical outerwear and carry solutions, while also working on new belt and bag solutions under my own brand, The Brown Buffalo. I’m also heavily involved instructing at Art Center College of Design, where we have some new opportunities in works.
Speaking of, I need to get back to work… I’ll follow up in January with some news about Art Center, as well as the workshop I’m building in Southern California called CANVASWORKER’S. I’ll also be diving a little deeper from a design and engineering lens regarding carry solutions for climbing.
I hope I didn’t bore anyone.
These images are people, places and objects that have caught my eye while in transit from one place to another.
The Brown Buffalo