Photo by Marcy Stamper Jonathan Baker, founder and senior designer of eqpd, trimmed bags in the company’s new, expanded production space.

Photo by Marcy Stamper
Jonathan Baker, founder and senior designer of eqpd, trimmed bags in the company’s new, expanded production space.

Marketing agreements expand tote bags’ production

By Marcy Stamper

Many people have left a conference or company retreat with a bag of swag — those forgettable T-shirts, coffee mugs and pens — and then promptly donated it to a second-hand store or stashed it in the back of a closet.

Jonathan Baker of eqpd, the Twisp company that makes indestructible tote bags, wants to transform that souvenir market into something with value and cachet. “Swag is a $3-billion industry, but most of it goes to the landfill,” said Baker, eqpd’s co-founder and senior designer. “We’ve taken the suck out of swag.”

So eqpd has been customizing its main product, called “The Last Bag,” with company logos and mission statements to create an upscale version of swag that people will want to use, over and over again.

“These companies want the highest-quality products for their customers. It’s a completely different choice — it becomes an advertising tool for those companies — and, a bit, for eqpd,” said Baker.

Since the company started production in January 2014, eqpd has sold 2,500 bags, including the custom bags in its partners program. The company has customized bags for everything from a 50th-anniversary event at Harvard to a police dog foundation and a maker of nuclear submarines. The partners choose whether to use the bags as fundraisers, as gifts, or to sell them in their own shops.

Closer to home, eqpd’s partners include the Mazama Store, Bluebird Grain Farms and North Cascades National Park. A new partnership with Methow Arts generated a yellow-and-orange tote that captures what Baker calls Methow Arts’ “playful spirit.” That bag will be an ambassador, since every visiting performer on Methow Arts’ roster will get a bag to take home. The company is working with YardFood to test a bag made from industrial felt that would let people grow vegetables or perennials on their porch.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., are considering carrying the Last Bag in their gift shops. Earlier this month, Baker presented a proposal to Chihuly Garden and Glass at Seattle Center for bags in cobalt and vivid yellow to match Chihuly’s tendril-like glass installations.

Expanded production

If these new contracts come through, eqpd is ready, having more than doubled its space at TwispWorks. The expansion gives eqpd a dedicated space for inventory and sales and another for production, significantly streamlining the process.

In its old space, for example, workers had to make half-a-dozen trips between the logo printer and the sewing machines for every bag, said Baker. The new space connects all those steps in a continuous path.

“Saving five minutes on a bag doesn’t sound like a tremendous amount of time, but when it takes 18 to 22 minutes to make each Last Bag, it makes a difference, said Baker.

The company now turns out 250 bags a week, but Baker says the new space and optimized workflow will enable eqpd to quadruple that by increasing staffing as demand grows. Turnaround times, even in a small operation like eqpd’s, are much faster than ordering from overseas, he said. The company currently supplies some 40 retailers around the country.

The Last Bag, with only four seams and six rivets, is simple enough that anyone can learn to sew one in a day. In fact, the AmeriCorps volunteers who’ve been helping with projects around the valley all made their own eqpd bags this month. The company’s more complex bag designs, which have more pockets or other additional features, require two more seams.

“We’re totally set here — we can produce a lot of product right in Twisp,” said Baker. “I look forward to the problem of having to expand elsewhere.”

The company is having an open house on Saturday (May 28) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., to show its new studio, its line of bags, and to preview new designs for 2017. Bags will also be available for purchase.