- Buyer's Guide
This January I traveled to Portland, OR for a short “vacation” (and ended up winning 1st in my category of the 2011 West Coast Beard & Moustache Championships… but that’s an entirely different post). Anyway, whenever I travel to any part of the US, or the world, I try to seek out interesting, unique, cool, well-made, quality, and/or just fun examples of carry that might be made in or available in that specific area I’m visiting. This is to fuel my thirst addiction of all things carry, my personal interest (I’m a carry junkie), my professional interest (can’t hurt to learn new construction techniques and meet people in this tiny niche industry), and to generate some slick content for Carryology and you bad ass Carryology fans.This trip saw us take a visit to Philosophy Bags!
After picking the Carryology team’s brains, I discovered Philosophy Bag Co. Located a few miles North of Portland, OR, just across the river in Camas, WA, I figured it would potentially be a perfect stop (if they wanted to meet with me, anyway). Philosophy Bags make messenger bags, backpacks, and bicycle pannier bags, so it really seemed like a fitting brand to visit while in such a bicycle-centric city. I sent off an email and crossed my fingers. A few quick emails later with the super-nice owner and founder, Troy Cameron, and the date was set, easy as that.
So Molly (my girl) and I took the MAX rail up to North Portland where Troy picked us up and out of the stereotypical cold damp rainy weather. On the way to his shop, as Troy also suggested in his emails, there were a couple noteworthy points of interest, which he offered to stop at so we could check them out. The first stop was the Danner factory store & recrafting center. Danner is a serious no-nonsense American-made boot manufacturer, since 1932. The boots are durable as steel, with an extreme attention to manufacturing detail. The store itself was incredible, with some steals of deals on the boots. You could get a pair of $300-$400 boots that will last you a lifetime for half the original cost, or less. Watching the craftsmen repair boots behind the glass was fascinating. So many tools and machines I’ve never seen, all boot-specific. Overall, the store had a great look and feel (wood, steel, leather, concrete, my kind of place).
After that, since it was also on the way, and since Troy offered, we went to the Pendleton Woolen Mills shop. Pendleton is small company who makes some of the finest wools right here in the US. Named after a small town in Oregon, family-owned for 140+ years. Their fabrics are used in apparel, carry, and their very recognizable blankets which use bright bold Native American patterns. An interesting shop to roam around and feel the different woolen fabrics first hand, but at this point, I was ready and excited to see the Philosophy Bag Co workshop. Let’s roll.
We pulled into the driveway of the unassuming shop, a large building nestled between two little houses within a quaint little residential neighbourhood. We walk into the structure and it is instant visual stimuli overload. My eyes dart from stacks of assorted waxed canvas fabric, to a bin of prototypes, a canoe hanging above the middle of the shop space, finished pack designs ready for production, parts bins full of hardware bits, seemingly “ancient” hand tools, and plenty of rare and vintage packs around the room on display, each presumably with a story. I later learned, each pack on display, indeed, had an intriguing story. The first two words that came to mind while standing there in the doorway taking it all in and letting my toes thaw out, were “authentic” and “real”.
Every product under the Philosophy Bag Co name is carefully handmade within the walls of this shop. Leather, canvas, and hardware comes in through the doors. Handmade quality messenger bags,backpacks, and pannier bags leave through the doors. Patterns are laying on a cutting table, with scissors and an exacto laying on top, each panel hand cut, and then hand sewn together. Using the finest and most careful construction techniques may I add. Troy doesn’t find faster or more efficient ways to put together these products, he finds better ways. He explained the most difficult part to teach his employees, is not the technical ability, which they are all experts of, but the love and care into each and every stitch. Only when each employee has learned this, does their work go into a bag that will land in the hands of a customer.
I will admit, Philosophy Bag’s new collection has some trick features that I think are some of the more clever I’ve seen anywhere in the industry, not something you’d expect when you see canvas and leather construction. Though the styling is classic, traditional, beautiful/handsome, there is plenty of innovation. A great balance. A friend of mine just used this word when describing some food at a local restaurant, but, I think it works here, Troy’s designs are “thoughtful”. They’re not overly fashion-y. They’re not brutal die hard utility. Yet, they’re both.
Every single stitch and millimeter of fabric was considered and thought through. Any time I mentioned a suggestion for construction or design (as I’m known to do), Troy politely explained he tried that already, ten different ways, and arrived on his current solution after all the trial and error. I want one of each model he makes. My personal Philosophy Bag Co wish list would be the “Cameron 17” messenger ($289), one “Burnside” pannier bag ($259), and one “Intrans” pannier bag ($259). Take a look, they’re all equally handsome, and can handle years and years of heavy use in rough weather.
