December 17, 2013
Every great adventure starts with at least one intention or
destination and while one may not actually end up there, we gather endless
stories and experiences to make that endeavor worth every flat tire and
breathless view. This one is no different.
In 2003 my grandparents, Lu & Gram, passed away within 2 months of each other. These two individuals had tremendous impact on my aspirations and goals for living a full, interesting and rewarding life. They met on a train in Chicago while my Grampa was on leave from the military, both engaged to other people. Within 6 months were married, beginning a lifetime of living in foreign countries, while raising 3 children and endlessly globetrotting with their rolled up underwear packed into black and white flowered suitcases. They brought home souvenirs, stories and 35mm slide shows of their latest explorations. Those slideshows were peppered with random naked ladies to ensure we were paying attention, which we most certainly did. When these two—who always bickered with love in their eyes—characters passed away I inherited thousands of slides. In a tearful evening of sorting I fashioned together—with a drill and wire—a flimsy box-like structure made of their slides that I carried my wallet and keys to work in the next day. My intentions were only to keep them close to me, to celebrate their adventure and life and travels, and to honor that spirit in a way that carried on—both literally and figuratively. That simple act of honor for the importance of travel, and family, and story telling and exploring turned into eight years of an ever-changing journey for myself called RedCamper.
The original bag.
Those simple wired up totes ended up being redesigned and redesigned and eventually were produced by a vinyl manufacturer in California. They used custom tools and dies and production techniques specific to the totes, including atmospheric counterbalancing with pressurized pockets so the vinyl wouldn’t touch the image, which ruined the viewing experience. I curated collections of images to create stories within a bag, carefully selecting where each image was placed in the context of each bag so as to tell the best story. And yes, I placed a slide of a naked lady in every single bag/story in honor of my Grandfather, Gram, to make sure everyone was paying attention. I worked and worked with various vinyls’ to perfect the legibility of the image (clear outside, frosted inside). Those custom made panels were hand sewn together on a 1928 shoe making Singer sewing machine. I hand bent thousands of stainless steel hooks, hand cut windshield washer tubing, threading the hooks in at just the right angle and squeezed it all closed until I had blisters on my hands. When I traveled to a tradeshow in Las Vegas with my “slide purses” and huge dreams I fell flat on my face with just a single order. But I kept trying. With another tradeshow and a bit more savvy I landed these purses in twenty-ish stores around the country and received some nice editorial pieces in books, magazines and newspapers in the US, Canada and Europe (even Elle Quebec and PDN..Photo District News which were thrilling). We were even featured in a few television shows. The bags were given to the leading ladies of a client’s first full feature Hollywood movie. I got into the J. Paul Getty Museum gift shop. I was selected as a featured indie designer for Ebag's pilot Boutique collection. I received orders on Etsy from foreign countries and I even fell prey to a bogus buyer with a fake credit card, naively sending 60 bags to the Ivory Coast, having to refund the several thousand dollars to an angry woman in California. I still wonder what happened to those bags, and why I didn’t trust my gut.
The first show...then the 2nd show...I learned also about booth design and merchandizing. Quickly.
The totes taught me how to brand, how to market, how to
source production, how to make something with my hands, how to do a product
shoot with my best friend in 100+ degree weather in a mostly vacant hotel in
Mesa, Az. without permission. They also taught me how to get back up every time
I feel to the ground and how a single stranger’s encouragement can fuel one for
another few months.
See how mad she is? It's because it was 110˚.
I quit my career of interactive advertising to pursue my dreams of making something new and selling it. I tried. Hard. Cold calling stores, learning how to build an ecom store, figuring out sales, and production, and marketing, and bookkeeping and packaging and shipping and sales taxes. 9 months later I ran out of savings and started hustling and have been ever since. Freelancing, producing, office managing, painting friend’s houses, selling things on eBay. I eventually started a second business called part+parcel to market my producing and branding abilities. Through this hustle RedCamper was sometimes entirely backburnered and other times it was all I thought about.
Then I bought a laptop and I needed a case, so I designed a laptop bag made of vintage car upholstery I found in a warehouse in Phoenix. Dead stock. Gorgeous vinyl from the 1960’s & 70’s. I didn’t really know how to sew, so I found a local sewing production company (Being true to American manufacturing has always been an inarguable belief of RedCamper.) I started selling those. I learned even more about manufacturing, about quality assurance, trust (or a lack thereof) in your relationship and hard truths about the competiveness of American vs. overseas manufactured goods and the willingness of the American public to recognize and value American made goods. Those bags received blog love and genuine excitement when in the hands of an admirer. They came before the massive resurgence of locally made hand crafted leather goods that seems to be slowly changing the landscape of domestically produced products. Around this time my first (and only) employee came to me through an internship and we experimented with wallets and luggage tags and even new bag designs, that never quite made it out the door because the business started to shift.
Over 700 bags and 8 years later the road of RedCamper has evolved to the point that the original products are no longer the fuel in the engine. New products have emerged, entirely inspired by those original bags. These new products continue, in their own way, to tell the story of the American road trip and story telling tradition. The paper goods line continues to use some of those original found travel images paired with the Gram sense of humor, and the Deliciousness…well..you can’t have a good road trip without some quality picnic supplies.
I thank all of those tote and bag owners for your support in getting us this far, for helping us learn, teaching us valuable lessons, testing our will and leading us down the road to unknown discoveries and adventures. Thank you also to everyone that has given me advice, helped me figure out production, worked the sewing machine, grommetted, squeezed hooks closed, come to my countless local events, carried the bags as part of my "street team", participated in photoshoots, forgiven me for being too tired to go out, designed the logos and websites and packaging and hangtags, and helped me make all the connections I have. I really, really couldn't have done it without you. Thank you.
We will be selling the very last few bags through the end of
the year and then no matter what is left we will close the Baggage section of the shop. We have 5 laptop bags and 10 totes left. Get a piece of history in
our shop, now.
No matter what, I hope you continue to join us in this ultimate road trip of life; we have a lot of miles left ahead of us.
All the best,