Bicycle touring and long distance riding seems to be hitting an all-time popularity high.  Is the appeal the freedom to encounter the world on a more intimate level than our hectic, disconnected lives regularly provide, or is it the thrill of self-propelling one’s body and bounty with nothing but self-made muscle and stamina across vast terrain?  Honestly, it is probably both…and so much more.  Whatever the motivation, just getting out on your bike for an adventure deserves praise, especially in this modern era of dwindling resources that we have become so heavily dependent on.

For Martina and Goods of Swift Industries, bicycle touring has knit itself into the fabric of this custom bicycle pannier and bag company…literally.  Adventure has always been the motivation, right alongside sustainability and a hands-on, DIY approach to life.  As you will find out in our interview with these guys, the creation of Swift Industries is something that happened quite naturally given their passions leading up to that first bag made and sold under the Swift Industries brand.

So, dive right in and get a feel for what Swift Industries is about.  I know for me, here at HomeGrown Goods, it was a lovely experience putting this interview together.  Much was learned about what was already thought to be a fantastic product and company.  There is now an even greater appreciation for each bag produced by their hardworking hands; Swift Industries fits in nicely here on HomeGrown Goods.

HomeGrown Goods Swift Industries

How long has Swift Industries been in business?
Swift Industries has been chugging along since 2008. It’s been a grand 5 years.

What is the significance of the swift/fox name and logo?
The Swift Fox, Volpes velox, caught our attention once we settled on our name. We started the company from our home off Swift Avenue in Seattle, Washington, and were intrigued by the fox’s intelligent and regal gestalt.

What compelled you to start your own bicycle bag company?
Goods and I were bike touring as much as possible, and making our own bags to hit the road with. I was excited to design myself panniers that deviated from the outdoor gear aesthetic most existing bags are designed toward. We wanted to offer domestically craft panniers that integrated the custom elements that independent messenger bag companies offered at the time.

I was in my mid-twenties, and really didn’t have the attention span to consider the possibility of Swift becoming a “real” business. We’ve learned more in the past five years than I could have ever imagined.

HomeGrown Goods Swift Industries

Have you always lived in Seattle?  If not, how did you end up there?
Goods was born and raised in Seattle, and I’m from San Francisco. After we graduated from Prescott College in Arizona, we wanted to move to a city where we could skip town to mountain ranges and wild open spaces.

It takes a lot of personal alignment with what you are passionate about in order to start up and sustain a grass-roots company – especially for personally funded businesses and handcrafted goods -, how did you come to realize such passions as bicycles and sewing?
Goods has been a bike mechanic for twelve years, and he can’t shake his obsession with all things bicycles. His father is an accomplished woodworker and continues to spend most of his down-time sewing kites and other beautiful things. He influenced Goods’ love for making stuff.

I grew up sewing, woodworking, and exposed to a lot of practical arts. My home and school environments encouraged hand-craft, and it is a vital part of my identity. At a young age I was taught to work with a diversity of mediums and tools. I think that fostered an insatiable itch to make and design.

Everyone at Swift Industries is inspired by sewing. What’s more, we all ride and tour at every opportunity. Our posse’s shared interests makes this work contagious. We love the design and sewing process that knits our passions together.

HomeGrown Goods Swift Industries Touring

Photo by Russ Roca
HomeGrown Goods Swift Industries Touring

Photo by Russ Roca
How do you feel your ideals and ethics have an impact on your business/product decisions?
I have a degree in Natural Systems Agriculture, and my learning was greatly influenced by the poet, author, and land steward Wendell Berry. What drew me to small scale farming are the very principles that carried into Swift Industries: to make a positive impact on the land and the people who rely on the land, we need to align ourselves with the natural timeline and limitations of the soil we manage.  I measure success by similar means here at Swift. We grow slowly in order to stay in tune with our craft, our abilities, and to keep our waste to a minimum. It’s intuitive to me that a vibrant company needs to be financially stable, creatively engaging, and born out of an obsession with its medium. Our passions are bicycles, wandering, and fine gear.

We also gravitate toward pretty simple lifestyles. We’re the sort of crew that spends more time outside than in, choose to spend our bucks on experiences over stuff, and love the simple life.

Trust that you’re capable of going the distance
Let the experience fuel your creativity
Have a plan, and plan not to stick with it
Enjoy your encounters with the people you meet along the way
Move steadily and with purpose
Heighten your sense of place
Find inspiration in the little things
Get lost every once in a while
Be aware of the impact that you make

You talk about “growing slowly,” why is this important to you and how come you aren’t in a rush to produce and expand at an exponential rate as many companies are?
Slowing down is a very important part of our vision here at Swift Industries. We gravitate to bicycle touring because of its pace. We can be much more in tune and observant of the landscape and our social geography when we travel by bicycle.  To that note, we have managed our company’s growth at a very intentional pace. We set out to be as financially self-reliant as possible, and to grow with demand so we didn’t end up in over our heads. We’ve been a debt free company since day one.

Your bags have their own distinct (read: awesome!) flare in terms of color combinations, what is the motivation for this?
I crave color the same way people crave flavors.

HomeGrown Goods Swift Industries Ready MadeMoenkopi Mini Roll Top Panniers

Your Ready Made bags are a new addition to your store, how well are they doing?  Are they being received as well as you have hoped?
Our Ready Made goods were an experiment this year. I’d say it’s been a success! We can’t make our stock quickly enough for our customers.

What does the future look like for Swift Industries?
Truth be told, I’m hoping to get Swift to a place where I can take off and go adventuring for a month or two out of the year and leave the sewing in good hands with our crew!
Our biggest goals are to maintain in-house production as we grow, and to bring on a few more dedicated and inspiring people. Swift has some amazing new products lining up. I’ll leave it at that and string you along!

We love teaching the Get Lost Academy, and hope to formalize the educational component in the future.

I’m also really excited to forge relationships with other makers and bring them attention through our store. The idea is to create a cultural hub to inspire long-distance cycling. We just started working with the fine folks at the Pedal Inn, and will offer their bicycle travel cookbooks on our site; a fellow here in Seattle makes beautiful leather mud flaps. Ocean Air Cycles is hitting the scene with beautiful and well engineered products. There’s so much buzz!

Wrapping things up, what is your favorite quote?
“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.”
― Wendell BerryA Place on Earth