- Buyer's Guide
Sleek lines, urban active and street ready. Throw ‘Swiss’ into the mix, and you get Crafted Goods, the burgeoning brand getting slung by cool urban peeps everywhere from Hong Kong to New York.
Commonly featured on Hypebeast, Crafted Goods is a brand for street cats – scroll through their Instagram and you’ll spot b-boys, parkour, black and white street scenes of BMX bikes mid-air, fishtailing over concrete ledges. But it’s also got Swiss bones, so there’s that extra emphasis on functionality and proportion that pits them ahead of most other aesthetic-heavy street brands.
Calling in from Bogotá, Colombia, Crafted Goods boss Ralph Thoma brims with enthusiasm despite the early rise.
“We start very early, and we usually don’t finish too late,” he says, describing both his family life, and the day-to-day of his chief enterprise.
Though he might be based in Colombia for the time being, Ralph, like Crafted Goods itself – the brand he co-founded with chief designer Thanh-Hung Trinh in 2012 – is born and bred Swiss. Yet go a step deeper, and you’ll find a uniquely international thread at the heart of this duo and their nascent enterprise.
“I was born and raised in Lausanne, a small city in the French part of Switzerland,” Ralph tells me, “normal Swiss upbringing – school, lots of skiing during the winter and hiking during the summer, except maybe for the fact that my father was permanently on business trips around the world.”
Ralph seemingly absorbed his father’s zeal for the lure of the world: a degree in International Development Studies and Anthropology in Massachusetts, USA, before finishing his thesis in Bolivia; a stint in Morocco with a Swiss environmental consulting firm; tenure in NYC with a consumer goods multinational; most recently, Bogotá: the sprawling high-altitude Colombian capital where he’s lived for the past 15 years and built Crafted Goods along the way. “I came here for five,” he smiles.
Design chief and business partner Thanh, meanwhile, weaves Crafted Goods’ international fabric a notch further. After fleeing Vietnam in the 70s as a three-year-old, his parents and brothers sailed as boat people to Macau, before making their way into a new life in Montreux, Switzerland.
It was on Swiss turf in 2012 that Ralph and Thanh met through a mutual friend.
“It was freezing cold, and there was Thanh with his ‘Supreme’ cap, Canadian lumberjack shirt and summer sneakers,” smiles Ralph, “the perfect look and gear for a very cold November day up in the Swiss Alps.”
The rapport was instant, with the two recognizing both each other’s talents and skills, and their harmonious visions: Thanh, keen to branch out to create his debut line, and Ralph, committed to channelling his business nous into a solid carry enterprise.
“We have very good compatibility,” says Ralph. “He knows what he doesn’t know, and I know what I’m not good at. We don’t overlap.”
What sticks out the most about Crafted Goods is the fact that they’re essentially a two-man band. As ‘the artist and the businessman’, Ralph and Thanh duel-handedly carry Crafted Goods with their unique raft of skills: Ralph, the brand’s business mind and operational glue; Thanh, a one-man, self-taught design master, with expertise stemming from photography and motion design, to movie-making and industrial design. All this, of course, with the support of a crack team of eight factory hands, sewers and auxiliary office crew. Additionally, having their own in-house, fully equipped atelier and work lab gives the brand further creative license and freedom to develop new samples and prototypes.
The second thing worth noting is their uniquely Swiss take on the ‘city-ready’ aesthetic. While Swiss industrial design is at the heart of Crafted Goods’ designs, the urban/street influence can’t be downplayed (Thanh’s ‘Supreme’ cap, and the fact that he wears sneakers to the Alps is a fair indication).
Still, the ‘Swiss factor’ is King: Thanh’s line is based chiefly on mathematical proportions, and a credo where function defines the overall look and feel of the bag. What comes out of this is reliable, functional, clean, and active carryable goods – “urban active,” in Ralph’s words, a complement to the ‘Swiss Classic Tech’ niche that the brand has come to embody.
"While Swiss industrial design is at the heart of Crafted Goods’ designs, the urban/street influence can’t be downplayed."
Though largely self-taught, Thanh’s aesthetic acumen was enhanced by a Jury prize-winning design apprenticeship in Lausanne, as well as a career stint with some of Switzerland’s most prestigious design agencies. His overarching mantra, front and center on the brand’s website manifest, is telling of his approach: ‘There is not a thing such as beautiful or ugly, there is just right or wrong. Only right proportions matter.’
Growth and change
It’s typical that most brands go through a teething chapter in their early years, a learning arc where the product core is refined and redefined. While Crafted Goods might have positioned itself more along the lines of heritage, casual and lifestyle early on, the past year or so has marked an evolution of the brand’s DNA into the ‘urban active’ line currently on show.
