Blood and Spokes is a blog by a man named Drew out of Missouri, who writes about the history of hand crafted, US Made bicycles and accessories. Naturally, North St. Bags caught his eye and he took some time to interview founder / designer Curtis Williams.
Tell me about yourself and how you ended up doing what you do.
I was always fascinated by how things work and how they’re made. My background is in theater and event design, but I was always drawn to smaller, DIY projects. After school I moved around a bit and wound up in Berkeley CA working as a volunteer at a non-profit bike/sewing/wood shop.
By that time I was primarily getting around on my bicycle. I was tired of the back pains caused by my messenger bag and wanted something different. I started playing around with different designs for a backpack that could mount to a bicycle rack as a pannier. It felt great to create something with my own hands that was so functional, that I use every day. A couple of years later I moved to Portland and began sewing and designing bags full time.
How long has North St. been around?
It began in the fall of 2009, briefly under the name “3bags”. I launched the website and began selling our flagship product — the Woodward Convertible — to local commuters and friends. It has grown from there over the past four years.
Did you have a business plan, or did you just start selling bags?
I didn’t have much of a plan at the time, except I knew that I wanted the business to grow, and I didn’t want to do anything else. The same still applies today, although there is a much better plan in place.
Do you have any other employment, or is this your full-time gig? If it isn’t, do you want it to be a full-time gig?
I’ve been working full time on North St. Bags for over four years.
What sets North St. apart from other companies?
We are a tight-knit team of makers creating innovative, dual function bags and accessories for simpler commuting. We cut & sew all of our products from scratch in our studio in SE Portland, and source most of our materials from US manufacturers.
Has there ever been an instance or desire to ship production overseas? If not, do you think that day would come?
Not at all. We frame our production line on a method called Lean Manufacturing, where we strive for a single piece flow to minimize waste and improve efficiency. In short, we still make bags one at a time. Shipping big batches from overseas simply doesn’t fit into this model.
Where do you see North St. in the (near and far) future? Any new projects in the works?
I’ve always got something cooking. We just launched our new Route Seven Pannier, which has been very popular. I have several new designs that I’ve been tinkering with, including a new convertible backpack pannier, which I hope to have ready for production in the spring of 2014.
My goal for North St. is to continue creating unique and innovative products aimed at making commuting and adventuring easier.
What’s next for the bike industry in America?
We believe that bicycle transportation is key to making our cities and communities more sustainable. This is a trend which will grow exponentially over the years to come.
Do you think there a shift in interest toward made-in-America products in the bike industry?
Absolutely, and not just in the biking industry. The “Made in USA” label is back in style, and more and more people are asking where their goods are made.
What advice would you give to other cycling entrepreneurs starting out today?
Find something new to offer. Ten years ago you couldn’t buy a bicycle designed for commuting, and today there are shops devoted to it. There are many opportunities for new ideas, new services and new products to serve this growing market.
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Photos courtesy North St. Bags