It started with a simple burlap sack.
A couple of years ago, designer Grason Ratowsky was gifted a Costa Rican coffee sack from his father, who assumed his son would recognize the value in it. And his father was right. Ratowsky was immediately intrigued by the texture and fabric of the gift, as well as the various stamps and indications of where the sack had traveled. But above all, Ratowsky liked the idea that this item had a life of its own, which inspired the first bag collection for his Denver-based fashion company, BARE.
Released in October of 2013, BARE’s Burlap Collection consisted of clutches, totes, duffles and backpacks all made from recycled burlap — setting the tone for the company’s sustainable stance and practices.
“Making sure our products are sustainable just plays into how we grew up — what our parents taught us,” says Ratowsky, who owns the business with fiance Lo Sampadian and co-founder Justin Biel. “We want to give back more than what we take and leave the world in a better condition.”
Last month, the owners of BARE upheld that position by releasing their second bag line called the Artist Collection, which utilized repurposed vinyl from old billboards. But simply using recycled materials was not enough for the BARE team; this time around, they wanted to add an element of uniqueness — something that would make their customers feel special and tap into their individualistic nature. So they decided to adorn the bags with original art.
“We created large-scale art pieces on the backside of these giant 40-foot-by-20-foot pieces of billboard,” Ratowsky explained. “Then the art was templated into each individual bag, essentially making each piece a form of wearable art. They’re pretty much the most unique products you can get your hands on. You’ll never see someone with the same bag.”
Available in totes, backpacks, wallets and duffel variations, the bags display a vibrant style of contemporary abstract art created by three artists from around the country: Ratowsky, Jonni Cheatwood based out of Phoenix, and Naomi Clark based out of Brooklyn.
“We pulled from around the nation, so it was a fun process,” Sampadian says. “These are all really great artists we had known or heard of; the selection was basically friends of friends for this first run. In the future, we’re thinking we can do an open call, but we really wanted to make our first collaborative project very tight-knit.”
Compared to the Burlap Collection, Biel says, the Artist Collection is considerably niche — targeting a much more specific consumer base than the former line.
“The Burlap Collection’s success was amazing; guys and girls, young and old, from different parts of the world — a lot of people really responded to that design,” Biel says. “I think it was especially well-received in Denver, just because of the rugged, nature element of Colorado. This latest line is much more city-focused. You gotta have a little bit [of] flare to like the Artist Collection. You have to have this artsy vibe to you in order to relate to it, in order to appreciate the work and its unique qualities.”
Manufactured entirely in the U.S., the Artist Collection bags also consist of quality nickel hardware and felt and leather from the 120-year-old company Weaver Leather based in Ohio. Ratowsky says it was important for the repurposed vinyl to be paired with the finest material in order to avoid looking crafty.
“I wanted to play to the material, so it’s waterproof, weatherproof,” Ratowsky says. “I made it seamless with magnetic closures, and then we UV-protected and coated the actual paintings, so if water ever hits, it will roll right off […] The design wasn’t based on anything I had seen before, just my own imagination. I love this line for that very reason, it’s my baby.”
To learn more about BARE and to shop the Artist Collection and Burlap Collection, go to www.baremade.com.