Here’s an interview with Trakke-founder Alec Farmer I’ve done for Wildland Magazine’s Lifestyle issue back in 2014. Photography by Niall Walker.
There’s various ways to embrace a certain lifestyle, to perceive the world and its surroundings in an utterly different light: Some people are simply living it, while others are further nourishing it with their creative output. Glaswegian outdoor lifestyle brand Trakke seems to be in the thick of it – producing for and together with a community of adventurers. Time for a wee chat with founder Alec Farmer about his humble beginnings, cyclist culture and the perfect bag.
Hello Alec, how did it all start out with Trakke?
I studied graphic design at the school of arts and I had a friend, who studied product design. On the weekends we just got out into the city and found lots of recycled, unused materials on the streets. We used to find abandoned sofas and take the leather off it or old suitcases and take the zips off. We made our first bags in our living room with a little crappy domestic sewing machine that caught fire at some point and we simply developed as we went along with it. Every time we made something new, we made it from scratch, with no pattern. So every one we made, was slightly different. Eventually we had a stall at Barras Markets here in Glasgow and started taking our bags there and selling them for really cheap. Slowly but surely we got a small following of friends and cyclists, who kind of liked what we were doing.
How would you describe the Glaswegian cyclist scene and how did they approach you and how did they embrace your venture?
I think we started with cycling because it was really easy for us to test what we made. You know, if we started making backpacks for climbing we would’ve get out the city a bit more and that wasn’t always so easy. We had a lot of friends, who are cyclists and became part of the scene in some sense, before we really started making things for the scene. We’ve got to know a few couriers in the city, who would test our products first, ask us to fix stuff for them and by doing that we got a lot of insights into how people might use the product. From there, people were just really nice to us.
So you didn’t feel like an intruder but rather someone who’s feeding the fast-paced lifestyle of messengers?
That’s the thing. I feel like we have always – and hopefully still do – taken the view that we don’t know everything and that our customers lead the product. We understood us just as someone who tries to collate the people’s needs into a bag. And cause we always worked from a standpoint from were we weren’t saying ‘Check this out, we make the best thing ever’, but rather a ‘What do you think of this?’ and ‘How could we make it better?’ That’s how we always were and people always responded well to that, cause they felt involved in the whole process.
You started off with a keen eye on bicycle renegades & their everyday demands. Do your products attract other groups of people with similar lifestyles, who embrace the outdoors?
Oh yes, definitely. I think by sticking with just biking, it would all become a bit narrow. So over the last couple of years, we’ve been trying to expand slowly but surely into being more of an outdoor lifestyle brand. We make products that really cater for cycling, but we’ve developed our line of backpacks and they’re getting used all over the world now and are probably our most popular product. People seem to embrace that we love the outdoors and the idea of adventure. Of course, that can happen in any different ways. It doesn’t need to be on a bicycle.
As a brand that takes pride in its heritage, advertising as ‘Made in Glasgow’, there seems to be a certain ethic philosophy behind Trakke.
That began really when we started out. I’m not from this industry and I felt, the best way for me to keep control over the end product, was if I’d see the product being made. Then, I realized that the UK was once a real powerhouse for producing high quality things, before losing all of that. It’s something really worth keeping and I started focusing in making Trakke products in the UK. It’s part of our ethos I feel very passionate about. Honestly, it’s a really difficult thing to do: I would never claim that every material that we use in our bags is made in the UK, but certainly a lot of the main materials are. Wax cotton is custom made in Dundee, Steel buckles are made in Wales, and our webbing is made in Derbyshire. The great thing about the fact that a lot of industry has died out here is that those who are left really know their craft. They’ve been around for the last 150 years, invented a product and pioneered the development of it. On the downside, there’s just some products that are incredibly hard to find in the UK, but that’s fine and we have to source them elsewhere. It’s mostly about trying to keep it in the UK as much as possible.
In terms of materials and style, where do your aesthetic inspirations come from?
The materials were kind of influenced by lots of different elements. First off, we used to make our products using recycled materials, but we stopped doing that cause it was quite hard to guarantee the quality of a material that you’d found and had a life beforehand. We started with the waxed cotton product, as it ages incredibly well. Over 20 years, it looks better and better and better, which stops you from throwing it away. And let’s face it, we live in Glasgow and it rains all the time. So our materials are chosen for durability, longevity and obviously their functionality as well. Apart from that, I’ve always been a fan of vintage mountaineering equipment from the late 60s and 70s. I’d like to say that we make a product that has a traditional element to it with a firmly modern twist.
As a small company you seem to have carefully scouted a team of people with different skills and abilities to live the dream.
The type of work we do, machining, has kind of died out in a big wave in the UK, so it’s quite tough to find people with a lot of skill to do it. We’ve been really lucky finding people, who have a really good attention to detail and that’s what I’m essentially all about. I would rather have a product that takes longer to make and is well finished than the other way around.
What are your expectations for the rest of 2014?
Well, where to begin? Seriously, we’re in the thick of it at the moment. Certainly over the past months we noticed that we’ve been gathering a bit of momentum and more people have started finding out about us. We’ve got a lot of exciting new stuff coming up later in the year, so we’re launching a few new tweeds, new colours and new patterns. We’re changing our branding, a bit more up-to-date, a wee more clean. Apart from that, we’ve got an amazing collaboration coming up with a Glasgow-based print company to produce printed waxed cotton pieces. I just want to make the best product that I can make right now.
Find the full issue here.