- Buyer's Guide
A Decade of Trakke: Alec Farmer Interview
My friend Alec Farmer (founder of Trakke) and I were chatting and catching up on a call when he casually mentioned that the brand would be celebrating their 10-year anniversary in the next coming days. I was shocked… the brand started by the clean-shaven 20-year-old gent across the pond was all grown up. I instantly pitched the idea to him to hop on another call the following day and have him take me through their milestones on a trip down memory lane.
Taylor Welden (Senior Editor): “So, what was your plan 10 years ago?”
Alec Farmer (Founder of Trakke): “Hahaha, I didn’t have a plan!”
The following is written in Alec’s voice…
Fixed gear bikes were cool. Bicycle messengers were cool, everyone wanted to pretend to be a bicycle messenger, even I probably did too. I was studying Graphic Design at art school and I was sick of being stuck behind a computer for hours. I wanted to make stuff with my hands. But of course, I was a broke art student. So my friends and I would ride our bicycles around Glasgow and go dumpster diving. We would find materials and then liberate them; couches, ad banners, zippers, buckles, anything we could find.
With these materials, we’d make bags from them. They were horrible as this was my first time really using a sewing machine at length, but they were a proof of concept. And it was fun. After a while, James (my flatmate and friend) and I realized we had way too many bags laying around our flat. We had the brilliant idea to try to sell some of these and found a small stall in a famous market in East Glasgow. On August 10th, 2010, we came up with the name and got the keys to the stall. It was official.
We had developed a very small and local following in Glasgow. It was definitely shoestring. We’d make deals with people, where if they brought us some interesting cool fabrics to our stall, we’d make them a bag for free, leaving us enough material to make more bags later. One guy even brought us a roll of some really impressive high-end sail racing cloth, which may have led us down a new direction. First, I quickly began to realize the quality and execution of our bags was nowhere near where I felt comfortable. And we needed to scale up if we’d actually be able to do this properly. So I began looking for help. Initially, I went looking at overseas factories but then quickly realized we would never be able to hit the minimums required. And at 20 years old, I found a 50-year-old sailmaker just about 1 mile down the road from me. He started helping make some of our bags for us, mostly using brightly-colored Cordura fabrics, probably in our attempt to want to stand out among the competition. Weird loud colorways… what was I thinking?
These bags definitely did stand out. Back then, this was before Topo Designs, bright colorways weren’t a thing. All bags were basically black, so that did help. There wasn’t really a super active bag community around yet. It was a different time, for sure. Despite standing out and our quality improving, I decided that I really hated nylon fabric. With my new sailmaker friend’s work drying up, I offered to rent a small workshop for he and I to share. He could work on his projects and on our projects in this space. This all led to a refocus on what we were doing… and I decided to look around at fabric options and what it really meant to be “made in UK”. I discovered Halley Stevensons, the best waxed cotton mill in the world, located just 50 miles away. I found a shop in Wales to make us stainless steel hardware. Even webbing, made in Derbyshire near where I was born and raised. We began taking these fabrics and applying them to classic designs and silhouettes. This was the first real step of Trakke becoming what it is today.
The first 5 years of Trakke were slow, very slow. But we did have some major achievements. We started to make some great product this year, but I was pretty bad at selling the product, since I really didn’t have any experience in marketing or sales. But we did have one massive win. Further exploring materials from the UK, we started some talks with Harris Tweed. They made really cool fabric and we worked out a collaboration with them to make some nice bags. Well, we didn’t realize how big Harris Tweed was in Japan. And overnight, we went from being this brand that only a few locals in Glasgow knew about, to getting all kinds of international traffic. We were shocked.
(Editor’s note: This is when I, Taylor, first probably discovered Trakke… or at least how I remember it anyway.)
This was another changing point in our brand’s history. A weird year. And as usual, filled with happy accidents. For example, there was this awesome design museum here in Glasgow and for some reason the exhibition they had planned to show in a few weeks had fallen through, so they came to us and asked if we would be keen to fill this open spot.
Of course we were stoked. So we framed our Trakke exhibition around the idea of UK materials, where they come from, how we source them, how we transform them into products, and the people who use them. Without really realizing it, it made us look even deeper into our process and continue to evaluate it and improve upon it. It also gave us some insight on how to better share our message through photos, words, and video. You could call it the beginning of our understanding of marketing.
We also made the Krukke, our very first waxed cotton backpack in 2013. This year also marked the birth of our original Banana bum bag and one of my personal favorite designs we’ve ever done – the Óg backpack.
Another weird year. Totally unplanned. I mentioned that I’m always interested in making things with my hands. Always curious. This made us totally blow up and had the international and digital spotlights put firmly on us. How did we do it? Well… we built a Mongolian yurt.
Yes, you read that correctly. We had a friend with a really nice shop with access to all kinds of high-end machinery. We just did this little side weekend project where we planned to make something, strictly for fun. It was definitely not intended to be a marketing project. If you’re familiar with yurts, even when they’re broken down, they weigh a whole lot and they take up the space of a large living room. Well, we designed this one to fit inside a car boot (“trunk” in the US) and it weighed only 130 kilos (286 lbs). It was roughly one fifth the size and weight of a standard yurt when disassembled. It was a lot of fun. But it attracted a ton of people. We were on the cover of Wired, in Vogue Living, and a bunch of websites. This was right around the time that glamping really started to become popular, so it was just this accidental timing. People still message us today and ask if they can purchase one.
