Great discoveries: Trakke bags
Just off NCN Route 7, parallel to the River Clyde and opposite the Transport Museum in Glasgow is an innovative company that is based indoors making bags for the outdoors.
I know this because I cycled my bike to the Trakke workshop the other day to have a look around. Completely unfazed by my arrival in the lift at 100 Eastvale Place, and still wheeling my bike, Trakke founder Alec Farmer and his team greeted me with lots of chat about their own bikes and their commutes to work.
Trakke is the brainchild of Alec, a Glasgow School of Art graduate who decided his future would be in creative industries. He began, while still at uni, by scavenging skips in the city for scraps of different fabrics and turning them into unusual bags.
He sold the bags at Glasgow’s Barras Market, where he began to gain a dedicated following. “From that I decided to take things more seriously and turn my bag-making hobby into a proper business,” says Alec.
Alec decided that the practical bags, including rucksacks, satchels, courier bags, duffle bags, totes and bumbags, would be something far less ordinary in the 21st century. First, they would be handmade in Britain (Glasgow to be specific). “I realised that if we wanted manufacturing to return to Britain I had to lead by example,” he says.
So, the waxed cotton is custom-made in Dundee; the Harris Tweed hails from the Outer Hebrides; the webbing is made as it always has been in Derbyshire; the steel hardware is made in Wales; the padding foam is Glasgow-made; and the leather is tanned in Northamptonshire.
Alec says: “We haven’t been able to use all British made materials because, at the end of the day, there has to be a balance of economies. If it is too costly to use British products we have had to look elsewhere. We knew that if the finished bags were too pricey then they wouldn’t sell.”
The materials and manufacture of Trakke bags adhere to forward-thinking sustainability model, whereby the finished products should be very long-lasting and durable. “Our bags are timeless; they mellow over time and develop character, rather than wear out,” says Alec. “Our aim is that people use them for a very long time and while they might look used and faded this is part of their charm. In fact, we think the cotton materials look better with age.”
The style of the bags hark back to an age before synthetics. They look like the kind of bags that intrepid adventurers of the 1950s would have used. The latest collection is inspired by the Scouts of the Fifties.
But that’s not to say that Trakke bags do not boast modern features, such as being waterproof and with dependable zips and fastenings.
The palette that the Trakke team has chosen for their range of bags is fairly limited but very thoughtful.
The original colours were black and olive, “because they look great and they are very useable,” explains Alec. “The burnt orange colour came after a great deal of research, flicking through swatch books, looking around at the environment and finally settling on a colour close to my heart, the primer paint of my bike! I suddenly realised that I loved that colour.”
I also really like the shade of autumnal, rustic orange that Trakke have come up with.
Then there’s a vibrant green that reminds me of my dad’s old Scout tent. “You’re right,” says Alec. “That’s the green shade that is very similar to the original 1950s tents that the Scouts used. Brilliantly, this tent fabric was also made in Glasgow until about five years ago. We also think it’s a fantastic outdoors shade of green.”
Trakke have partnered with Glasgow textile designers Timorous Beasties for an exclusive range of bags. Alec says: “We were at an event together and we got chatting. I realised that Timorous Beasties are just across the Kelvingrove Park from us. Also, one of the founders loves cycling so it was a match made in heaven because he could have a courier bag made from their beautiful designs.”
The making of Trakke bags
Another strength of the Trakke brand is that every bag is made to a customer’s order. They do not sell their bags in other stores but take orders on-line. Alec says: “This allows us to offer a truly personal service. We take the order on-line and keep the customer updated on how the process is going. We usually estimate the bags will each take two weeks from order to delivery.”
The bags can be customised with personalised names or words.
The small team at the Trakke workshop work across all disciplines, from cutting out the patterns for the bags to seamstressing to packing them up for delivery.
Alec says: “We do everything by hand and hark back to the city’s traditional industries, such as Singer sewing machines and cotton thread manufacture.
“Our staff are young and come from various backgrounds but we have been very fortunate with graduates form local colleges. Their work is excellent. Every product is checked by each staff member as part of the process of its creation and if it there is anything that anyone is unhappy with it does not go out to a customer.”
A close inspection reveals that the bags are made to a very high standard. The quality of the bags is very, very good. Designs are simple but smart; fabrics and colours are well chosen; seams are perfectly created, strong and robust; straps and webbing are meant to be super strong and are sewn on with precision and utmost care; and the extra bits and pieces, such as buckle and clips look like they’ll last a lifetime.
“They will,” adds Alec. “Even after the bags are with us no more the stainless steel buckles and clips will still be with us. You could re-use these items in product after product because they are so long lasting.”
My review of the products
Anyone who reads this blog will know I am fan of all things new and modern. I love synthetics and nylons because they are tough, good looking and waterproof. I also like natural fabrics, such as Merino and Yak wools for their environmental and long-lasting values.
Yet I can really see the appeal of the Trakke bags. Cotton has long been a material that has been used for all kinds of outdoors purposes, such as in sails, the fishing industry and hiking bags of the 1930s to 50s. While I wouldn’t now wear cotton against my skin because it becomes too damp with sweat, cotton, when wet, does work hard to keep the rain out.
The fibres of the cotton are good at repelling the rain, for example. With the addition of wax (and this can be reapplied), cotton is a great product for outdoors “lifestyle” products.
The Trakke bags say, to me, retro but with a modern design and manufacture. The colours are fantastic and the designs are simple but beautiful.
The bags look timeless and feel like they will last for decades. I can imagine that many people will like their 1950s styling and will enjoy using the bags in all kinds of outdoors environments.
I think I will be more likely to sport a Trakke bag for a casual dog walk, a hike to the shops or the pub, or perhaps an urban bike ride. I’ll stick to my new-fangled synthetics for my own more challenging mountain hikes and long bike rides, but if I want to look a bit trendier (and, goodness knows, so many people tell me I need to) I know a Trakke bag will be the item to sport for general purpose use.
I’ve already been using the Tote bag, in Scouts inspired green, to pop to the supermarket. It’s practical, hard-wearing and a great deal trendier (so my teenage daughter tells me) than my normal 21st century rucksack.