Where I Work: Moop

This month’s Where I Work features Wendy Downs of Moop, a company that handmakes bags for men, women, and kids. Downs started Moop in early 2007, within a year of graduating college with a degree in photography. Her first studio was located in a converted mill building in western Massachusetts and she sold on Etsy. Today, the team designs and manufactures every bag, start to finish, in their studio in Pittsburgh, and Moop has its own online shop. Let’s see where the Moop magic happens.

What is your typical work style? 

I would say I am haphazard, but I control it with a tight schedule. I used to think I could balance everything with my creative approach to organization. Turns out those two thing are often opposing forces. So, for the last few years, I have worked on a tight daily schedule from 7 AM to 5 PM. (Having employees helps me keep  to this routine.) But, I tend to have my most creative energy early in the morning, when no one else has arrived in the studio, before I look at my daily to-do list.

Do you listen to music?

We listen to a lot of audio books, podcasts, and radio news (more of the latter leading up to the election; so glad it’s over so we can get back to our more creative listening instead of anxiety-filled listening).

What’s the studio environment like?

Our studio is a mixed-use production space. We have designed and built most of the studio and production furniture in our space. We tend to use economical materials then use great finishing techniques. Elevator bolts, planed 2 x 4s, 5 x 5 sheets of baltic birch ply, OSB board that has been planed, planked, beveled, and urethaned. Our work desks have all been custom fit to the walls we built within the space to allow for ample table top space.

Do you have your own office?

My desk space is semi private from the rest of the studio production space. There is so much conversation in the studio that it helps me to focus on the non-production side when I am removed from the conversation. But, the majority of my time is spent building bags with my team. Our sewing machines are arranged around our central staging table so we can all see each other. The work we do is rather repetitive. We balance this with lots of podcasts and conversation. It’s my favorite part about the studio. It’s sometimes hard to pull myself away from the conversation and production side to do the more office-oriented work.

How long have you been in this space?

Moop has been in many studios over the years (our Flickr page documents all of our transitions). We have gone from small space, to large space, to small, and back to large. We are currently in a large open warehouse studio which we designed and built out ourselves prior to moving in. We have a lot of space for growth, experimentation, and parties!

Where did you work before that? 

Our last space was a very small store front studio which we approached as an experiment in Main Street manufacturing. For us, it felt more like working in a fishbowl than teaching about small manufacturing. Now, we have a space much more conducive to the type of work we do, and we’re better able to invite people in to see what we’re up to.

If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?

Air conditioning. Seriously! Air conditioning has made it possible for people to work efficiently during long hot summers. I would like to be one of them.

How do you record ideas? 

My pattern book has been the closest thing to a sketch book lately. I have a slew of handwritten sticky notes all over my desk and laptop to remind me about ideas, new and ongoing. Once I start working on something, it generally gets a page in the back of my pattern book.

Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?

Moop designs and manufactures canvas bags, so we have a studio full of sewing machines, snap presses, vinyl cutters, bolts and bolts of fabric, and cutting tables. My husband also shares the space with me; he has a full wood shop and electronics studio. He is an artist and musician and builds a variety of things; most recently a series of self playing instruments.

What tool do you most enjoy using in the design process? 

It might be obvious—my sewing machine. I sew samples in the fabric I imagine it to be in its finished state. I don’t like to sketch sew with muslin. It is good for draping garments, but does not translate well for bag making. I have lots of experiments around the studio. I keep all of them to remind me of what I have tried, what worked, and what needs work. It’s kind of like a tangible sketch book.

Let’s talk about how you’re wired. 

We have a pretty standard set up: 15″ MacBook Pro, iPad for studio sound, iPhone for mobile everything. Not too interesting. But, let’s talk sewing machines! We have 5 Juki, custom gauge set, twin needle machines, all self oiling and operating with servo motors. An array of bench mounted snap presses, arbor presses, a leather strap cutting machine, a wide variety of center finding rulers (, two vinyl plotters which read vector based files, an industrial heat press, and a gravity feed iron. I could go on…

Do you have a favorite piece or collection that you’ve designed?

A few years ago I started working with waxed canvas and it has changed everything about how I think about bags. It’s an incredible material. I started out translating all our original designs into waxed canvas, and now I’m doing the opposite—translating our newest waxed canvas designs into brushed canvas. It is my favorite material— durable and malleable, with an immediate broken-in quality. The first waxed canvas bag I carried, our Messenger no.3, was like nothing I had ever had. I was so excited!

When did you feel like you “made it”? With what piece? At what moment/circumstances?

We launched our business with our Market Bag, which came about via an accident from another project I was working on. I guess I felt like I had made it when I saw so many people on Etsy were ripping us off. So many that it spawned an entire category collection on Etsy called “Market Bags.” It frustrated me in the beginning. I embrace it now. And ignore it.

Do you use any of your pieces? 

Everyone in my household and friends’ households carry Moop bags. Not only do we love them but, it’s also a great way to beta test them. I appreciate the honest feedback everyone gives me.

Marni Elyse Katz is a Contributing Editor at Design Milk. She lives in Boston where she contributes regularly to local publications and writes her own interior design blog, StyleCarrot.