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Handmade Bags For Cyclists – The Mack Workshop Interview

The Mack Workshop Interview

I first came across Jon a few years ago at the Bespoked bike show in Bristol. I purchased a jersey pouch from him and have been following him on Instagram ever since. Now the website is finally on a roll, I thought it would be time to send over some questions and get a bit more of an insight into who the man is behind the brand and how it works.

Who are you? Tell us a bit about your backstory and the history of Mack Workshop and how it started.

My name is Jon MacKinnon, I grew up riding mountain bikes, doing a bit of dirt jumping as a teenager before I got into trials riding, then BMX, then eventually needing to commute 7 miles every day when I got a full-time job in 2009 aged 21 led me to purchase a road bike. From there my obsessive nature took over and within 9 months I had two road bikes, and shortly after got my first fixed gear. I tried a bit of racing, road and mountain bike, but eventually just settled on riding for pleasure when I have the time, with the odd audax here and there, my longest being a 300km ride which I did in summer 2018 with my sister and her partner.

How did you get into making bags?

I bought a basic tool roll from someone in around 2013 and within a few weeks it broke, so I decided that I wanted to make my own. I did some research, bought a sewing machine and some fabric, and that was that!

“I did some research, bought a sewing machine and some fabric, and that was that!”

When did you start?

I bought my first sewing machine, a Singer 201k in September 2013

You are based in Bristol; does this have an influence on your bags?

I wouldn’t say it has an influence but having lots of friends who cycle definitely helps me come up with new ideas as there’s always someone around to bounce ideas off. Tim from Das Rad Klub / Forever Pedalling / Business As Usual was a huge help when things were first getting started, and was the reason behind a number of products when I was first getting started.

What’s new? Anything exciting in the works?

I’m planning on launching a new Bar/Bum Bag, hopefully, before the end of Summer. I just need some time to make one to take photos of! It’s essentially a small roll-top bar bag that has loops on the back that a webbing belt can slide through so it can be used as a bum bag, or an over the shoulder bag. I used mine at Download festival and my friend took it to Thailand on holiday with him last month and found it incredibly useful, it’s ideal for throwing your phone, wallet, keys and a bottle of water in or a small jacket in, and the roll-top means if you do need a bit of extra storage, it’s there.

What keeps you excited about making / designing bags?

The infinite possibilities. Also, all the other people who are making bags, there’s the big guys that everyone knows, Alpkit, Apidura, Porcelain Rocket, Revelate, but the little guys, like me, are the ones that really inspire me. Shout out to Naff Sacks, Envelope Bag Works, Wizard Works, Straight Cut Design, and Jordan at Big Top, who really helped me out when I was first getting started.

“I guess the goal in the back of my mind has always been to expand to doing more than just bags, but at the moment it’s all I have time for.”

Tell us something about Mack Workshop that most people don’t know.

Mack Workshop is intentionally an ambiguous name because I didn’t want to pigeon hole myself into doing just bags. I guess the goal in the back of my mind has always been to expand to doing more than just bags, but at the moment it’s all I have time for. Another thing is that I have very few things written down. My measurements and patterns are almost all in my head, except for things where I need a template to draw around like the Universal Frame Bag or the Saddle Bag. It does mean if I haven’t done something for a while it’ll be slightly different from the previous one since it’s all got to be remembered and things have a habit of changing!

Is it just you or a team of people?

It’s just me, it’s always been just me, and if it wasn’t just me it wouldn’t be Mack Workshop anymore. I don’t even let my friends or family help me cut fabric, it has to be all me!

Who are your target customers?

Anyone who appreciates quality handmade bags. You don’t have to be a cyclist, in fact, I have made bags for a few of my friends at the gym because they appreciate what I do and want to support me.

Which is your favourite bag?

I’m not sure about a favourite, it’s probably the new Bar/Bum Bag though, or the Stem Bag as they’re simple to make and are so useful. I can tell you my least favourite is the Top Tube Bag, every time I make one it’s such a painful experience! I’ve actually simplified it overtime to make it easier to make but I still put off doing them for as long as I can!

How many pieces in your current range?

About 15, I think.

Are you looking to expand the range?

Always, but only if the product is right. I’m not going to make stuff just for the sake of it.

Which product is most in demand?

