Designer Interview Series: LOWELL with Mathieu Mudie
Posted: Apr 21 2016
We had the opportunity to tour the Montreal Workshop of LOWELL with co-founder, Mathieu Mudie, and find out more about this Montreal-based bags and accessories line.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the origins of the LOWELL brand?
A: My wife, Rachel Fortin, and I actually began selling fur and leather products under the brand: Rachel F in the beginning. We opened a store named Lowell in Montreal, and this store carried Rachel F among other brands that included men's and unisex items.
We eventually wanted to branch into unisex and men's products, and began releasing capsule collections under the Lowell name. When we wanted to start a unisex bag and accessories line, it made sense to continue on with the Lowell name. We still run the Rachel F brand, but reserve more crafty products and small accessories for that line.
Rachel Fortin working with the Lowell team on a project
Q: Can you tell us more about the design background of you and Rachel?
A: Rachel is actually the one the deep design background. She studied fashion and specialized in fur while studying in Copenhagen.
Personally, I have degrees in Political Science and specialized in South America. I took a masters in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and was supposed to go back after returning to Montreal, but met Rachel, got married, and decided to grow this business together with her.
We started working with leather through fur at the beginning, and it kept growing from there. I'm really interested in this industry, and have learned so much throughout the years.
Due to our rapid growth, we have moved our workshop many times, and even in our current workshop, we expanded the space we occupy in the 3 years we've been here.
Mathieu Mudie discussing plans at their Montreal Workshop
Q: What was the inspiration behind Lowell bags for you and Rachel?
A: We really set off to making bags with ourselves in mind. We thought about what we wanted and needed in a bag and went through an organic process to produce the original silhouettes. Our design aesthetic is timeless modern contemporary design with a nod to heritage style.
Q: Can you tell us some of the signature features of Lowell bags?
A: We really wanted to make a roll-top bag, which resulted in the Davidson half-roll top backpack. We added features to make the bags convenient to use, like the zipper at the top of the Davidsen backpack to protect your items even if the top is not fully rolled up. We have also introduced a smaller full roll-top backpack for Fall '16.
The Fall '16 Dickson Roll-top Backpack
Lowell bags are identified by their modern and minimalist silhouette. We try to add as little hardware as possible to keep the bags as slick as possible. Even our zippers are covered to keep the lines smooth.
Q: Which bag styles are the most popular for men?
A: Of all the styles we carry, the Davidson and Fairmont backpacks are the most popular. We've had the Davidson bag since the beginning, and both backpacks have been the first to be carried by our major retailers.
The Fairmont (left) and Davidson (right) top-seller backpacks
As a side-note, all the names of our bags are based on streets in Montreal.
Q: Where do you source your leather and materials?
A: Social responsibility, sustainability, and supporting local businesses are really important to us. Our leather suppliers are Canadian. The leather tanneries are spread all over because it is getting harder and harder to find tanneries in Canada. We use tanneries in the US, some in Europe like Italy, and Uruguay. We also care a lot about our carbon footprint, so we try to work with environmentally friendly tanneries.
All the wool we are using for our new bag styles are made in Canada, and all the lining for our bags is produced in the US. Our hardware is made in the States, but because of our rapid growth, we are finally looking into producing our own hardware and custom leathers.
Even our production machines are Canadian; a lot of them are antiques.
Can you take us through the manufacturing process?
A: Sure. We have 2 teams in the production process: one for cutting and preparing, and one team for sewing and finishing.
Leather being spread out in preparation to measure and cut
We have long cutting tables to cut our fabric pieces, and a machine to to cut pieces from multiple layers of leather. We have separate sewing machines for leather and fur. Fur is always sewn together edge to edge, and the fur is brushed over to cover any stitches. There are separate machines used for placing rivets and hardware onto bags.
Leather puncher used for straps and smaller leather pieces
Our hot-stamping machines is an old Canadian antique. We produce custom plates for collaborations or special collections for hot-stamping the bags as well. The last 2 machines to show are our leather stripping machine (for backpack and and cross-body straps) and a special machine that thins out the leather along the edges of pieces to make them easier to sew together.
Leather getting shaved thin in preparation for sewing
To finish the exposed edges of leather on our bags, we use a special machine that uses friction and pressure to finish off the leather edges - providing a durable and clean edge.
Putting the finishing touches on the 'Dante' messenger bag
Q: Do you have any future projects in the works? Can we expect any new shapes/silhouettes?
A: We have a third development team that is devoted solely to developing new styles, silhouettes, and details. So we are always developing new styles, perfecting current ones, and moving forward. Some of the new products that you can expect include:
smaller leather products like phone cases
a new toiletry-style bag
travelling accessories like passport holders and cable organizers
a new 100% buffalo leather briefcase
silk-screen printed leather goods
Also, starting Spring/Summer '17 we will be selling in-season, meaning that you can buy the collection as soon as we show the new collection. We have been slowly working towards showing in season for a long time now, and it is not an issue with us because we produce in house at our workshop in Montreal, so our turnaround time is much faster and responsive. This allows us to be at the forefront of trends.
The FW '16 McGill Bag in 100% Buffalo Leather
Q: Will you be adding new stains/colours to your bag line-up?
A: For the current summer season, we introduced nude-stained leather. For Fall '16, we have wool/leather combos coming in. Think of varsity wools. There will be 2-tone red/tan bags and 3-tone black/cognac/off-white bags in the collection.
Q: From our research, we know that you are very environmentally conscious. What measures are you taking to lessen your carbon footprint?
A: We keep the production in-house and try to keep our suppliers local when we can. This allows us to avoid overseas shipping, which greatly reduces our CO2 imprint. Our tags are cardboard, and we are looking into using reusable cotton dust bags for our products. We currently are veggie tanning some of our leathers, and are looking to increase the use of this process.
We also care a great deal about our social responsibility when doing business. We are trying to work with tanneries and suppliers that operate with fair labour conditions. This is important to us because it is easy to say you're eco-friendly by changing the production method, but it is harder to implement socially responsible business practices.
The Lowell Team working together in their Montreal Workshop
Boys'Co would like to express thanks to Mathieu for taking us on a tour of Lowell's workshop, and we hope you've enjoyed a look into the background and behind-the-scenes workshop of this successful Canadian leather accessories brand. Make sure to visit our retail stores to check out these high-quality hand-made leather bags!