We also teamed up with Timorous Beasties for a collaboration project, which was a lot of fun. We wanted to do something different, as usual. And to pull off our idea, we had to work closely with Halley Stevensons to execute it properly. Our idea… the world’s first digitally printed waxed cotton fabric. It turned out beautifully.
This year was epic. The year we moved into our current workshop. We had space. We had passionate employees who we consider our Trakke family. And it also marks the year of my favorite collaboration project of all time, the Karrimor K100 Backpack. This was a dream of mine come tre. An honor. Karrimor was celebrating its 100th anniversary and they wanted us to make a pack that was directly based off of the Whillans Alpiniste pack, the pack you would see adventurers hiking to the top of Everest with back in the ’60s and ’70s. You’ve got to understand, Karrimor used to be THE British adventure brand. I got to work directly with Mike Parsons, the original owner/founder of Karrimor. He told me step by step how he would make these packs in the past. We even found the original buckle manufacturer of the original buckles they used… it looked like their catalog hadn’t been updated since like 1910!
This is the year we really started shifting our collection in classic yet urban bags. We launched the range of products you’ll see in existence today. Of course, it’s been updated over time, but 2016 really was big for our direction.
We also worked on a collaboration that was really special to us, partnering with Jura Whisky. It was called the Trakke x Jura Whisky Backpack. What made this one really interesting is that we were almost obsessively inspired by the Isle of Jura, where the whisky is made. For example, the dye for the waxed cotton comes from lichens that grow on the ocean rocks, native to the island. The zipper pullers were made of deerskin leather, from local deer. We did 130 pieces in total and are very proud of that one.
The year that the Wee Lug won 1st place in the Carry Awards for “Best Work Messenger”. That was a big win for us.
We also did another fun project. Originally just made for a friend of ours, the drummer of a local band called Frightened Rabbit. He came to us with a problem; he used drumstick cases that would have his sticks getting broken or damaged while he was touring. So we whipped this little drumstick bag up for him. Since then, we’ve made bags for some other bands such as Death Cab for Cutie, The National, and an obscure artist named Phil Collins.
We released our best-selling backpack we’ve ever launched to date, the Bannoch backpack. I feel like in 2018 we really start to get up to date with where we’re at now, while we were still looking into things that played an homage to the past. Like the salt and pepper fabric we used on the Bannoch… we loved the look of those old Swiss military WWII backpacks.
Our friends Halley Stevensons figured out a way to replicate this fabric, using stinging nettles from England as the additional fiber to be mixed with the cotton. It’s durable, we love the way it looks and the nod to the past.
(Editor’s note: I brought up a story about a stinging nettle eating competition that I saw on a UK show called “River Cottage” and Alec tells me that the star of the show, one of my favorite humans, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his family, all own Trakke bags – awesome!)
And of course 2018 led to the greatest collaboration of all time; the Trakke x Carryology Storr SP collab. Of course, we had fun working with Carryology on this. But the big takeaway from this wasn’t something we expected. We didn’t know that there was this thriving carry community out there. Most times, when a brand reaches out to work on a collab, they just want to slap their name on it, and pull in some profits. We were surprised when Carryology sent Taylor over to Scotland for a full week to actually hang out with us at our workshop, design and prototype the bag together, and share a huge insight into this world we weren’t quite aware of. We realized, this is real and these folks in this community are serious about carry. It was exciting.
We really started crossing over into both urban and travel in 2019. This is because we learned that our customers spend the majority of their time in the city, but they still want products that can go with them anywhere and everywhere. A bag they can wear five days of the week in an urban environment and then take to a fun weekend in the hills with friends.
This is where we have arrived. We don’t make bags for Everest, we’re not trying to be that. But we’re inspired by the legendary packs that went to Everest in the past. Ultimately, we believe in our products because we believe in and care about our customers. We still have customers coming to us who purchased bags from us 10 years ago and we still make small repairs for them.
And we’re here. August 10th, 2020… 10 years later. So far this year we’ve just recently started pushing our comfort levels and playing a bit more with Dyneema. Our Dyneema Banana sling was released about a week ago and sold out in just around a minute or two! We’re liking this experimental approach and you should expect some more experiments going forward.
Our face masks were really a big challenge for us, which we didn’t expect coming from such a seemingly simple product. You see, normally we can test out products with lots and lots of people, to get their feedback and take notes on fit, function, etc. But in a global pandemic, we really only had ourselves to prototype and test with. But they turned out really nice and people around the world are reporting that they love them.
2020… 2030? 2100?
So, what’s next for Trakke?
Well… in 2019, we posted a photo about another fun weekend side project we had been working on. Just like the Mongolian yurt, this wasn’t some big marketing plan. We make things because that’s what we love to do. To say we were shocked by the response is an understatement.
And while the details for this jacket are mysterious at the moment, you heard it here first… it will be available later this year, as a limited edition product. We’re not going to release an apparel collection next year or anything. But this jacket acts as a statement of intent. It represents who we are and our path going forward. That we’re going to keep experimenting, to keep having fun, and to keep making.
Note from Carryology: We’re looking forward to seeing what else this humble brand creates into the coming decades ahead. We’ll certainly be following them along every step of their journey.