Summer is on the horizon and while more Coloradans are getting vaccinated, certain businesses are exploding as plans for summer trips are solidified. For many Denverites, new travel bags are one of the many necessary items for upcoming summer travel.
The Mile High City is home to a wide variety of small businesses that offer handmade bags. The cut-and-sew industry is flourishing in Colorado, where local sewers are creating unique bags for the Denver community.
Logan + Lenora
The Lowdown: Logan + Lenora carries handmade bags that are machine-washable and completely waterproof. Founder and designer, Rachel Kistner started making waterproof bags in 2013 while she was located in Washington D.C. She sold her bags on Etsy and partnered with a manufacturer in Denver to produce them. Her husband, Ben Kistner came on in 2015 and is now the co-founder and CEO of the company. The two moved to Denver in 2016 and expanded their production to create travel bags.
“We started off selling to a lot of small boutiques, going to trade shows, and the concept of this really functional bag that is designed more stylishly, a little more high-end but completely functional being waterproof and machine-washable started to grow,” Rachel said.
It took some time to develop a technique to create waterproof bags. Constructing waterproof bags required a blueprint much different than that of a typical bag.
“The outside of the bags, that’s a polycanvas … The inside of the bag is a waterproof lining. So it’s just like a poly knit, and then they laminate on it like a waterproof barrier,” Ben said. “It would be similar to like what’s on the inside of your REI rain jacket. Except we get like a much thicker application of it put on, because you’re not wearing it, it needs to be more rigid.” The result is a completely waterproof bag that can weather any spills or messes.
At first, the bags were directed towards moms in need of waterproof and machine-washable bags to transport food and supplies for their kids on the go. However, the company has expanded to offer performance bags of all kinds, including everyday bags, travel bags, fanny packs, gym duffels and more.
Logan + Lenora bags are crafted in-house at the company’s production facility in Denver. The facility began as home to only four sewers and the team has expanded since. With now 13 sewers and more than 50,000 Instagram followers, Logan + Lenora have created a name for themselves in the Denver community and nationwide.
In addition to creating a business to share with the Denver community, The Kistners value sustainability and align their business practices accordingly. Recently, they have started using recycled plastic to create their bags.
“It’s like taking single-use plastic bottles and turning them into bags that will last forever, that will never go away,” Ben said.
“Our brand is about quality, we try to keep our footprint small obviously … so we want it to be a product that we’re proud of and that our customer is proud to carry all the way down to the details,” Rachel added.
The company faced adversity during the pandemic for a variety of reasons. During the initial shutdown, Ben and one of Logan + Lenora’s manufacturing managers, Juan, delivered sewing machines to their sewer’s homes. While travel bags were no longer selling rapidly, the company pivoted to offer face masks.
“When the pandemic hit, sales just plummeted. But because we sew everything here in Denver, we have this whole sewing team and a facility, we were able to switch and start making cloth face masks for three months and that was huge,” Ben said.
Now, it is very apparent that customers are gearing up for summer travel as sales have increased drastically, especially for travel bags. Additionally, The Kistners have developed new ways to market their products that have led to increased sales. Currently, they are partnering with social media influencers and creating custom bags for them to share with their fanbases.
“I work with them to design their custom print based on their style and aesthetic and then we run a line of bags for them. That’s been a lot of fun so most of our prints now are actually custom, short-run, or like limited-edition collaborations,” Rachel said. “It’s been a wonderful way to have some authentic engagement. And since we’re doing everything here we can provide these special unique products that they can offer to their followers.”
The Kistner’s love building their business in Denver for a variety of reasons. For one, this state is home to an abundance of talented sewers, many of which have been great additions to the Logan + Lenora team. Similarly, Denver is home to a variety of businesses that create handmade bags that inspire The Kistner’s. They are grateful to be a part of such a tight-knit community.
Additionally, “I think being close to nature has also inspired us to be responsible with all the different aspects of our brand, quality of life for our staff, the materials we’re using, not wasting anything. It’s like, no one ever wants to like throw stuff out – we’re always trying to figure out if we can donate it,” Rachel said, “I think there’s something special about being near the mountains.”
The Lowdown: Winter Session is home to a wide variety of leather goods. The business began as a side project about 12 years ago while Roy Katz, co-owner and Head of Operations, and his wife Tanya Fleisher were living in Chicago. The two began creating bags in their apartment and eventually moved to Denver in 2013 where they began to expand their business. Today, Winter Session has a large following with over 20,000 Instagram followers and a collection of unique leather bags and goods.
The Winter Session team is small and all items are produced in-house. The work environment is relaxed and “everyone works on a piece rate. So they can work as fast or as slow as they want, people chat with each other while they’re working, we share a space with a coffee roaster so we’re always drinking good coffee or listening to music. So it’s a pretty nice place to work,” Katz said.
Winter Session’s team is unique because rather than onboarding skilled sewers, “we mostly hired people who were just really into what we were doing and then we taught them how to do what we do,” Katz said. One sewer was a former member of the corporate world while another was an intern from the Metro State Industrial Design Program who stayed with the company following her internship.
At Winter Session, each person is responsible for making an entire piece. Rather than functioning via an assembly line where individuals work on a specific aspect of bags all day, “each person is responsible for the whole thing, which I think adds a lot to the pride that people take in the work,” Katz said. “They can say ‘hey I just made this entire bag, I made this.’ Rather than just ‘I sewed a thousand zippers today.’”
