001 / Trakke
Alec Farmer heads up Trakke.
Trakke make bags and accessories for life in the great outdoors. Based in Scotland, they manufacture from their workshop in Glasgow.
Tell us a little about how and why you started Trakke?
I founded Trakke in 2010, but at first it was a bit of a side-project. We relaunched in 2012 and that’s when things really began to get interesting!
I was studying Graphic Design but I was bored of computers - I wanted to make stuff with my hands. Over a long summer holiday I started exploring Glasgow by bicycle, jumping in skips to find unwanted materials that I could salvage. I used to take old sofas, discarded suitcases, out-dated advertising banners - anything really - and started learning to make bags. I probably made 200 bags like this - each totally unique. After a while, I had more bags than I could use, so I started selling them on a market in the east-end of the city.
When I graduated, Trakke had a bit of a following, and I decided that if I was going to keep doing it, I wanted to do it properly. I scoured the UK for a new palette of high quality materials, and started refining my designs. That’s how the brand became what it is today!
Did you have any experience of manufacturing before you started the business?
No. Not at all. I suppose I was kinda naive. I thought “why is no-one making bags like this in the UK - how hard can it be?!” so I just started doing it. As it turns out, it’s pretty hard - It’s been a steep learning curve, but by doing our manufacturing in-house, we have more control over the product, and we can be more dynamic as a brand.
Describe a typical day at Trakke HQ?
We normally have a production schedule prepared for the next 3-4 weeks or so, so we know what we’re making in advance. Typically, we batch orders together, so one day we’ll make 20 backpacks, the next we’ll be making messenger bags and so on. It’s very fluid though. Sometimes, we’ll be working with a corporate client, so one of the team might be prototyping, or we’ll pause our customer orders to work on a big corporate jobs. We do a lot of juggling!
How many people do you employ?
Right now we’ve got 6 people in the team. Madeleine and I work in the office, dealing with design, marketing and customer service, while Rowan, Katy and Cory work on the sewing machines. Matt is with us for a few months on an internship, so he’s learning the ropes here, and working on some nice side-projects too! Everyone is full-time.
We try not to have too much hierarchy. We’re a team. Ultimately, we’re here to serve our customers, so it’s not about making me happy (as the ‘boss’) - it’s about making the customer happy - and that’s easier to achieve if we work together.
Do you multi-task or do you each work on specific skilled tasks?
Everyone multi-tasks. As a small team, it’s important that we can all work on a range of stuff. In the office, we could be working on a new range of bags, planning a photoshoot, taking photos for a magazine, working on marketing or helping out customers via email. Equally, the workshop team are all super-skilled, and can perform any of the tasks required to make a bag. That keeps things interesting for them - one day they’re pattern cutting, the next they’re doing a big batch of bags, then they might be working on refining a new prototype. We have press in the workshop quite a lot, so they even get stuck in with interviews & guided tours. It’s just as well they’re not camera-shy!
Tell us the best and worst things about manufacturing...
The best thing is the sense of pride you get when you’ve made something with your own hands. We take a lot of care making each bag, and that attention to detail really pays off. The hardest part is the logistics. There’s a reason why most companies outsource their manufacturing - it’s hard enough running a brand, let alone making the product too! We have to make sure materials arrive on time, machines are working smoothly and that we’re producing as efficiently as possible so that our orders get delivered on time! It doesn’t always run like clockwork, but we keep experimenting with new ways of doing things, and we’re constantly improving our flow. That’s the real beauty of a small team. A big company is like an oil tanker - if they want to go in a new direction, or explore something new, it takes a long time to turn around and make a change. We’re like a little dinghy - we can change tack quickly, so we can try out new ideas and if they work, we implement them. If they don’t, we move on.
What is your favourite Trakke product?
We did a collab with Jura Whisky last year, and the bag we produced for them was a beauty - every detail had a story behind it.
Made in the UK can mean different things to different people. What does it mean to you?
We try and make as much as possible in the UK. All of our core products are made in-house here in Glasgow. We also try to use as many British made materials as possible, but that’s more complicated than it sounds. For example, our waxed cotton is dyed and waxed in Dundee, but we don’t grow cotton in the UK, we tend not to weave it here either. As such, the cloth itself is imported from India. In some cases, we just can’t buy what we need in the UK. No-one makes zips here anymore, so we have to import it from elsewhere. In some cases, we just have to make a judgement call. For instance, take our Cobra buckles. They’re made in Austria. We could buy something similar from a British manufacturer, but they’re not very nice. They rattle when you use them, and they don’t look great. In the end, we buy from Austria because they make the best version of that buckle. When it boils down to it, we favour quality over provenance.
