Creating USA-Made Cycling Bags for Super Cool Adventure Cyclists.
Fresh off of a five-day gravel bike camp full of technical descents and pace-line practice in Elgin, Arizona, Martina Brimmer reflects on how much adventure cycling — and her business — means to her. “We are working hard to bring female representation into the sport, as well as trans and gender binary representation. We currently aren’t doing the best job, but things are changing,” she said, adding, “We’re putting out a call to action.” For one, there is a movement to allow participants to compete in the category that best matches their gender identity.
Brimmer lives, eats and dreams cycling, and it shows in designs for her bag company Swift Industries. After starting the business in 2008 in her basement with her boyfriend (now husband), a sewing machine and a roll of fabric, Brimmer, CEO of the Seattle-based company, has 10 employees (six of which bike almost every day) and a full-fledged, global company.
Textile Insight digs into Brimmer’s quest to be better.
“We were born around the same time as Instagram and it has been such an exceptional driver of our growth,” commented Brimmer. For the first three years, she was a maker, and later morphed into a product designer. The 2016 Struktur event in Portland, OR marked a big change in terms of both connections made and the mission of Swift Industries. The exec reflected, “prior to that event, we had only seen ourselves as a cycling company. There was now this opportunity to come in as an outdoor company straddling outdoors and cycling. We were bewildered that no other brands were in that sphere.”
With all products designed and manufactured in an industrial workplace in the heart of Seattle, Brimmer is tied to the local landscape. She is heavily involved in Seattle Made, a cross industry platform for keeping manufacturing in the Emerald City. Current conversation centers on the dominance of technology and the struggles of urban manufacturing in the area. There is a small factory community thanks to Outdoor Research, REI and Filson, helping small cut and sew shops to keep operations running. “These factories are very approachable. At the beginning we had no tech packs, no knowledge and it just felt smart to cut our teeth with neighbors – meet face to face,” she said. Following a deal signed in 2019 with REI, Swift Industries’ 2020 collection is now being made in Seattle and Vancouver. “We continue to look for high quality cut and sew assistance in the U.S. to help us to scale,” Brimmer commented.
While tied to the local landscape, Brimmer has thought of fleeing. “Offshore is worth investigating for the centralized sourcing capabilities. It is a little painful that the factories we work with have no connection with our material sourcing,” she said. Domestic distributors currently meet volume needs, but as the business grows, she anticipates bumping into issues. “If we went to Vietnam, we would have the opportunity to hand over tech packs and do all sourcing, plus get textiles on the same campus versus the current situation of our production manager calling in every single parts order.” The administrative time and aggravation are palatable, with Brimmer noting, “That has been a real struggle.” Another issue in the mix is the lack of closed loop options in the U.S.
With 2020 designs just launched in March, Brimmer brought prototypes to cyclists at the February 2020 WTF Bikeexplorers Gravel Camp at the 8,000-acre Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch of the National Audubon Society for feedback. “I ride side by side and interact with people. Some can’t stand a jiggle on their bike. It is amazing intel for our design team,” she said. For 2020, Brimmer has made material improvements to three existing products. The best-selling Zeitgeist bag is being relaunched as a saddle and handlebar bag. The firm moved away from an outmoded attachment system as Brimmer’s team saw limitations caused by material selections – leather straps fed through entire bag (including the interior) with punches created weakness and compromised waterproofing. Designers turned to the sailing industry for ways to better reinforce bags to saddles, looking at how battens support sails. Swift Industries moved to CoverLite and streamlined manufacturing processes by introducing laser cut and die cut components. Voile straps replace leather, making the bag vegan. The Bandito saddlebag and Paloma handle bar bag were also upgraded for better integration with the bicycle.
“We are really ready internally to jump into a new cycling into soft mount bags in a very different way,” Brimmer commented. There are long term plans to move from being an exclusive cycling bag company to something bigger. “We are a community and events focused brand, and a well-regarded resource for adventure cycling.” Swift Industries recently started running an adventure sharing evening where presenters come into the company’s retail store to share routes, itineraries and stories. Around 200 people have attended each event. “It’s exciting to see climbers and mountaineering folks come in. United, we are all people who want to play outside,” Brimmer concluded.