Rob Heule can be seen in the latest Line Traveling Circus episode, sliding on indoor handrails in England with his unique style. Taking that originality with a little ingenuity, Heule, 22, and his brother are launching RAD Packs (Recycled All Denim Backpacks). When he's not skiing in the streets or for the cameras, Heule is cutting and sewing thrift-store bought jeans into backpacks in his garage in Calgary, Alberta. We caught up with Heule to discuss his latest venture.
POWDER: I like your backpacks. Tell me about how they're made.
Rob Heule: I was looking into making a backpack. I've always been kind of into sewing. My mom taught me how to do it when I was younger. I'd get frustrated with it and have her finish my projects. I didn't have the patience. As I've gotten a little bit older, I started doing more projects and I looked around for pattern that would be good for one. But you can't really find a pattern for backpack. I started looking at older packs that belonged to my parents when they were younger. It didn't look too hard, the sewing looked somewhat simple, and I thought I could do it myself.
They are made of old pairs of jeans.
I dropped in and started making them. I put thought into what kind of fabric would be good for it. I was looking for something that wouldn't be too expensive to do the first one out of, yet something that would still be durable. There's a lot of denim kicking around thrift stores that nobody is using.
I was sewing in my parents' bedroom and I had the jeans laid out on the floor and was thinking about the design-aspect and how I could get all the pieces I need out of these pairs of jeans. It took a lot of thought.
How many pairs of jeans does it take to make a backpack?
I have two designs that I do. The original one I made, it's called the 15 Pack, that one takes two pairs of jeans. That top flap part uses the crotch zipper as a pocket. The paneling takes up the legs of the jeans. The zipper bag I've been doing called the Tombstone Bag, we're squeezing that out of one pair, which is super awesome.
How are these bags being received?
Pretty well, so far. I've been doing them for almost a year. I was taking orders through friends that wanted them. I was doing all the logistics behind it, getting them shipped out or just delivering them to people. All the bags are handmade by me and my younger brother Jay. We do it out of our garage at our house in Calgary. The website definitely helps streamline things.
Is there a ski influence? A lot of times when ski-focused brands come out they have a team and do that whole thing.
I'm definitely not trying to make it a ski brand, per se. Obviously the majority of my market has been within the ski industry because of my pre-exisiting network. But I think it's more of a style or fashion thing. It's not functional for skiing. It's a cotton backpack. You're not going to take it into the backcountry skiing with you.
It's got a hipster vibe to them.
Yeah, I guess so. I don't know if you're familiar with any of the bigger bag brands out there but the biggest one is a company called Herschel. They've done quite well. They're cool, but my only problem is I don't think the quality is there. They're made in China for eight dollars a pop then it's a massive mark-up for a shitty, cheap product. It caught on and people are into it, but I don't think the durability is there. By no means am I claiming that mine are indestructible, but I think being a handmade product with hand-selected materials, there's a bit more quality control.
What's the plan going forward?
I read that interview with Jason Levinthal on Newschoolers. It's a crazy, crazy long interview, but I read through the whole thing and one thing he said was that if you're trying to run a business, you don't want to be using your own hands to create the goods. I somewhat agree with that because I think time is one of your most valuable assets. I think time and effort will be put to better use if you're strictly doing R&D or creating new products and improving existing products and then having someone else manufacture them. Down the road, I'd like to find a factory in Canada that can produce the same high-quality goods that my brother and me are making. I'm just going with it naturally. I don't want to do any kind of big jump where I'm making like 30,000 bags in China and putting them in stores.