Craft Culture: Custom messenger bags at Trash

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A bag is sewn together at Trash Messenger Bags // Photo by Tj Turner

When Modist Brewing Company painted its trademark teal floor and started pouring beers this spring, Andy Larson, the 34-year-old owner and CEO of Trash Messenger Bags, had a front-row seat. That’s because the North Loop brewery is also his landlord.

Tucked into the narrow, low-ceilinged loft above Modist’s brewing tanks, the doorway and stairs leading to Larson’s custom bike-bag shop are crowded with toppled commuter bikes, oversized backpacks, and bright, reflective helmets. Inside, large wooden tables, Juki industrial sewing machines, plastic bins, and spools of thread dominate the 1,200-square-foot workspace, which Larson has christened the SewZone. This is where Larson and four others design and sew hip packs, tool pouches, messenger bags, backpacks, and food-delivery containers, fulfilling custom orders for students, commuters, and bicycle couriers from Hennepin County to Helsinki and Hong Kong.

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Trash Messenger Bags CEO and owner Andy Larson // Photo by Tj Turner

A few dozen massive rolls of nylon fabric lean against the wall that separates the shop from the brewery, framing a small window with pops of lime green, baby blue, and digital camo. Larson, broad-shouldered with a touch of gray in his red beard, cranks open the window—decorated with a sticker bearing his brand’s cartoonish trash can logo—and ushers in the familiar, bready scent of fresh beer. “Just let that waft in here,” he says, fanning the air with his hands and taking a deep, exaggerated breath.

Trash Messenger Bags dates back to 2008, when Larson first started making bags in his former South Minneapolis apartment. The company moved to a cramped space above what was Gardner Hardware, on Washington Avenue North, in 2010, but had to move out when the building was sold last fall for redevelopment. Which brought him here, to Modist. “They heard we needed to move and expand, so they made their loft available,” he explains. “We moved in here in January while they were still putting things together. There was a lot of yelling things at them, throwing paper airplanes. We don’t do that much anymore, because they seem busier now, but they’re great neighbors.”

Larson grew up in Moose Lake, Minnesota, the son of two self-employed ceramics artists. “They run everything together, craft everything together. I grew up around people making things all the time,” he says. “And that definitely informs what I’m doing.”

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Trash Messenger Bags // Photo by Tj Turner

His love of bikes comes from his childhood, too. “I rode a lot as a kid, because we lived out in the country and my parents didn’t want to drive me everywhere—to baseball practice or my friends’ houses,” Larson explains. When he moved to Minneapolis in 2000 to pursue his degree in political science at the University of Minnesota, he brought along his bike.

“I had a roommate who worked as a courier for Street Fleet, and he told me there was another opening. So I biked over and got the job, initially thinking, ‘Oh, this’ll be a sweet summer job!’ It’s not something you think you’ll want to do in the winter, but then you get sucked into it.”

Though Larson enjoyed working as a courier, and did so for 12 years, retiring only when he was ready to focus solely on his business, in 2014. “It’s rare the bike messenger who actually makes a career out of it, [but] a lot of people end up working in the bike industry. They like the community,” he says. “But you have to figure out what works for you, whether it’s starting your own courier company, working in a bike shop, or whatever.”

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Andy Larson at Trash Messenger Bags // Photo by Tj Turner

Larson first understood how he might remain connected to the cycling community for the long-term when he became dissatisfied with the single-shoulder messenger bags he was using to haul deliveries. The bags offered great capacity, but concentrated most of a load’s weight on just one shoulder. Larson knew better bags were available, and when, in 2008, he noticed nobody in Minneapolis was making them, he decided to try sewing his own—despite never having sewn before.

His first bags were roll-top backpacks with enough depth to accommodate 10-by-12-inch payroll envelopes, 30 or more at a time, all laid flat atop one another. He made the bags on a 1960s Singer home machine, its gears struggling with the tough materials—1,000-denier Cordura nylon and waterproof vinyl lining. “I broke a ton of needles,” Larson confesses. “[I] didn’t know what I was doing, and it was really easy to get frustrated.”

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Brendan Kennealy About Brendan Kennealy

Brendan Kennealy is a writing and PR professional who lives and works in St. Paul. Find him on Twitter here: @extrapalemale.

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