Winter Session bags are a mixture of wax cotton canvas and vegetable tan leather. While the canvas comes on a roll, the leather arrives differently depending on the nature of the animal it came from. “There’s going to be some scratches, some scars, there’s going to be a hole in it … you never really know what you’re going to find when you open up a bundle of leather and so you really have to be meticulous as you go through and inspect each piece and decide what’s going to get cut apart,” Katz said on the process of making a leather bag.
At the start of the pandemic, Winter Session faced a decrease in sales. However, Katz and Fleisher took the opportunity to make face masks using their extra materials and workshop. In the past few months, Winter Session has sold more travel bags and expects business to increase as more Coloradans secure travel plans this summer.
To accommodate increased demand, Winter Session is undergoing website construction and plans to revamp its blog series. While the showroom is currently closed, Katz expects to welcome the public back in-store in the near future, but for now, the company offers shipping and in-store pick-up.
Winter Session is unique because “everything that we make has a lifetime guarantee, so we have a pretty robust repairs program as well,” Katz said. “Maybe the bottom wore out or maybe one of the rivets popped out, so you know, we fix everything that comes back which I think is a pretty good selling point for a higher-priced bag, knowing that we will stand by it for as long as it’s around.”
Sword & Plough
The Lowdown: Sword & Plough is a woman and veteran-owned fashion brand featuring travel bags crafted from recycled military surplus materials. Co-founders Emily Núñez Cavness and Betsy Núñez were raised in a military family, both holding fond memories of their childhood.
“From attending Thanksgiving dinners at mess halls with hundreds of soldiers, watching change of command ceremonies, welcoming our dad home from deployments and overseas assignments, to watching our uncle’s space shuttle launch. We’re grateful for our upbringing and the inspiring family members and service members we know. It was important to us from day one to build a brand that supports the community that we grew up in,” Emily said.
Sword & Plough launched in 2013 after Emily’s own experience serving in the military influenced her to brainstorm ways to give back to the community. The company repurposes military surplus materials and employs veterans in the process. Most importantly, the Núñez sisters’ goal for Sword & Plough is to “bridge the civil-military divide. The repurposed bags could be used as conversation pieces and the company could become a platform to strengthen understanding between civilians and the military community,” Emily said.
The company offers jewelry pieces, tote bags, travel kits, purses and more. Each piece is made by veteran-owned or operated manufacturers using military surplus materials like recycled uniforms and even hardware like a caliber shell casing.
For the Núñez’s, creating a brand that encompasses the impact of the military on their lives was crucial. Giving back to a community that they hold close to their hearts empowers them to operate a sustainable fashion brand aligned with a mission.
“By purchasing Sword & Plough products, you are supporting a veteran and women-owned small business and domestic manufacturing, empowering veteran employment, strengthening civil-military understanding, reducing waste and supporting the veteran community,” Emily said.
The company operates on a direct-to-consumer model; therefore, the impact of the pandemic was not as devastating as it could have been. Sword & Plough remained afloat as devoted customers continued to support the brand. As travel increases this summer, the Núñez’s presume sales will continue to rise as well.
Despite the pandemic, Sword & Plough continues to grow and support the community along the way. “Today, Sword & Plough has repurposed over 35,000 pounds of military surplus, helped support 75 veteran jobs and donated over $100,000 to organizations that support veterans,” Emily said.
The Fix Leather Studio
The Lowdown: McCall Morrow, founder and designer of The Fix Leather Studio, was working in Washington D.C. as a personal stylist after receiving her master’s at Savannah College of Art and Design. As a Colorado native who has always wanted to start her own business, Morrow moved back to Denver before the pandemic. From there, The Fix Leather Studio was born.
Building a business during a pandemic wasn’t easy, and Morrow learned to quickly adapt. She focused her time on making custom pieces for customers which included bags, accessories, clothing, home goods and even dog collars.
Located in her home, Morrow’s current studio features an industrial sewing machine and a variety of materials to make custom leather pieces. “It was a lot of just making things work this past year,” Morrow said. For now, she is using a ping pong table as her large cutting table. But as semblances of life return to normal, Morrow expects her business to grow and hopes to one day expand into a storefront and studio.
Custom pieces require one-on-one communication with the customer about their needs and expectations. She expected moving to Denver during such an uncertain time to feel isolating, but Morrow has connected with a variety of people and feels grateful for the opportunity to do so. “It’s kind of fun that there’s like a community here and I’m excited to meet some more of those people now that things are opening up,” she said.
The Fix Leather Studio is run entirely by Morrow. Her days consist of planning social media posts and engagement, working on custom pieces in the studio and building her brand. She is currently working on a line of her own pieces to sell to customers as well as creating a functional website for The Fix Leather Studio.
Running a business single-handedly is a lot of work, but Morrow wouldn’t want it any other way. She is also a designer for TJ Maxx; therefore, some of her time is allotted to designing pieces for their brand and product lines. When she is not working for TJ Maxx, all of her energy is put into The Fix Leather Studio.
“I’m kind of a one-woman show like I’m doing it all. And I think that I have a very good eye for fun bags or very feminine high fashion bags that are also very functional,” she said. Each bag from The Fix Leather Studio is entirely handmade by Morrow, resulting in a one-of-a-kind piece personalized to the customer’s vision.
Morrow is eager to bring The Fix Leather Studio to markets as COVID-19 restrictions loosen up, but in the meantime, she is excited to bring leather bags to life for the Denver community.
Denver is a haven for creativity. As a result, local businesses and artisans are easily accessible and offer bags perfect for upcoming vacations. While there may be more to worry about when traveling in a pandemic, the opportunity to find a great bag made locally is right at your fingertips.