#madelocal

is all about the amazing products that are not only being designed in New York City, but manufactured here too. Staying true to our roots the first company we visited is MER Bags out of Bushwick, Brooklyn a company that started making messenger bags in 2001 and has quietly gone on to produce a colorful and intensely utilitarian line of bags for people who are serious about durability. Nona went to MER Studio to meet Rob, check out the current line, gawk gorgeous bolts of fabric, vintage industrial machines and an adorable shepherd doggie named Max.
 

MER Bags is designed and stitched by Rob Nelson, a former mountain bike racer, skateboarder and messenger who learned to stitch, from his mother, and then in art school at minneapolis college of art and design. He began making bags out of necessity when working as a messenger in NYC. Soon friends were making requests and MER Bags was born.

 

NONA: “Ok, you’re Rob. Why name the company MER?”
ROB: “I get asked that all the time, and there isn’t a good answer. I
liked the way the letters looked together, from a purely aesthetic
standpoint, and liked that the French meaning of the word is “sea.”
But really, it just made sense aesthetically from a design and
graffiti sense.”

NONA: And you just happened to have an industrial sewing machine?”
ROB: “No, I needed one and got really lucky. My first machine was
bought from this eccentric guy in the garment district. I went to his
studio and he talked to me for at least an hour about his very strong
and conservative religious ideas. After an hour of listening to him
and somehow abstaining from debate, he seemed to like me and he ended
up giving me a great deal.”
NONA: “That’s funny because it seems like everyone has a story about
how they got their (industrial) machines.”

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NONA: “There’s only one mess bag in the whole studio! The totes look
amazing and the roll-top backpacks are the perfect size for me!”
ROB: “Yeah, roll-tops are very popular at the moment. Sometimes
people, including myself, don’t refer to them as messenger bags
anymore because it’s too exclusive, I just call them waterproof,
weatherproof utilitarian bags. They’re heavy duty and meant to appeal
to an active consumer. The totes started off as beach/surfing bags.
I’m currently experimenting with a tool and garden version as well,
which should be available soon.

NONA: “The one with pockets looks like an old man’s tool bag, but so
modern. If the colors were different I could see it as a woman’s bag,
with all the accessory pockets on the outside. Change the colors to
pastel or something and it would even be the ultimate diaper/family
bag.”
ROB: “It’s true. You experiment with colors or pockets and by
customizing the colors or placement of accessories, the bag takes on
all these other characters. I have a friend who used his bag on his
bike for years, and he just had a baby, and is now replacing his work
bag for diapers and other things you suddenly need when you have a
baby.”

NONA: “I’ve been in NYC riding and racing bikes for almost as long as
you’ve been in business it seems strange that I’m not more familiar
with MER. Where do you sell?”
ROB: “Well if you haven’t heard of us it’s my fault that I haven’t
been better at promoting the brand. Sometimes it’s hard to make a big
name for yourself in pretty niche communities. It can be tough to make
the products daily, order materials, take custom orders/deal with
customers as well as making sure to stay on top of all the
marketing…being in the blogosphere etc., but it’s obviously very
important, and my hope is for MER to be more recognizable, especially
as a long time New York City brand. But we’re truly a small business,
and that is great, but it means that it takes a lot longer and is a
lot slower when you’ve to to do it all yourself. I like to sponsor
alleycats regularly, that’s the heart and soul of MER, but we need to
make sales as well, and we do through our website and stores. We are
fortunate to work with some local shops like King Kog, and Continuum.
I mostly sell bags in new york, california, texas, Japan and canada.

NONA: “I don’t know about you, but I can’t sell to bike shops, or if I
do, it’s not a sustainable retail relationship because they’re geared
to selling cheap bike parts, wrenching services or …bikes. Things
that are more expensive or lifestyle have had a better time in fashion
boutiques with people outside a small messenger or bike enthusiast
communities. I like to imagine that it encourages more people to ride.
How do you handle trying to sell the products that appeal to
non-messengers, like the totes? It’s really hard to compete when your
labor costs are USA based.”
ROB: “Definitely, but there’s a lot of new people getting into biking
and willing to buy things just based on the fact that they’re made in
America. I get a lot of business from ‘The American List’ a list of
stylish and cool brands that are American made, compiled by A
Continuous Lean.

***

NONA: “I love this roll-top with the buckles!”
ROB: “It’s meant to hold a skateboard, it’s a new bag model that will
be available soon. super low profile, just the basics.”

Share →

Love it? Hate it? Let us know!

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.