by Makers Market founder, Suzy Ekman
One of the things I enjoy most about Makers Market is when we get to go behind the scenes – touring the studios, watching artists and designers make product, chatting with makers and getting to see firsthand what makes them unique. Getting to share these insights with you is the icing on the cake.
As we approach Independence Day – a yearly occasion where we all stop to celebrate all things American – we thought it was a perfect opportunity for you to get to know a little more about Joshu+Vela, maker of gorgeous, all-American canvas and leather bags and accessories in the SoMa district of San Francisco… and Noah Guy, the man behind the label, who without a doubt embodies the American spirit and importance of buying local.
In Joshu+Vela’s studio, one can’t help but notice the interesting collection of vintage bags, a beautiful juxtaposition of classic Americana pieces against Noah’s new creations.
The reason behind the collection and Noah’s design process is just one more thing to love about him. See, when designing a new bag, he’ll use a well-designed, vintage bag as inspiration and breath new life into his current bag design, with updated high quality hardware and other materials.
This thoughtful design approach reveals itself in many of Joshu+Vela designs; from their boat totes and wallets to their dopp kits and newly launched leather shoppers.
Holding a Joshu+Vela bag you can see, feel (and smell) the care that was taken in the product design.
As you can imagine, ensuring this level of tangible quality is no easy feat, but Noah’s focus is set solely on ensuring every component of the bags is of the highest quality American materials that can be sourced. Working in small batches in a small studio allows the team at Joshu+Vela to integrate design and manufacturing, the way it should be.
All hardware pieces on Joshu+Vela’s bags are authentically solid metal. He sources all his bent steel hardware from a New Jersey company that also creates pieces for the US Military. The rivets on each bag are solid copper, forged in Baltimore. They’re the strongest and most difficult to execute fastener on the market, the design for which has not changed since the late 1800′s. Outside of a Joshu+Vela bag, these rivets are only used in western saddle making and electrical worker harnesses.
When it comes to leather, Joshu+Vela uses only the highest quality, vegetable tanned leather from Horween Leather in Chicago. Founded by the Horween family in 1905, it is one of the oldest continuously running tanneries in the United States. It’s also still family owned and operated, and the only tannery still located in Chicago.
The Waxwear comes directly from Herbert Rice Fabrics, Inc., a New York-based company started by the Martin family in the 1800s. Their secret finishing process is earth-safe: it uses pharmaceutical grade waxes and oils and is completely free of hazardous solvents.
Canvas, like the material showcased on their Stars and Stripes Tote is from organic cotton grown by the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative. It is milled and woven in South Carolina at a plant that specializes in only organic cotton fabric.
Above all, the finished work that comes out of Noah’s studio perfectly embodies a quote from Victorian British art critic, John Ruskin, who said “Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.”
If you have ever experienced a Joshu+Vela bag, you will know what I mean by sturdy, durable, quality, while remaining fresh and stylish. It’s the type of tangible quality that will put a smile on your face.
Noah’s bags are made entirely in his San Francisco studio: from cutting, sewing and finishing leather to hammering rivets. The reason he does this? “Because that’s how brands used to do it: they made what they sold.”
Joshu+Vela is no doubt a San Francisco gem that has earned its accolades.