Southern Field Industries Waxed Cotton Rucksack
I’ve been on a quest for the past couple of years — trying to find a properly useful yet still visually pleasing rucksack/backpack that I can use to haul around books or camera equipment and also use as a carry-on bag for air-travel.
And I found *a lot* of rucksacks online, with many from independent and small-business manufacturers. But none of them struck me as beautiful; or, if they were attractive, then they were too small, or made of bulky materials like very thick boot leather or heavy waxed canvases.
Southern Field Industries is a tiny accessories company out of Saitama, Japan, owned and operated by the husband/wife team of Manabu and Keiko Okada. Together, they manufacture and sell a small line of rucksacks, tote bags, messenger bags and wallets — all handmade in their workshop in Saitama.
Their rucksack immediately caught my attention because #1) it’s finally big enough to haul my camera and extra lenses around without being wilderness camping huge; #2) it’s decidedly durable yet terrifically lightweight due to its primary use of a breezy waxed cotton with a supple leather trim; and #3) the little things — from bright yellow pull cords to a tartan fabric lining to shining brass rivets and buckles — are an aesthete’s delight.
Which means a lot, because there’s no way in h*ll I was going to lug a bag around on my shoulder all day if it offended my eyes every time I stopped to grab something out of it.
Business guru Tom Peters often points out how design is everything, and that too many companies make a mistake in assuming their customers care more about the price tag than they do about the visual appeal of a product; in fact, he often exhorts big businesses to give the design team a seat at the main table, stating that the Chief Design Officer should be accorded the same status as the Chief Financial Officer.
While design critic and culture commentator Stephen Bayley points out that “People are interested in design, even if they don’t think they’re interested in design. That’s how we make choices,” and that “the most significant force in human affairs is emotional. It’s about ideas, passion, courage.”
So when thoughtful, intelligent, passionate designers pick up tools and enter the equation, the choices instantly become more intriguing.
Southern Field Industries products are, by nature of the DIY husband/wife operation, limited in production and not readily accessible for in-person viewing outside of a handful of unrelated shops scattered about the globe, but a good number of photographs for each item are provided on the SFI website (along with detailed descriptions of dimensions and materials), and the customer service is top-notch — responsive, friendly and efficient.
*NOTE: Though the SFI workshop is located in Saitama, Japan, they willingly ship to most parts of the globe, and I received a handwritten note on the packing invoice thanking me personally for my order. I love that about small family-run companies.
Okada’s fifteen years of experience in manufacturing saddlery for Japanese horse racing is behind his love of leather crafting (and explains the gorgeous saddle color of the rucksack’s leather trim), so he’s kind of like the indie Hermès, only, you know, not so focused on global market domination or feuding with Bernard Arnault.
You can find the full Flickr set of my SFI Rucksack pictures at the following link: Southern Field Industries Waxed Rucksack photos
And here’s a link to the SFI blog, updated regularly (with lush pics and the latest news) by Manabu and Keiko Okada: Southern Field Industries blog