“I think we learn from our errors,” says Ralph, reflecting on the fast transition. “Sometimes you can go around and commit the same errors over and over… We made baby steps, but always a step forward.”
This fresh step seems to be playing out logistically too: “I’m getting ready to pack my suitcases again,” beams Ralph on the impending relocation to Hong Kong that his family, and Crafted Goods, are about to take. The move will centralise HQ operations closer to the brand’s manufacturing base in Vietnam; Thanh meanwhile, currently Bogotá-side, will likely follow suit, and perhaps in a full circle sense revisit his birth roots in Ho Chi Minh City.
"Thanh’s line is based chiefly on mathematical proportions, and a credo where function defines the overall look and feel of the bag. What comes out of this is reliable, functional, clean, and active carryable goods."
Top-notch fabrics, built to stay the course, are at the heart of the Crafted Goods urban line.
“In terms of fabric we use, for instance, a 600 Denier Ballistic fabric for our perpetual collection: very strong, water resistant, yet also light and easy to take care of,” says Ralph.
Additionally, YKK AquaGuard zippers ensure maximum reliability and water protection, so too Duraflex buckles: “the world’s leading brand in plastic buckles for the outdoor sporting goods industry, always at the forefront of new product development” says Ralph.
You’ll find EVA foam in all the crucial parts too – shoulder straps, laptop compartments, backs and bottom – “much more durable compared with foams (popularly called ‘Jumbolon’), commonly used in the bag industry,” adds Ralph.
"Top-notch fabrics, built to stay the course, are at the heart of the Crafted Goods urban line."
In terms of their most popular items, the Simplon and the Cubly remain the brand’s watershed varieties, which Ralph puts down to the simplicity of the bags’ designs, and a sound balance of aesthetics and functionality.
The 18L Simplon works great as both a daily commuter bag and travel companion, with multiple pockets keeping your gear tidy and easily accessible. And with three carry options, including tote style, slung over the shoulder or backpack mode, you can quickly adapt to a variety of environments. If you need a little extra space, the 23L Cubly is a versatile alternative. Three carry options including tote, shoulder bag and backpack mode help you transition smoothly from work to play. Additionally, there are sufficient pockets to keep the essentials in order while avoiding a cluttered feel.
I ask Ralph where they’re getting snapped up: “mostly in Singapore and North America, particularly Canada,” he says, largely the result of a solid e-commerce presence and local retail partners, including:
Singapore’s premier bag and outdoor carry HQ since 2012: ‘bags for comfort, style and practicality, for all our adventures’. The perfect camera bag, the right piece of travel luggage and the messenger bag to go with your wheels all live here; so too the highest standards of quality and aesthetics.
The ‘home of great design’, a London-based contemporary lifestyle platform connecting artists, designers, influencers and customers in a personalized and content-rich environment. Here, handpicked products – from menswear to art and interiors – meet a strict criteria of quality materials, craftsmanship and originality.
Since 2003, Toronto’s chief supplier of international and heritage accessories, from backpacks to wallets, and totes to hats. Specialists in excellent selections, carry expertise and top-notch customer service.
With two decades in the game, one of Japan’s largest retailers, home to a uniquely personalized take on ‘Modern American’ style.
A thriving Tokyo-based retail chain with American roots and multiple locations in and around the capital, specializing in outdoor wear, surf, fitness and footwear.
The customers’ perspective
With Crafted Goods continuing to receive adulation from urban cats all over the world, it’s clear that their audience is lapping up the offering:
Hi guys, I bought a Carrerita in Desert Dune and I love it. I’ve been a bag geek for years, and have owned many bags. I’m always in search of good bags, and I am ashamed to admit I only heard of CG a few months ago while doing some research on Carryology.
I’m very impressed with the quality of build, design and materials. Very nice work!
Without question, the bag is one of the finest I have ever bought; it is robust and sleek. Lovely.
"While Crafted Goods might have positioned itself more along the lines of heritage, casual and lifestyle early on, the past year or so has marked an evolution of the brand’s DNA into the ‘urban active’ line currently on show."
As for the future, there’s a lot to be excited about. Ralph fills me in on a new and revamped ‘Ultimate’ collection set for 2018, this one specifically geared towards a business-travel audience.
But in essence, the coming year and beyond marks an even more pronounced refinement for the brand far beyond the product itself: the consolidation of the brand’s Swiss roots, the new HQ in Hong Kong, and steady expansion. In short, Crafted Goods have polished their offering, and are prepped to go big with it.
“I still think we have a lot of…ambitions,” says Ralph, quickly baulking at the ‘A’ word, replacing it with ‘passion’: “Passion…to do new things…to bring new things forward…I think that’s the main thing. We feel good now where we are.”