We’ve been a fan of Artifact Bags for a long time and featured their No. 215 Khaki Lunch Tote back in June… a full review of one of their bags will follow, but in the mean time we had a chance to get some great questions answered by Chris Hughes, the man behind all of the awesome Artifact designs and products. The No. 175 Garden/Tool Tote is featured in the image above as it’s a personal favorite of the founder. It’s a must read, seriously. Enjoy…
OA: It says on your site that you use hand tools and vintage industrial equipment, what kind of things are you talking about? How old are we talking?
CH: As far as machines, my daily staples include: various commercial flatbeds in needle feed and walking foot (Singer, Consew, etc), a 1930’s Singer 136W Class post bed, a 1930′ American Straight Needle, and a refurbished 1916 Singer Class 7. I have a garage filled with other fun machines for bags and apparel that I will be incorporating as soon as time and space permit. I love the look and stitch of the older Singers and Union Specials, but not having reverse can be a drag when you are hustling to get bags made. For leather paring and splitting I use a bell blade skiver for chrome tanned and a hand crank sole splitter for veg and some combination tanned. I also have a Landis “3 in 1” and “5 in 1” that come in handy. I use various presses for setting, embossing, cutting, etc. I have most of the leather working hand tools one would expect and I am always in search of more. Old hand tools are beautiful and possess a quality of hand unlike a sterile new tool. When you are using a tool for hours it has to feel comfortable and work reliably. I am constantly switching out and/or upgrading my tools.
OA: Your arsenal of equipment is impressive… What was the motivation behind getting into this business?
CH: I am always tinkering with one thing or another. I had some downtime in spring of 2009 after being laid off as a Product Manager for an Internet company. On a lark, I bought a commercial sewing machine off Craigslist. I’ve always known how to sew but I wanted something heavy that could handle leather and canvas. I wanted to make things with massive thread that looked indestructible. By February of 2010 I had been making bags for friends and home use. I set up an account with Etsy to see if there was demand for my canvas bags. One thing led to another and here I am today, making bags all day – every day.
OA: You’ve obviously mastered sewing now, but how was your first sewing experience?
CH: Like everything – mistakes can and do happen, but it’s all part of the process. Often mistakes become avenues or directions you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Technique has to be developed through repetition and reflection. If you’ve ever sewn on a commercial machine with an old clutch motor, you know they can get away from you if you are not experienced. Some of my earliest pieces are naive in comparison to what I do now. Fortunately, I’ve had hundreds of bags under my belt to help me develop my technique. I am always learning and I will always be learning.
OA: So you had to have made something for yourself early on, what was it?
CH: I made some heavy duck nail bags for my friend, then I made us both a shop apron that we still wear in our shops.
OA: Your stuff is great and it’s a no-brainer than people will pay good money for it, but what’s the first thing you ever sold?
CH: The first item I sold was a No. 215 lunch tote. I remember feeling pretty tickled about it. I had no idea I would be making hundreds of them in the months to come!
OA: What’s the most important thing you learned about hand crafted goods while you started Artifact?
CH:I brought over a lot of lessons learned from woodworking, but specific to Artifact Bag Co. I learned that process is everything. When I started out, I was rolling out canvas on my oak dining room floor and cutting it with heavy scissors. I needed to get spun up quick or I wouldn’t make it. Little things like a commercial cutting table and electric cutter save necessary hours. Time is precious and time management is critical.
OA: How hands on are you in the process today?
CH: It’s just me so I am completely hands on.
OA: Impressive!… time management must be critical! So what’s up with the name Artifact Bags?
CH: Mostly, I like the way it looks and sounds. I wanted my brand to look early 20th century because I romanticize that era in American history. I also have a propensity for acquiring and collecting material artifacts. Bags for these artifacts seem appropriate.
OA: What’s your favorite bag and which one are you using right now?
CH: I use a modified No. 175 when I take my boys to preschool and for walks to the post office. I use several No. 105 totes for grocery shopping. My wife uses No. 105’s for all kinds of things. My favorite bags are still in the works and will hopefully become other peoples’ favorite bags. I want to design bags for every conceivable purpose – be it travel, temporary storage, daily use, outdoor use, business, you name it.
OA: Who’s the model holding the Tool/Garden Tote in the picture?
OA: Nice, if I’m ever in Omaha I’ll have to check it out… Is that chair for sale?
CH: The Toledo chair is not for sale.
OA: Why is made in America and local manufacturing so important to you?
CH: Good question. I’ve had sad experiences with outsourcing and unemployment causing me to become acutely aware of America’s decline in industry. I am also tired of being loyal to an American brand until it gets outsourced with the result being an inferior product. I would be very proud if I can scale Artifact Bag Co. to where I can provide jobs for Americans. It’s time to circle the wagons here and listen to the wisdom of our grandparents.
OA: Well put… couldn’t have said it any better myself. Thanks for your time and keep up the amazing work. I’m sure Artifact Bag Co. is going to be around for a long time. Cheers.