What does the term 'modern manufacturing' mean to you?
We’re trying to forge our own path. It’s all about finding the balance between traditional craft, modern methods and quality. We want to make things worth making.
"We want to make things worth making"
You recently moved into a bigger space. What was key when choosing where to move?
One of the biggest issues with manufacturing today is finding skilled labour. When we interview, we tend to find that most of the applicants are older, perhaps even approaching retirement age. Often they worked in the industry in the early 80’s, were made redundant, and now they’re looking to get back into it. The trouble is, we want a loyal workforce that can grow with us over the next 10+ years, so we tend to look for younger people to join us. That’s why we’ve designed our workshop to be a bit different. It doesn’t look like a factory - how many 16 year olds do you know who want to work in a factory? Instead, our workshop is like a halfway house between a slick design studio and a maker-space. There’s music playing, coffee brewing and a pool-table, and because we’re based in the heart of the west-end rather than on an industrial estate, we can head out to a nice cafe for lunch. We’re trying to build a space where you want to go to work.
What do you call your workspace?
We refer to it online as ‘Trakke Basecamp’ - a little nod to our thirst for adventure - but day-to-day it’s just the workshop!
Do you welcome visitors?
Yes! We love it when people come and visit!
How much influence do you take from traditional manufacturing companies?
I try to pick and choose the best bits from the companies I see. Sometimes, you find some great tips that save loads of time, but we’re not afraid to try out our own ideas too.
A lot of manufacturing companies are struggling to adapt to the digital age, and as relative newcomers to the industry we’re trying to use the technology available to use to make our lives easier and enrich our customer experience.
What advice would you give to someone looking to set up a manufacturing company / make their own products?
Do it. It’s really rewarding - but it can be tough too. Simplicity and efficiency should be your mantra.
"Simplicity and efficiency should be your mantra."
What are your working hours?
Normally it’s 9-5, monday to friday. Often, I’ll work weekends - especially in the summer when we have lots of shows and events happening. It’s flexible though. Sometimes, the workshop team have plans in the week, so they’ll take a day off and work it back on a Saturday. We try to be as accommodating as possible.
Do you have compulsory factory shutdown?
Not in the traditional sense, but sometimes we find that a few people want a holiday at a similar time and it’s just easier to lock the doors than have one or two people rattling around on their own.
Where do you go for advice?
I’ve been really lucky that a few really inspirational people have taken me under their wing and given me some great advice along the way. I’ve always found that if I need advice, I ask for it, and more often than not, people are really happy to help. I always try and be open to new ideas - I certainly don’t have all the answers - so listening to what people have to say is really important. Now that we’re more established, people sometimes get in touch to ask me for help too, and I try and pass on whatever advice I can!
Which other manufacturers inspire you?
David at Hiut Denim has got a great thing going in Wales. They’re trying to get their town making jeans again, and it’s such a clean, simple mission that they’re executing really well.
Technically, I love Acronym - a german brand making really futuristic garments using cutting edge technology. It’s got a ninja-like quality that isn’t to everyone’s taste, but they’ve got some really clever ideas.
I’ve always loved Arc’teryx too. Their patterning is amazing, and they always create really functional, well considered and simple garments.
What factory would you love to visit and take a look around?
I’d love to visit one of the big bag manufacturers - someone like Timbuk2 perhaps. They might not make the nicest product, but I’d love to see their process. Because I have no experience in manufacturing, the way we do it here is very much based on trial and error - continuously testing, refining and improving our processes. It’s working well, but sometimes I wonder if there are some top-secret industry tips we’re missing out on!
What is the best thing about working at Trakke?
The adventure. That’s what it’s all about. Scotland is our playground, and I love getting out into the wild and testing out our products.
Where do you sell your products?
Primarily online, direct to our customers although we’re starting to work with select retailers around the world. Right now, we’re stocked at Fortnum & Masons and Outdoor People in London, as well as the Carryology store in Australia. Selling direct to our customers gives us great insight into who uses our products and how they carry, but working with retailers opens us up to a whole new audience. It’s all about striking a good balance.
What's next for Trakke?
We’re working on new bag styles for 2017 right now, but we’re also toying with the idea of making a jacket. That would be something really new for us, so we’re going to take our time to work it out!
And finally, any recommendations for who else we should interview?
Find out more about Trakke at www.trakke.co.uk. Follow their adventures on Instagram @trakkebags #AdventureEverywhere.