Burro Bags: Sewing success in downtown J-ville

25 Jan

If necessity is the mother of invention, then its father is creativity.

Sewing the next Burro Bag

A case in point is Burro Bags, a three-year-old downtown business built on its founders’ search for a durable bag that could withstand their daily bicycle commute between Springfield and UNF. Drawing on their respective skills (upholsterer and bike messenger/mechanic), Chris Williams and buddy Matt Bort experimented with a variety of materials, ultimately constructing a prototype messenger bag from re-purposed highway billboard vinyl. (The story of how Burro Bags got started is charmingly told in this video.)

The choice of material wasn’t made lightly: the vinyl’s strength and flexibility was one consideration; another was that the stuff would otherwise end up in a landfill (the company’s informal motto is, “Keeping retired billboards off the street by putting them on your back”). Happily, this decision to go green came with an unexpected bonus: When highway billboards and old street banners (advertising, say, the Florida-Georgia game) are snipped, folded and sewn, the result is strikingly graphic and unexpectedly chic.

This marriage of sustainability, style and urban biker Street Cred struck a chord with their friends, who soon started requesting bags of their own. As the orders began pouring in, Williams and Bort realized they had a viable business model that had outgrown their living room-based operation. After losing the lease on their first production facility in Springfield (next to Shantytown Pub), Williams worked with Downtown Vision and its Off the Grid program to secure space in the funky Letter Shop building on Forsyth Street (just up from the corner at Newnan Street).

Beer koozies with local pride

The location houses not only the Burro Bag production and fulfillment facility, but also a small retail shop that showcases the full line of Burro products, from trendy messenger bags, backpacks, hip-bags and wallets, to bike pedal straps, cute illustrated beer Koozies, and edgy screen-printed T-shirts. (Although billboard vinyl is still used to add accent and graphic interest to the product line, most of the bags are now constructed of indestructible military-grade Cordura.)

Home-grown style

The store’s graffiti-painted walls (by graphic artist Shaun Thurston) provide a striking backdrop for the work of other local brands, too. Burro carries Threat Wizard, Tact, Arturo, Faction Habit, Granny Machine and more, making the retail store a must-stop shop for anyone interested in buying handmade items crafted by local artisans using recycled materials. This is also the place to inquire about Burro’s limited-edition Artist Series bags and their fabulous one-off items (recent products include a custom Burro drumstick bag and a totally stylin’ arm sling.) A final inducement to visit (as if you need one!) is the terrific old-school music that pumps throughout the space; because Burro Bags shares its retail location with Budget Records (the urban core’s go-to place for vintage 12-inch vinyl and hard-to-find LPs), you’re in for a sonic as well as visual treat.

Three years after its founding, Burro Bags has definitely grown up. Bag prices can range as high as $250 (although you can still score a quality, limited-feature model they call the Broke Ass bag). Orders come from as far away as California, and Japanese distributors have expressed an interest in bringing Burro Bags to Asia. Fully 90% of the company’s sales come from online and wholesale orders. The Burrow Bag story has even gained coverage on a popular National Public Radio show. But despite its impressive growth, the founders of Burro Bags have kept their feet firmly planted on the ground.

These are small business owners who strive to source all of their materials domestically. They support the local bicycle community and are a perennial presence at the First Wednesday Art Walk. They’ve established their center of operations, not in some distant suburb, but right in the heart of Jacksonville’s urban core. Just like the animal for which the company is named, the folks at Burro Bags are doggedly productive and endearingly loyal, proving that Going Local is not only stylish, but also pays huge dividends to the larger community.

part of Shaun Thurston's mural

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One Response to “Burro Bags: Sewing success in downtown J-ville”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tweets that mention Burro Bags: Sewing success in downtown J-ville « GoLo -- Topsy.com - January 26, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by DowntownJacksonville, GOLOJaxFL. GOLOJaxFL said: Get to know "Burro"! GoLO blogpost: Burro Bags: Sewing success in downtown J-ville: http://t.co/brMxvC6 […]

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