You could easily peg Denver’s Topo Designs as jumping onto the retro-styling bandwagon with their simple, vintage-inspired packs and outdoor accessories — they’d certainly look natural side by each with the Herschel packs at Urban Outfitters. But Topo’s pared-down styles aren’t born from a trend, but from the desire to find value in simple functionality.
Topo Designs’ LEED-certified factory is nestled at the foot of the Colorado Rockies, between the hipster-haven Baker neighborhood and the Santa Fe warehouse district. “We use or wear everything we make all the time,” says Jedd Rose, who co-owns the company with Mark Hansen. “If we don’t use it or wear it, we’re working on it to make sure we will.”
In building Topo, Rose and Hansen drew inspiration from French ski gear and Americana-inspired bags from Japan, churning out prototype after prototype before perfecting their first bag in 2008, an early version of what became their Mountain Bag.
“We were looking for a mountain-inspired bag that could be a daily hauler for us when we were riding to work or on quick weekend trips,” says Rose. Soon after, they released the smaller Mini Mountain Bag, which Rose says is still probably his favorite piece in the collection.
“We’ve always gravitated toward simpler products and more minimal ways of doing things,” says Rose. “And those restrictions very often end up forcing us to create the minimal, functional things we enjoy most.”
It’s a good thing Rose and Hansen have simple tastes, because that’s been the key to the company’s ability to keep production in the U.S. “It’s a very challenging endeavor to be in the outdoor gear world and make things in the U.S. and still come in at a price that isn’t luxury or exclusive,” says Rose.
The solution has been to make bags that are stripped to the very basics. “Labor is a huge part of the cost, so we need to make sure our designs are simple so we can still keep the products affordable. We need to be very conscious of every part, piece, and detail of a bag because they are all much more expensive to do here in the U.S.,” says Rose.
Being a small company also puts limits on the fabrics and hardware Topo Designs can buy, Hansen explains, whereas larger companies can have everything custom made. But the folks at Topo Designs thrive on the design challenges that presents, creating solutions from what’s available to them, no matter how narrow that might be.