When I asked him about the origin of the name “Philosophy Bags”, he explained that the brand wasn’t just here to create products and make profit, though that is important to keep the electricity on. Philosophy Bags was created during and as a result of the Industrial Arts Movement. Troy created the brand to teach this unique craft to individuals within his community and then branch out further from there. He is truly interested in the handmade craft, and sharing that gift not only through Philosophy Bags handmade products, but through teaching it to others.
From the website: “Philosophy Bag Co. is the first project developed and marketed through the Industrial Arts Movement (IAM). Our mission, though, is much greater than merely developing great products. It is the vision of the Industrial Arts Movement to begin developing local youth programs that encourage kids to be confident and creative thinkers. Our programs will also give them the technical skills needed to follow their creative passions. It is our sincerest hope to make at least a small difference in the future of our country’s youngest citizens. Preserving endangered traditions such as woodworking, leather-craft, metalsmithing, sewing and weaving, etc. by training new generations in these lost arts.”
Oh, the materials. Only the best. Sourced within the USA. The main pack body fabric is 23 oz. Tri-Ply Cotton (super thick and heavy tight weave twill with a vulcanized urethane core… in other words, heavy weather resistance). The leather? Vegetable Tanned, Number 1 Grade, USA Tanned Equestrian Saddle Leather. Thick and buttery. Expensive for good reason. Troy mentioned he uses some of the same stuff that the high end fashion industry uses on their multi-thousand-dollar-price-tag bits of carry, one brand has the initials L.V.
Stainless steel hardware for corrosion-free use for the rest of your lifetime. Knowing the rough amount of material used in each of the bags, the cost of the fabrics and leather, the unit cost per bit of hardware, after a rough mental calculation, I find it mind boggling that the prices of these bags can be between $129 – $199. The #s just don’t add up, especially when you consider the quality and care of construction that goes into each one. Meaning, an incredible value is passed onto the customer.
“Our bags are designed and sewn in the Pacific Northwest, just outside of Portland, Oregon. Our passionate tribe loves their art and is committed to building the best quality, socially responsible, and environmentally friendly bags available anywhere. Our base fabrics, webbings, and leather come from local mills, some of which have been in operation for a century or more. We very much believe in and support a “farmer’s market philosophy” that buying and supporting local benefits everyone. We like to think of ourselves as the ‘Good Karma Bag’.” Love it.
- “87% – 96% Petrol Free Construction – Very little oil industry support in our product. (Carryology note: the % changes with each product!)
- Socially Responsible –Made in the USA paying living wages… not minimum wages.
- Environmentally Responsible – Renewable Local Materials – limited global shipping of raw components.
- Own a Classic – Our bags get better with age… You’ ll be proud to pass these down the family.
- Contemporary – In design and usability.
- Scarce – We’ re a product / customer centric bag company. Our focus: Better Bags not More Bags.”
“Philosophy Bag Co. is all about designing and building classically styled, contemporary functioning bags with a modern architectural spin. It’s this melding of traditional materials and contemporary design that defines the essence of a Philosophy bag. To us, nothing beats a hand crafted strap from premium saddle leather, unless you have to fiddle for two minutes unfettering it from a primitive tongue buckle. We choose to combine the admirable materials of yesterday with the design improvements available today. That’s our Philosophy.”
(Above: The olive cotton and tan leather single strap satchel bag hanging on the wall on the upper left is the first prototype Troy made under the Philosophy Bag Co brand name, hung on the wall as a tribute to the journey thus far. Each of the other packs has a story, that Troy shared with Molly and I.)
It was a pleasure to meet with Troy and get the tour of Philosophy Bag Co. I could’ve spent all day and all night there talking with Troy, learning more about the brand, the construction, or just talking materials. As we’re leaving Troy left Molly and I with parting gifts, one “promotional” Philosophy Bag messenger each. He explained he didn’t feel comfortable selling these products, he just made them (by hand) to give away, but now he was keeping them in a box, hidden away, so not to lessen the quality of his brand. This is the nicest “promotional” bag I’ve ever seen, easily better than some of the other messengers out there being sold for $100 or more. That should tell you something.
Troy takes pride in his craft, his brand, his products, and his philosophy. If you like quality and thoughtful design, for use on your bicycle or just strolling through city streets, look no further than Philosophy Bag Co. Thanks again Troy.