Local craftsman designs totes for men
The murseâ€”a man purse. Thatâ€™s the slang term for a messenger bag, a toteâ€”anything that a man uses to carry his stuff around. Just like women, men also have things to haul around. Now, they can do it in style and without that dreaded â€œmurseâ€ title attached to their carryall. Meet Garrett Kautz, who has revolutionized the idea of a man-purse and made it not only hip and stylish to carry a tote bag, but extremely practical, very manly, and quite rugged. So much so that his rough and tumble bags are being sold at places like Unionmade (a very Americana/manly/upscale store in San Francisco), as well as at local Downtown Santa Cruz retailer Stripe.
Kautz greets me on a sunny fall day at his workshop in Santa Cruz. He wears a canvas and leather apron that he made, along with sturdy, stylish work clothes. His studio looks like the type of place youâ€™d find in Brooklyn where an artist got a clever idea, made something brilliant and launched a successful business, while still crafting everything themselves. This DIY mentality, hard work ethic, and artistic sensibility is whatâ€™s giving Kautz a loyal following and an endless order of bags.
Here in his shop in Santa Cruz, Kautz has an inspired studio. Bags hang on a coat rack, an industrial sewing machine is set up to stitch through layers of tough wax canvas, and supplies linger here and there.
Kautzâ€™s story is an appealing one to any aspiring artist, freelancer or self-employed crafter. About a year-and-a-half ago, Kautz got married. As a wedding gift, someone gave the newlyweds an old 1960s sewing machine that cost just a few bucks. Kautz started playing around with the machine and was able to learn some basics: How to hem and alter clothing.
â€œI had no idea that I wanted to sew,â€ he says. â€œMy grandma and mother had always sewn but I grew up on a farm. I was always driving tractors and doing manual labor stuff, but I wanted to make stuff that I could use and was functional. Being able to sew, you can do so many thingsâ€”fix tears in your jeans, make kitchen towels.â€ He decided he wanted to make his own bag to lug around his camera, jacket, and laptop.
But the wedding present machine just couldnâ€™t handle heavy tote fabric, so he upgraded to an industrial machine which can handle tougher projects. He learned some tips from Fabrica, a co-op in Downtown Santa Cruz that offers free sewing instruction, and then, after learning how to make other things like surfboard covers, he ventured into designing and sewing menâ€™s tote bags. They were an instant hit. Â Â Â The bags have a rustic, beat up, Americana type of lookâ€”they come in various sizes, with earth-colored wax canvas and leather straps. You can shove a laptop, a sweatshirt, work files, a water bottle and more into them, while still maintaining a hip look. He even offers some that are less masculine lookingâ€”check them out at Stripe exclusively.
Kautz cuts, sews and designs every bag that he makes, so itâ€™s a completely one-man operation. And while he doesnâ€™t adhere to fashion magazines for whatâ€™s the latest in fashion, he seems to be hitting the mark and finds his inspiration instead in surf photography, old music, and the style and craftsmanship from the early 1900s.
â€œIn the last three or four years, Iâ€™ve seen a lot of men paying attention to what they are wearing, not in a vain way, but they will spend money on a haircut, a shave,â€ Kautz says. â€œItâ€™s an old-fashioned, cool, throwback kind of thing.â€ And so is exactly what heâ€™s doingâ€”making something with your hands, and watching it take offâ€”literallyâ€”on someoneâ€™s shoulder.
Visit strawfoothandmade.com for more information. Bags can be purchased online, or locally at Stripe, 107 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz, 421-9252.