In a little over a week we’ll be re-opening our web-store at Swift Industries. While our doors were closed to customer orders we were looking closely at the life and soul of this little company. Here, in three installments, I’d love to catch you up on what we’ve been forming and shaping. The three parts are intrinsically linked and can only be cultivated simultaneously, but they present a different way of thinking about a business.
6 wks. pt. one: HEAD
Pinned up at the little coffee stand by the studio last week was my horoscope. The timely fortune read, “Martina, get your courage up and look at your books! It’s time for you to stop avoiding a meticulous cost analysis and really fess up to the accounting side of your business.” Gulp. Fine.
I am certain that any small business venture–actually, this might be a good place to rename Swift a ‘nano-business’–gets cold feet when they need to examine whether their passions are profitable. I’m not talking about (P)rofitable with a big p, I’m talking about (p)rofitable with a little p: as in a venture which allows the people who are involved economic stability and there-in the ability to pursue the company as a creative and cultural endeavor.
We’ll be raising our prices this year to keep the lights on at the studio and to meet the needs and health of the three of us who are hard at work. Given our current margins we won’t be a sustainable business for long. We’re simultaneously investing in toolage and technique that will streamline our work to offer our customers a realistic price for their purchases.
For so many reasons, a company like Swift Industries, and for that matter friends who are cabinet-crafters, black-smiths, farmers, record store owners, and books store proprietors, face unbelievable challenges in face of the scale of our economic system. Sourcing materials at our scale can be challenging, and down-right limiting for those people who want to construct and craft for hobbie and fun. Market prices and our scales of economy are so blown out of proportion that the artisan is deterred from creating beautiful and practical objects simply because it costs at least double to, for example, sew a kite one’s self. When a big pannier company charges $170.00 for a set of bags the consumer is paying for a product with a significant profit margin. These companies have machines that stamp out fabric, heat-seam the textile, and purchase fabric in 25,000 roll orders, and workers who manufacture the same component day-in-and-day-out. These companies may have passionate people behind them, but to compare our endeavor to the big guys’ is like drawing a likeness between a small scale biodiverse farm and a 20,000 acre monocrop factory farm.
We’re doing it differently, and we’re doing it thanks to all of you!
6 wks. pt. two: HEART
In September, I hatched a seedling of a plan which soon became my beacon as the summer rush seamlessly folded into the holiday rush, sans pause.
This little idea? Close Swift Industries for six weeks. I know, it seems like a little feat–and you might say: she’s the boss, what’s the big deal? Well, I must be honest, it took a great deal of courage to take the time to slow way down. Infact, I will argue that slowing down is antithetical to doing business.
This year was the first in six that Jason and I didn’t do any bicycle-touring together. Damn. I was so busy sewing ten hours a day that I had no way to step out and skip town. We understand that touring season is part of cycling season, and that we’ll be committing to working while others are playing. But it dawned on me that we not only get to, but we need to, create a culture around this company which allows us to play as well. So here’s to tradition: We will be closing our doors every year to take time to rejuvinate and get our restore our creative forces. We hope the time will lend itself to touring, and certainly will commit ourselves to taking a break during the middle of the winter. This year we cooked, and slept, and went to the coast, and biked, and trained the dog to get in the trailer, and did a whole lot of creative work behind the doors at Swift Industries.
6 wks. pt. three: HANDS
I have finally had the time to refine some of our bags! Inspired by cycling with our own products and by customer feedback we have tried to tackle a few issues in the past weeks. Each of the changes is being put to work by various cyclists and we think they’ll be ready on February 1st.
The Pelican Porteur bag is out on Seattle streets in slightly new rendition being tested by commuters and experienced tourers. I have one of them on my bike and am so excited by the headway we’re making as producers and designers:
Alteration #1: We have changed the construction of the body of the bag from one piece to three pieces. I am drawing from the Ozette Rando Bag to make the Pelican more box-like and rigid. The shape of the panels of fabric, in combination with plastic inserts (easily removable and replaceable) will maintain a clean and square shape over time.
Alteration #2: The compression straps are being trained over the lid to keep straps from interfering with spokes. The reflective stripes run with the compression straps.
Alteration #3: I think we finally found the fulcrum point on this beautiful bag. I have been carrying the Pelican Porteur Bag off the bike full of books and groceries to get a feel for it’s carrying-ability. So far so good! It’s still a large 12x12x10″ bag, but it serves off bike much better with it’s new dee ring attachment points.
I’m also leaning away from making one porteur bag for multiple rack companies. Velo Orange rack owners will soon have their own Polaris Porteur Bag that fits dimensionally and attaches more accurately to the company’s rack.
The new porteur modes are being made with less PVC vinyl in an effort to move completely away from the textile in the coming years. One challenge for us is sourcing PVC free material that serves as well against NW weather in small enough quantities. If you have any thoughts or information please pass it to us! Our customers have been amazing at directing us to resources; we just need to land on the perfect option and distributer to make our dreams of being PVC free a reality.
The Short Stack and Mini Short Stack models are enjoying our attention too right now. I have extended the skirt on the top pocket all the way around the lid to protect from the weather. We’ve added a velcro tab to draw the lid closer to the back edge as well, and in the past three weeks of wet riding the design changes are proving themselves very well.
We’re always working to make our bags as water resistant as possible. We don’t have the infrastructure to heat-weld our seams, and sewing causes perforations in the materials. We’re working on ideas to make the bags more efficient. We wish we could guarantee waterproofing, but it’s just not in our range. Apologies!
A few updates on textiles:
We’ve changed the waxed canvas we’re using to a more durable (and heavier) weave and have expanded the color choices to field tan and charcoal canvas for all models.
We have new Cordura options too. You can now choose burgundy, mandarin, rust, and mint green as your body colors!
2012 is going to amazing. We hope that the year brings you all amazing adventures and great stories! Please send them our way.
From the whole team at Swift:
Thanks for all your support and enthusiasm! You make it possible for us to do what we love for a living, hone our skills, and challenge ourselves as designers & cyclists.