The Bar Bag, without a doubt. I’ve always got a backlog when it comes to making Bar Bags!

Bar Bag

Do you do many custom bags?

I do custom frame bags probably once every 4-6 weeks, and custom bags on occasion. A lot of my stuff is minor customisation, additional pockets, different colours, that kinda thing.

What fabrics and hardware do you use and why?

I use Cordura and VX21 for my fabrics and ITW Nexus hardware. My velcro I’m not sure of the brand of, and same with my zips. I use Cordura because it’s such a sturdy material and it takes abuse pretty well, plus it’s water-resistant. I use VX21 because it’s what everyone else uses, and people like the fancy diamond pattern! Plus it’s a good material, it’s nice and light and it has decent abrasion resistance and water resistance.

How do you come up with new ideas?

My brain is always coming up with new ideas and I’m not really sure how. Sometimes it’s inspired by other people, sometimes it’s something I want for myself. The advantage of being able to make my own bags is that if I think of something or see something I like the look of I can just sketch it up on paper and then convert it to fabric. Most of the time I don’t even draw things, to be honest, I just make it.

“My brain is always coming up with new ideas and I’m not really sure how.”

Who else is making stuff that you admire?

As I said earlier, Sophie at Naff Sacks is doing really great work with her classic style roll-top frame bags which are a very different aesthetic to what I do. Harry at Wizard Works is another guy who’s doing some really cool stuff, but I follow too many people on Instagram to shout them all out. Chances are if I’m following someone on there, it’s because I like their work! That’s not just restricted to cyclists either, I follow jewellery makers, people who are doing custom aprons, there are all sorts of stuff that I find inspiring to be honest!

Do you sponsor any riders or have brand ambassadors?

I have a few friends who get a bit of discount here and there and have supported riders in the past, but there’s not anyone who’s currently a rider/brand ambassador. It’s really tough to manage that kind of stuff when you’re a one-man-band with a 4 week lead time!

Do you sell your bags direct or through shops and distributors or both?

Almost everything is direct. I have tried shops but it’s so difficult staying on top of that stuff again for the same reason as before. When a shop comes out of the blue and says they want 10 Frame Bags it pushes all my other orders back and it’s just not manageable. The one exception is Forever Pedalling / Business As Usual who sometimes hold Road Rolls and Jersey Pouches, but that’s only when Tim asks me!

I see you did a workshop at Business As Usual in Bristol last month? Tell us more about that.

I was actually inspired by Katherine Moore (katherinebikes on Instagram) who reached out to me asking for some advice about how to make herself a new holdall since hers had broken. I wrote up a 2500 word tutorial for her and figured that was that. A few days later the idea of putting on a workshop came to mind, so I asked some friends, through the idea out there on Instagram to see what people thought, and the reaction was great! I just want to give back to the people who have supported me for the last 5-ish years of running this business. There’s no reason for my knowledge to be kept a secret, if anything I want to inspire people to start making things of their own, be it bags, clothes or whatever, and I thought the best way to do that was to run a workshop so people can get over the fear of learning a new skill. I know so many people who are afraid to try new things because they’re going to be bad at it, so why not teach them how to sew, and who knows, they could start the next Alpkit, or Talbot Frameworks, Colourburn Studio, whatever it might be, because they had the confidence to learn something new.

What’s next for Mack Workshop? What’s new? Anything exciting in the works?

More workshops (the next one is the 23rd August), some personal projects, but to be honest, more of the same! Creating cool bags for my amazing customers.

Do you have any advice for aspiring bag designers/makers?

Don’t be afraid to mess things up. I made plenty of mistakes when I started, I still make them to this day, but they’re what help you grow. Also just because you’re bad at something, doesn’t mean you always will be! Buy a sewing machine, buy some fabric, make some mistakes, make some bags, and have fun! The more you do it, the better you’ll get.

What are your website address and social media contacts?

There are a twitter and facebook page but I use them so rarely it’s not worth following them.

What’s the best way for people to get in touch?

The best way is for people to knock on my door and force me to talk to them! I am terrible at replying to emails, but is where you’ll get me. Please DON’T DM me on Instagram, or facebook, managing emails is bad enough, having to manage other inboxes to is just an absolute nightmare.

Posted in Industry Interview