Alec Farmer from Trakke Bags
It was never meant to be a business pushing boundaries in outdoor equipment or one setting a blue-print for the future of the modern British factory. But Alec Farmer’s university side project has slowly become one of the worlds most talked about British urban/outdoor crossover brands.
Alec started the business selling products on a market stall with a simple focus; locally sourced materials, hand made in Scotland and built to last. These core beliefs haven’t changed since the first bag. What has changed is the size of his team, the expanding product line and growing reputation of the brand.
Trakke carefully balance everyday utility with outdoor adventure, they source top-quality British materials and craft all their gear by hand in their Glasgow workshop. The product line has traditionally been messenger bags and backpacks but the ‘Fishnish Smock’ is the brands first exciting move into outerwear. Everything is still designed by Alec who continues to develop timeless designs that seem to get better with age.
We head up to Glasgow to meet Alec in his workshop on the shores of the River Clyde and find out more about this brand with the outdoors firmly at it’s core.
How did Trakke start?
Trakke began as a side-project 10 years ago. I was studying graphic design at the time, but longed to make things with my hands. I used a crappy domestic sewing machine and some reclaimed materials to make a few messenger bags for friends, and that was it - I was hooked. I started selling them on a market stall in the east end of Glasgow and Trakke was born.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I love all sorts of different design disciplines, so I find inspiration everywhere, but I love the outdoors, and my favourite era of design in the outdoor sector was the ‘golden age’ in the 60’s and 70’s. Lots of things that are mainstays in any outdoor shop now were developed and refined then - take the Dome Tent for example. Today, most of the innovation is happening with materials - lighter fabric, stronger zips, recycled materials and so on - but I love the simplicity and durability of bags and gear from back then.
How do you choose the materials?
We always strive to build bags that will last a lifetime, so when we’re searching for materials, we’re looking for something super-durable to withstand day-to-day use. Many companies use synthetic materials, but we try and avoid plastic where we can. Instead, we use more natural materials like waxed canvas and stainless steel. Waxed canvas is amazing because it can be re-proofed time and time again, and it ages so nicely. People say it wears in, not out. All of our buckles and hardware are crafted from 70% recycled stainless steel, so they’re practically impossible to break! We may have over-specced a little there, but it’s worth it!
What are the challenges you face when choosing and sourcing materials?
We try and source as many materials as we can from British manufacturers. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many factories around nowadays, but we tend to find that the companies we speak to are well-established - they’ve survived the peaks and troughs of British Manufacturing over the years, and the fact they’re still around today means they are at the top of their game. It does limit our ‘palette’ a little, but we make our bags here, so it makes sense to source as locally as possible. I think it’s nice that when someone buys one of our bags, they’re actually supporting a whole range of other British manufacturers and employees too!
You are based in Glasgow, what is the creative scene like?
Glasgow is an amazing city. I’m actually English myself (shhh...don’t tell anyone!) but I moved up here about 13 years ago and I’ve never looked back. The city is well known for the Glasgow School of Art and it’s ties with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but the creative scene as a whole is phenomenal. Over the years, so many amazing people have helped us along our journey, and today there are so many young, creative companies starting up. It’s exciting to be part of it.
Over the years you’ve done some interesting collaborations, which one/s stick in your mind?
I always enjoy collaborations, and to me, it’s important that both parties achieve something that neither could achieve alone. With that in mind, the one that sticks out is our collab with Jura Whisky. They came to us with a simple brief - design a bag that is inspired by our distillery and it’s island home. That kind of loose brief is every designers dream! We did a few visits to Jura, and as it transpired, the bag kind of designed itself. It was 20 litres, to reflect the ‘angels share’ (the volume of whisky that evaporates from a cask of whisky during it’s 10 year maturation). It had a rolltop closure, like the sacks of barley that are delivered to the distillery. Deer hide zip pulls were inspired by the fact that the island is home to over 6000 deer (and only 200 people!) and the copper rivets were inspired by the tall copper stills. We even created the colour using a lichen that grows on the island to make a dye. It really was a special backpack.
Running your own business is tough, what is the most important thing for you?
The most important thing in business is people. That goes for both staff and customers. We try and look after everyone. For our staff, it’s really important that we all enjoy being at work. We have a wonderful, entertaining and talented bunch of people here, and as the years go by, it feels more and more like a family. We’ve actually just transitioned to a 4 day work-week, to give a better work-life balance for everyone. We have a very loyal customer base too - I’m sure there are people out there who have one of everything we’ve ever made! We try our best to listen to all of their feedback, and if their bags need a little TLC, we offer a free repairs service.
What’s next for Trakke?
Well, we’re 10 years old this year, and there are lots of plans in the works! In the next couple of weeks, we’re launching a Jacket. It’s the first piece of apparel we’ve ever produced, so we’re really excited about it.
Which Awling belt did you choose, what do you think?
I’ve got the Original belt in tan leather. I love veg-tanned leather, as it develops an amazing patina over time. It looks gorgeous when it’s new - soft, light and supple - but as it ages it becomes a deeper and deeper brown. It’s a bit like waxed canvas I guess - as it ages, it gets marked and scuffed, but that all adds to the story and gives the belt a wonderful, unique character.
What do you look for when buying clothes and accessories?
I don’t have loads of clothes - I try and buy less, but better. With a smaller wardrobe, it’s important that everything goes together - and that’s great in the morning, because I can get dressed while I’m half-asleep and still look presentable! I tend to choose muted colours, simple designs and timeless shapes. I want things that will last - and I always love wearing something with a story behind it. I think that’s why I’m so attached to my belt right now. I love the fact that Awling put so much detail into something that many would call ‘just an accessory’.
And finally, what does style mean to you?
I think style is just a visual interpretation of personality. I love seeing people really rock an item of clothing - sometimes it’s just about having the confidence to wear what you want. For me, my style is all about practicality and simplicity. I choose timeless, durable pieces, and I try and buy from brands that I really believe in.
I guess want to be able to go to a meeting in the city, jump on a train, hike a little, and then sit by a camp-fire in the Highlands while wearing the same outfit. That probably doesn’t happen all that often, but the boy-scout in me says ‘Be Prepared!”.