Matt Shurtleff, our Director of Product Development, has been building products at Rustico for over ten years. We were able to sit down with Matt and talk about the Dispatch Lunch Bag, one of the first products he helped design.
What was the motivation for creating this specific product?
The Dispatch was one of the first products I worked on and helped design after starting at Rustico. It’s not meant to be hyper-technical. What did people do before insulated lunch bags? They used a brown paper sack. You take it to work and if there’s a fridge at your work great; if there wasn’t then don’t take something that needed to be kept cold. It’s the same reason people still use pencils today rather than rollerball pens. Why do you shave with a straight razor when you have an electric one? Same idea behind it. This bag is not meant to meet-every-need. It’s meant to be a cool looking lunch bag. There were other bags out there at the time, but if I remember correctly this is the first product we tried waxed canvas on. It was before we made the High Line and the Journeyman Apron. We knew we wanted to try using waxed canvas and there were other lunch bags out there that were more plain. I was trying to figure out how to make something with volume.
Even in the ‘80’s, you didn’t really bring leftovers to work. You brought an apple; you brought a sandwich and chips. So again this was my first attempt and before Josh, our Lead Designer got here and it was me trying to create something that had volume. Most of the products we had up to this point were journals, sleeves, or luggage tags which are all very...flat. Our leather is so thick it’s hard to get volume out of it. Not many of our items “expand” so I tried to do something about that.
How did you come up with the name Dispatch?
Most of our early items dealt with traveling and exploring. The naming convention we had in place was all about traveling. We had the Traveler and the Nomad which refer to exploring. We’ve got the Trailheads, Switchbacks and the Wasatch after the mountains. It’s all about being on a trail or taking a journey. So the original name we gave this product was the Wayfarer Lunch Bag. We thought it was a good fit. If you’re going somewhere you need to take food with you. A wayfarer is a traveler. Back in the old days, a traveler would go from town to town selling something, exploring, or looking for work. He was a person on the move. So while the Wayfarer was an awesome name, there arose some unforeseen challenges that forced us to rebrand the product as the Dispatch.
What elements make this product unique?
I like that we decided to put the large leather piece on the bottom that reinforces the overall structure and gives the bag its shape. The notches that secure the flaps remind me of the same process of tying down a flag to keep it from tearing in a strong wind. So I think what makes this product unique is that it was the first canvas piece that we tried and the issue that we had with Ray BanⓇ make for an interesting backstory.
What’s the story behind the dilemma with Ray BanⓇ?
Well, I really liked that name Wayfarer. So it cruised along with that name for about six months and we were selling quite a few of them. Then one day in the mail we received a Cease and Desist letter from Ray BanⓇ, the sunglasses manufacturer. They told us that the use of the name Wayfarer on this product was stepping on their intellectual property. So we weren’t aware of this, but the name was already trademarked. Their most famous pair of sunglasses is called the Wayfarer. Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash and Elvis, and everybody wear this shape that now gets copied a lot. They felt that they had “eternal rights” to the name.
I’m not sure why they felt threatened by us. It’s kind of a compliment that they would spend their time and money to come after us. Maybe they see in us potential to one day steal some of their traffic.
So this issue was early enough in this product’s lifecycle that we decided it’s not worth the fight. If we had five or ten years of sales history and SEO and interaction with it we would have left it. But we ended up switching the name to the Dispatch. It’s a name I didn’t like as much at the time. This bag goes with you to a destination and has a purpose. That’s the idea behind it. I think we would have sold more of these if it had its previous name, however.
What problem(s) does this product solve? What aspects of the design process did you enjoy?
Again this was my first attempt at doing something with volume and so we decided to try a type of fabric that fit our look. We wanted a complementary material to the unique leather we were already using and needed something with enough weight and body. It had to have a rugged and authentic look about it. So we went and got some samples and it turned into a fun exercise on how to do volume with a heavy-duty fabric.
I learned how to sew from my mom when I was a kid. My mom’s a great seamstress and quilt maker so I understood the basic mechanics already. This bag is one where you have to sew it from the inside out. The sides are all sewn on the inside and then you flip it right side out and then you come back and stitch the outside edges together to give it these nice corners. The leather flap on the edge that bears the Rustico logo was one of our first attempts at doing some kind of identifier. It’s not something we stuck with for very long, but that’s ok.
Pictured above are some of the earliest prototypes of the Dispatch. The orange waxed canvas never made it past concept.
What other lunch bags are out there? How does this product set itself apart from the competition?
There are other reusable lunch bags out there. The Dispatch resembles the brown paper bag that you took your lunch to school in as a kid. There are a million bags that have a similar look that have popped up on Etsy. I feel like ours is unique though. The Dispatch has a unique closure that I prefer. A lot of other bags have a super simple design, but then again there’s not a lot to this bag anyway. So the Dispatch was meant to tackle the idea of creating something with volume and improve on some designs that were out there. This bag can really work as a multi-purpose bag similar to those reusable shopping totes that help to cut back of plastic, or in this case, brown paper bags.
Are there any elements you were anxious to get feedback on?
Being one of the first products I designed, I was interested to hear what people would think. But honestly, the only feedback I’ve heard on it is that it’s not insulated. But again we weren’t out to create an insulated lunch bag. It wasn’t something that we even planned on doing.
Some of our wholesale buyers have said they like the Dispatch for its unique look and design. Those same buyers have purchased them strictly as props for the storefronts because it draws people in and leaves them wanting to learn more.
Are there any features you would change looking back on it?
I think we could improve on the insides, maybe “beef” up the bottom. We make this entire bag in-house. Part of the problem is that we don’t have a line of lunch bags. This is the only one we’ve ever built. I think that it’s still pretty rough around the edges and a bit “unfinished.” It still works, so maybe an unfinished look is not necessarily a bad thing. If we make a line of these bags in the future then the Dispatch will fit in nicely with some similar items. We made this bag five years ago so it’s probably due for a new look. Overall I like it, but yes, the inside could be cleaned up a bit if I were to do it again.
We appreciate Matt taking the time to talk with us about the creative process behind the Dispatch.
Keep a look out for future posts as we discuss more products in our Backstory Series. The Dispatch is just one of our many items that make for excellent corporate gifts.