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Interview: Garrett Kautz of Strawfoot Handmade Musettes and Accessories

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Garrett Kautz started Strawfoot Handmade out of a desire to make clever bags and accessories for his friends. Five years on, Strawfoot produces a collection of bags out of natural or repurposed materials. Strawfoot also makes the occasional limited availability product such as gear bags for Niner and leather BB gun straps for Blackburn Designs (for cyclocross biathlon relay race for the Rangers camp). The designs within his collection are simple but surprisingly functional. Materials are natural or domestically made whenever possible and fasteners are steel or brass as opposed to plastic. Every piece in the collection is designed for durability and to gain character with age and use. I spoke with Garrett in his backyard several weeks ago (as he juggled his toddler on his lap) to get a feel for the operation…


BIKERUMOR: So have you always worked out of your garage?

GARRETT: No, I’ve had two previous shops. One of them- we kind of outgrew the space. One, we were in a larger shop for about a year and a half, which was nice, but then we had our baby and it was problematic because I watch her a lot. I couldn’t get anything done. And then we moved into a new house with a garage in October. It’s been really nice. We had to downsize the shop pretty much in half. It’s pretty efficient because I can work when she naps. Definitely a challenge because it’s a lot smaller, but it’s working out.

BIKERUMOR: How did you launch Strawfoot Handmade? What did that come from?

GARRETT: Out of a desire to make bags myself. Our friends wanted something and I had to figure it out. It was kind of a hobby to start selling and making things. My mom and grandmothers were really into sewing, so I kind of learned from them. At least I was around it a lot. So it wasn’t a really foreign idea.

BIKERUMOR: Were they seamstresses? Or was it part of the family culture?

GARRETT: It was the culture. Both of my grandmothers come from farming, agrarian backgrounds. They always [sewed] because their parents did. So my grandma would hem our pants. My mom would make you costumes when we were kids. I would come up with projects to do and they would help make stuff. And then I didn’t do anything through college. I really never bothered with sewing.


BIKERUMOR: What were you doing in college?

GARRETT: I was studying agriculture. I grew up on a farm. CalPoly in San Luis Obispo. I loved it. I grew up in the Ginger Valley. I had a dream- I wanted to get out of Fresno. Then after college I moved to Australia and did some farming stuff over there. And then I moved to Santa Cruz because my wife’s from here. We got a home sewing machine as a wedding gift. And I tried making dish towels and stuff at home because we just needed stuff. I figured out how to use it. Then I started making bags and my own stuff.

Every product we make pretty much comes from a desire that we need something or a friend wants something. That’s how the idea is formed, and we build upon it. There’s a level of working within your means. I definitely try to work within our means so we can be really specific about the equipment you have and what you’re making. And how all the machines are set up. I can make a lot of different things, I just choose not to go down different paths. I don’t make frame bags or super technical fabric or welded seams, that kind of thing. It’s just clean and simple and classic and useful, you know?


BIKERUMOR: So you said this product comes out of making stuff for you and your friends, can you give an example of that?

GARRETT: I had friends a long time ago ask me to make musettes for them. I built on the idea of classic cycling musettes. This is how I would do it with these fabrics, and that turned into different versions of it until we landed on, “oh, yeah, this is actually pretty cool. Let’s offer it in the line.” From that, oh we should add a certain strap, or add this webbing, or make it deeper, or a cycling version with an adjustable strap. You kind of build upon the basic cycling musette, but someone wants to commute with it, or have it hold more volume. And then you have two musettes. It’s always really fun because you get to build an idea that someone has- a problem someone has.

BIKERUMOR: You’re very material focused. Why do you choose the materials you choose?

GARRETT: A lot of it is based on durability. Like the waxed canvas. When we started using it, there wasn’t a lot of it out there. It was unique, and all the stuff I saw made out of waxed canvas aged really well. That leant itself well to the products you’re making. Briefcases, shoulder bags- they would just look better with time. They weren’t super technical because you’re using leather and brass hardware, no plastic. It just fit really well. And we try- you know, we use some cordura. We still don’t use any plastic hardware just because a lot of people do that and that’s their thing, but it doesn’t really fit with our brand.


BIKERUMOR: It’s clever hardware.

GARRETT: We spend a lot of time- you run into a lot of problems and issues too, like using certain threads and fabrics and webbing and once you go down that path of building one thing, then you want to change it, the whole project is turned upside down. I can’t use a plastic adjustable strap- brass won’t work with it. It only works with the cotton stuff we have. And then you use plastic, but we don’t use plastic. The endless battle of working within your means or deciding that we’re going to figure something out, or spend time using it and working with it and making sure that it works well before you offer it for sale. I don’t want to make something that we don’t really trust or believe in.

BIKERUMOR: What was your first actual product?

