By Fiona Rintoul

Many businesses start small, but not that many begin with the founder cycling around Glasgow rifling through skips for old bits of material. Such was the genesis of waxed canvas bag maker Trakke, which was founded in 2010 by Glasgow School of Art (GSA) graduate Alec Farmer, whose original mission was to make a cycling bag for himself.

“I made one and it wasn’t right, and so I kept going,” he says.

In search of perfection, Mr Farmer, who at the time was still a GSA design student and “broke”, ended up making around 250 bags, using salvaged material from old sofas and suitcases. When his flatmate suggested he sell them at the Barras, he rented a spare stand and “got rid of some bags”.

For two years, he then made bags, which, by his own admission “weren’t that good”, selling them at the Barras. Gradually, he took bag making more seriously and in 2011 gave the bags the brand name of Trakke, which reflects the association with cycling.

In 2012, Mr Farmer decided to try to make Trakke work as business, relaunching with a range more akin to the high-quality waxed canvas bags now associated with the brand and opening a small workshop in Finnieston with two machinists. For a few years, it was “very hand to mouth”, and a small parental loan enabled Mr Farmer to keep the business going as it grew organically.

“We were working each month to make sure we could pay everyone at the end of the month,” he says.

At this stage, strategic collaborations with the likes of Harris Tweed, Timorous Beasties and Isle of Jura whisky helped to grow the company and expose it to an international audience. In 2015, Trakke secured private equity investment from the UK Manufacturing Accelerator and moved to larger premises at SW3G. It took on more staff, and a business began that today sells bags in 65 countries and achieves 60% of its sales outside the UK.

“Today, we are not that market stall in the Barras,” says Mr Farmer. “We sell almost everything online. Twenty-five percent of our sales are in the USA.”

In many ways, Trakke exists because of online sales. Mr Farmer “never wanted to be in the luxury bracket”, but manufacturing bags in Glasgow, as far as possible with UK-sourced materials, isn’t cheap. The waxed canvas for the bags comes from Dundee, the cotton webbing from Derbyshire and the recycled stainless-steel buckles from Wales. E-commerce allows Trakke to use these British materials while maintaining a reasonable price point.

“What I hadn’t realised as a student is that it’s expensive to make things here,” says Mr Farmer. “The margins for retail are not built for British production.”

Trakke now has 13 staff, with nine working in production. In broke even in 2017-18, which has enabled it “to scale in a more controlled way”. It is growing at a rate of 60-70% a year and will need more staff next year. They may come from the Scottish colleges with which the business has a good relationship.

“That rate of growth requires a bit of management,” says Mr Farmer, who is currently looking to fill out Trakke’s board with more expertise and praises the supportive Glasgow business start-up community. “At the very least, you need to look six months ahead for production.”

Indeed, business growth will probably mean new premises and perhaps more funding for the company in the next five years. In the meantime, Trakke already vindicates Mr Famer’s advice to entrepreneurs, which is to “get stuck in” and bring a minimum viable product to market.