Pittsburgh-based Moop, the canvas bag brand, started out small. So it only made sense when founder Wendy Downs decided to open up a brick and mortar shop of the same name that it be built in the same manner. Moop’s downtown Pittsburgh shop combines the brand’s own manufacturing workshop as well as things made by other small companies that complement their canvas bags. It’s a well-curated collection that’s selective and deliberate, with minimalism and versatility shining through in every aspect just as Downs intends. We talked to her about what makes running Moop the shop different from Moop the brand, and what she’s learned in the process.
Why did you pick this neighborhood?
I am not a native Pittsburgher and as such, have spent my decade here living and working in many of its fantastic neighborhoods while I bounced around trying to find the one I loved most. For me, I landed right in the heart of downtown and instantly fell in love. It is entirely walkable, has every amenity I want from a small city neighborhood – a tiny independent grocery store, fantastic restaurants, a state park, bike trails that connect all over the city (and to Washington DC), expansive rooftop views, several rivers that run through it, and a couple hundred thousand people that work in downtown Pittsburgh who stop in my shop for bags, gifts, events that we host in the shop.
Where did you get the name for the store?
Years ago, before I knew what I was doing, or the longevity with which I would build this business, I needed a website and so I needed a name. I spent an evening writing and saying words and phrases and Googling each one to see what was available. Moop was what I landed on and I’ve built the brand around this nonsense word ever since.
Has it changed much since it opened? How?
I have been an e-commerce brand for 12 years. Three years ago we opened our walk-in retail manufacturing space in downtown Pittsburgh where we design and produce our bags, from start to finish. While the brand and bag collection have evolved in the slow and steady pace in which I work through design iterations, the storefront has evolved dramatically. When we first moved in, I was less interested in the walk-in store part of everything and more interested in building a beautiful space that I wanted to be in everyday while we all worked. I chose a location that is entirely tucked away and not in a business district, but not long after we opened, people found us and wanted to come in and shop! Because we make every bag in house and we are constantly shipping everything out the door, we don’t always have bag inventory on hand for walk-in customers so I built a store front focused on things I personally use, things that go in bags, small brands I want to support, and things that my walk-in customers want for their day to day workspaces. We carry brands such as MCMC, Odette, Appointed, Kinto, Phaidon books, apothecary items, stationary, the occasional plant, and a collection of ceramics that I’ve had custom made for the shop.
What’s one of the challenges you have with the business?
Scaling. We have been a true small business for over a decade. We have not taken on outside investment to fund growth, rather we have self invested profits back into the business to make slow and steady growth. But, there are plateaus in scaling when you deal in the manufacture of physical objects and it can be challenging to make the leaps that will bring you to the next level without feeling like you are risking it all. I am responsible for the livelihoods of a handful of super talented people who help me make our work happen everyday, and I try to be as careful as possible to mitigate risk to ensure that the leaps we take will land us safely on the other side.
What other stores have you worked in before opening this one?
I don’t have any experience with brick and mortar retail, I’ve been learning as I go! Which, I think, is a pattern in my life.
What’s your favorite item in the store right now?
We recently started carrying these Kinto thermoses and I rarely leave home without one. This past summer I was in Palm Springs, and it was 120 degrees every day we were there. I filled that thermos with ice and topped it off with water and my ice never fully melted. Plus, it fits perfectly inside the interior pocket of all our full sized bags.
What is this season’s theme/inspiration/story?
Do more, better.
Are you carrying any new products and/or undiscovered gems you’re particularly excited about?
Everything in the shop are things we personally use, artists we love, subjects we want to explore, and things that complement our bags. These espresso cups (seen above) were custom made for us by two of our favorite local ceramicists to help feed our tiny coffee addictions. We don’t always have time to stop for a whole cup of coffee during the production day, so we invested in an espresso machine for the crew. Around 3pm each day we all break for a quick espresso shot in one of these handmade cups, and it makes our days just a tiny bit better.
What’s been a consistent best seller?
The Backpack no.3 in sage rarely stays on our shelves. Every time we have one left over from a production run and it makes it out onto the storefront shelves someone walks in to take it home with them.
What’s your process for selecting + curating the objects in your shop?
I have focused on items that I personally use, items that complement our bags, and books and objects that are in line with our philosophy of art, music, social politics, and good design. This leads the way for a wide ranging collection of goods from art books to apothecary items.
Any special events/exhibits/pop ups/collaborations coming up?
We have a few bag collaborations in the works that we hope to release later this year. And I’ve been working on a series of pop-ups in fantastic cities all over the country, so reach out if you know of a fantastic shop in a fantastic city that we should partner with because we want to travel to your hometown!
Do you have anything from the store in your own home?
Yes! All of it! I start each day with a cup of coffee in a mug from my ceramics collection, I use all of our toiletries in my home, every book we carry is one that I personally love, I use our notebooks as sketchbooks and to-do lists, and I have converted over almost entirely to using Blackwing Pencils for everything.
What’s been one of the most fulfilling aspects in opening Moop?
Having our customers share their experience with our bags. When I began Moop, I had no idea the impact something like a bag would have on peoples lives and how willing they would be to share that with me. Opening those emails to read how much our bag has helped someone feel confident in a new job, or a new program of study, or in balancing the day to run around as working parents, or how much they appreciate the design and craftsmanship makes me and everyone at Moop feel very fulfilled. We love what we do and love when that gets noticed.
What’s one lesson you’ve learned since opening your store?
Walk-in retail manufacturing is very romantic. Sometimes you feel like you are working in a fish bowl with no piece of coral to hide behind. Other times you feel like you are on stage and the most charming person in the room. You have to be ready for every kind of person to walk through your door and be able to communicate what it is you do and why you do it. Even if you’re having a fish bowl kind of day.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to follow a similar path to yours, what would it be?
Be concise, focused, and superbly good at what you do. Don’t feel like you have to listen to everyone else’s good ideas. Make your own good ideas and follow through on them.
Visit Moop at 429 1st Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219