GARRETT: We made some tote bags. We got lucky. I was making some for some friends. I actually had a friend give me some old Army tarps, some really old stinky oiled tarps. “Hey, can you make a bag out of this?” Yeah sure. So we made a bag. And a friend of mine knew the buyer at Unionmade in San Francisco, a menswear store that just opened, they said “hey, let’s check them out.” So we took some bags up there. They wanted to buy some, but then they sold right away. Then they wanted a run of all the same color so they could photograph ’em and put them online. That’s when it became a business, you know, “I really need to think this through. Let’s order fabric, let’s pick colors.” We didn’t really do color by the season… I guess color was pretty half-assed. It was tote bags and we did a bunch of just different fabrics and a lot of waxed canvas, kinda figured out what leather worked well and different rivets and got it all dialed.

We tried doing some waxed canvas for a shoulder briefcase style bag. And some aprons… aprons and belts have always been something I didn’t want to do because there were already a lot of people doing it or it looked really similar to other peoples. I didn’t want to step on any toes. We only do aprons for special projects like restaurants that want stuff. I don’t really sell them online kind of out of respect for friends that already do that kind of thing. I don’t need to go down that road.

BIKERUMOR: Do you have any idea what your output is at this point?

GARRETT: Like how many bags in a year?

BIKERUMOR: Or in a week?

GARRETT: It varies depending on the size of the bag. We could do a run of 20 tote bags, but maybe, we’re working on a thing for Niner Bikes right now, we’re going to do 130 of these kit bags, and we’ll do those in two or three weeks. It was one of those things where we had only enough fabric to make 44, so we had to order the rest and now…

BIKERUMOR: You’re booking it.

GARRETT: Yeah, it’s hard to say. It also depends on my wife’s work schedule, how much I can work, how much Vince can work.

BIKERUMOR: It’s just the two of you now?

GARRETT: Vince has been with me for about three years now, working part time. It’s all I want to do right now. I don’t want to do any contracts now. It doesn’t feel necessary right now. I could build the brand that way but I don’t have the energy to do that right now. I don’t really need to at this point. I like where it’s at.

BIKERUMOR: You don’t want to scale aggressively for some reason. Do you have any new products you want to talk about?


GARRETT: It’s funny, so we didn’t do a whole lot of different products and then in the last two years, and especially the last year, we’ve done a bunch of accessory bags and little zip wallets and things. They are just kind of fun. We did them just- I don’t even know how they started. Oh, it was because I was tired of using a plastic bag for my phone and my wallet and going on bike rides. So I was like, I’ll just make one of those things really quick. And actually, it was really easy to make, but it took a lot time to get the right size to fit my phone. We did cycling musettes about a year and a half ago, that’s still a really strong product. Small accessory bags. We’ve done socks for three or four years.

BIKERUMOR: Through DeFeet?

GARRETT: Yeah. It’s always a fun thing to do. We started doing that before we really made many cycling products just ‘cause I wanted a nice wool sock to go with the line. We searched them out and a year of dead end roads of trying to make them domestically. Not many companies had a custom program. DeFeet makes really good socks, they are just limited in what they can produce for designs and stuff. They couldn’t do a lot of the first designs we had. So we did some basic wool socks and boot socks. And then we started doing different wool versions. This past season we did some synthetic stuff. It’s fun. It’s super fun.

BIKERUMOR: It’s fun and colorful. It’s not something you have to make. It’s just design. So about the BB gun slings…

GARRETT: I was lucky to do some bike ride stuff the last couple years with some of the Blackburn folks. So it was really fun to go with Robin and his wife Laura two Springs ago, we did a couple different rides. Blackburn’s doing the Ranger program. They were like “we’re doing BB guns, please make some shoulder straps.” It was really fun to do.

BIKERUMOR: What was that development process?

GARRETT: It’s funny. I was trying to get the BB gun actually in my hands to see the attachment points.

BIKERUMOR: Don’t you have a BB gun?

GARRETT: My dad keeps it in his gun safe because it’s the same one I’ve had since I was six.

BIKERUMOR: You’re still not allowed to have it?

GARRETT: Yeah! He cleans it and keeps it in his safe. I have one of Rick (Hunter’s) slingshots. That’s the way I can get that fix, I guess… shooting cans.

BIKERUMOR: So you needed to get a BB gun in hand because your dad wouldn’t give you yours?

GARRETT: Well, he keeps it in his gun safe. I finally got the gun in my hands and I thought, man this should be easy. We had the leather and rivets. It’s funny because when I had the gun… it’s just a generic BB gun but it has all this custom Blackburn branding on it. So I don’t even know that part of the story. I just made these BB gun slings. It’s just a weird- I never thought I’d make a BB gun leather shoulder strap.

BIKERUMOR: Well, you’re a Full Blown Adult… and sometimes you get Full Blown Adult projects like that.



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8 years ago

Doing what you love, your way. Cool article.

Mecanico do Paladar
Mecanico do Paladar
8 years ago

Keep the good work!

The Truth
The Truth
8 years ago

I love when larger companies team up with small companies like this. Keep doing what you love!

Heidi Brown
Heidi Brown
8 years ago

Nice. Beautiful daughter you have there!

8 years ago

Thanks for the help with those straps Garrett … they turned out great. We’ll have to have you guys over for dinner / shooting gallery soon. Robin

Jim Kautz
Jim Kautz
8 years ago

Hah… so your dad will not give you your bb gun. You should just ask to bring it home! Love, DAD

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