Bursting at the Seams

ae_totesLocal craftsman designs totes for men

The murse—a man purse. That’s the slang term for a messenger bag, a tote—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 “murse” 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 you’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 what’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.

Kautz’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.

ae_totes2“I had no idea that I wanted to sew,” he says. “My 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 things—fix tears in your jeans, make kitchen towels.” He decided he wanted to make his own bag to lug around his camera, jacket, and laptop.

But the wedding present machine just couldn’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 men’s tote bags. They were an instant hit.     The bags have a rustic, beat up, Americana type of look—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 looking—check them out at Stripe exclusively.

Kautz cuts, sews and designs every bag that he makes, so it’s a completely one-man operation. And while he doesn’t adhere to fashion magazines for what’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.

“In the last three or four years, I’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,” Kautz says. “It’s an old-fashioned, cool, throwback kind of thing.” And so is exactly what he’s doing—making something with your hands, and watching it take off—literally—on someone’s shoulder.

Visit for more information. Bags can be purchased online, or locally at Stripe, 107 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz, 421-9252.

Contributor at Good Times |

Christa Martin is a writer and actor. She was the features editor of Good Times from 2000 - 2012. She's been published in Oprah Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens,, Design*Sponge, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Monterey County Herald, SOMA Magazine, Santa Cruz Style, Santa Cruz Waves, and other regional magazines and newspapers. She's also the editor and founder of The Penny Rose, a Bay Area fashion blog. Find her online at and

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