Mission Workshop shop visit :: San Francisco, CA
At Carryology, we’re fans of many different brands who specialize in the art and utility of carry. Doesn’t matter what type of carry, or what its purpose is, we recognize a great product or system when we see it. We’re all unanimously huge fans of one brand in particular, Mission Workshop. They create some of the most innovative bicycle/messenger-inspired bags and packs available anywhere. Since I was going to be in their hometown of San Francisco, I had to stop in for a visit. Being such a cycle-centric city, it’s too bad I couldn’t bring my Surly Crosscheck in my carry-on (I ended up taking the Carryology zeppelin to California this time; the onboard luggage maximum dimensions are ridiculously tiny, and I refuse to pay a bag fee while traveling on our damn own blimp. So maybe next time I’ll bring the Surly. Yes, if you must ask, the photo of the Carryology zeppelin is real, there was no “.com” back then.).
This was an easy meeting to set up. I emailed MW, and quickly got a response back from Bart, one of the two founders and owners of Mission Workshop. Lyle, the other half of the pair, was going to be in Europe during my drop-in, so I’d have to meet him next time I’m in SF. Even though Lyle was out of town, Bart was all for it. Real quick, a little background on MW, which I’m sure plenty of you are aware of. Back in the day, Bart and Lyle started another bicycle/messenger-inspired carry brand, which goes by the name of Chrome, also in SF. Chrome took off; you’ll spot their messenger bags and their shiny seatbelt-buckle-styles shoulder strap closure all over the globe. Bart and Lyle ended up selling Chrome, and from there they wanted to take a higher-end approach to carry, incorporating elements from outdoor hiking packs, focusing on fit, weatherproof construction, multiple quick access points, and tough durability. I’d say they’ve nailed it so far.
“The Mission is where we design, develop, and work in San Francisco. Our workshop was created out of the need for gear that out-performs, while maintaining a clean aesthetic appropriate for cycling, travel, and the daily routine. Pulling from years of experience, Mission Workshop creates bags that can handle a lifetime of abuse and apparel that can withstand the worst weather.”
So the day arrives, and my lady, Molly, and I hop the train to the Mission District of the city. Upon exiting the underground station, and coming up into the sunlight, there is electricity in the air and hordes of people in the streets. Hundreds and hundreds of citizens are protesting, standing up for the rights of LGBT people all over the city, the state, and the world. Cops in San Francisco were pretty damn cool, not interfering… rather standing way back (2 blocks), chilling against their cars, letting people do their thing.
We slowly make our way through the masses, going Westward on 16th Street, til we hit Rondel, a dead end lane, about 300 feet long.
Standing on this corner, the sights, language, and smells of Latin culture surround you. Mexican, Central American, and South American cuisine options are visible all over. Let’s just say, when standing at the corner of 16th and Rondel, you don’t expect the Golden-Gate-orange Mission Workshop HQ to be within a couple hundred feet. Not in a bad way, at all. Just unexpected.
The doors are wide open and immediately I meet a slew of the Mission Workshop staff the moment we stroll in. I recognized one of the female employees’ faces right away, but I wasn’t sure where from. Turns out, that week was her one year anniversary living in SF, but before moving, she lived in Austin for years and years, which is where I live. She also used to regularly participate in Thursday Night Social Rides, an event I also used to frequent. We knew some of the same folks as well. Anyway, small world.
Their shop is a place I like being in; relaxed, but work is getting done. Free drip Bicycle Coffee at the front, a stack of VICE magazines, someone hanging out, some other people working, bicycles out front, rad artwork up on the walls, an “industrial meets farmhouse” interior (that’s my description, not MW’s), as well as a collection of some of the very best bicycle messenger bags and bicycle backpacks hanging on display. Showroom downstairs, the rest of the work for the brand is done upstairs.
Bart comes down, and we start talking shop, about the MW brand, their philosophy on carry, and some exciting new projects. Mixed in with other banter.
In fact, during our chat, I spot the now newly launched Arkiv Field Pack prototype sitting on the front table. At this point, it was a couple months before the product was launched officially. So that secret prototype was cool to discuss and play with. The Arkiv modular system works great; I’ll spend some more time with it later on.
One of the employees told me that Bart rides his bicycle into work most days out of the week… from across the Golden Gate Bridge. About a 90 minute ride each way. And more than likely, it’s not sunny and 70+ degrees outside. More like 50-60 degrees or colder, rainy, damp, and/or foggy. A perfect testing ground for MW’s products. That tells you something. I asked him about his commute and what type of pack he usually carries. Though I forget which product he mentioned specifically, it was a MW backpack.
Bart admitted to me that he prefers backpacks over messengers (I generally prefer backpacks as well). But many of the employees (and customers) disagree and opt for the messengers, and love them. One thing is assured, the R&D team spends just as much time designing and refining the messengers as they do the backpacks. It’s just a matter of preference. Me, I’ve got my eye on the Vandal, specifically a special project that Bart and I chatted about.
Upstairs, a cutting table with sewing machines. Material ready to be experimented with. This is the beginning of all of Mission Workshop’s designs. Concept after concept, prototype after prototype. Eventually the bags are made in quantity in Colorado, USA. Here in SF, is where everything except the actual manufacturing takes place. Damn impressive.
Product photography, video shooting/editing, customer service, R&D, and more, all done right here. They even have their own warehouse downstairs in the back and take care of shipping on their own from this spot. I witness proof as a FedEx truck comes and drops off a bunch of boxes, they get packaged and labeled, and like clockwork another FedEx truck arrives to take them away. I’m told this happens all day at this location.
Another bit of awesome…Mission Workshop lends part of their shop out to a local SF company called Bicycle Coffee. This small area is Bicycle Coffee’s official HQ. I’m told they happily allow them to use this space for free because they have amazing coffee (and I imagine it would be free for the MW staff) and “it brings a fresh energy into the shop”. The energy being both figurative and literal. Their pitch is “we love good coffee and we really like to ride bicycles, so we decided to combine the two. It’s pretty simple, we roast quality coffee in our custom built roaster and deliver it by bicycle. We only roast organic, fair-trade, Arabica beans grown by farm cooperatives.”
For the hour or two that I was there, several bicycle messengers rushed into the shop, climbed the stairs, grabbed several pounds of the coffee bags, shoved them into their Mission Workshop messenger bags, hopped on their bikes and took off to deliver the roasted beans to different coffee shops around the city. It reminded me of the opposite of a bee hive. Definitely a cool buzz. Thanks to the BC dude who tossed me a bag for free, those were some delicious beans.