- Waxed Canvas Bags : History and Heritage Reimagined in Builford Backpacks
- WWaxed canvas is the kind of material that feels timeless. That’s why waxed canvas bags have a natural vintage flavor. However, a large part of that feeling comes from the bag’s design.
The most famous brands using waxed canvas, such as Barbour, Belstaff, and Filson, all favor old fashioned safari, hunting, or military-like styles. They primarily take their inspiration from traditional knapsacks, haversacks, and the like.
Builford also incorporates design ideas and elements from these kinds of bags, and we are proud to exclusively provide waxwear products. However, what makes Builford special is that we don’t just copy designs from the past. We are one of the few brands exploring different, more modern ways of working with the fabric, taking the lessons and ideas from history and reimagining them for a modern context.
- History and Heritage: Where Does Waxed Canvas Come From?
- Waxed canvas, also called ‘waxed cotton,’ is a process of infusing or applying beeswax into the cloth. This makes the material more durable as well as waterproof. That’s why its first use was primarily in the shipping industry in England and Scotland.
But even if you don’t know the exact origins of the fabric, it’s easy to picture waxed canvas being around for a long time. It seems to fit in black and white photographs, a world apart from the sleek, high definition present. One pictures the first pioneers in America going west with a waxed canvas knapsacks, or a waxed canvas saddle bag with the first cowboys wrangling buffalo in the wild west.
Although it seems like it’s been around forever, waxed canvas as we know it isn’t quite that old. The top manufacturer of the material, Martexin, got started in the 1930s just after the Great Depression. Waxed cotton was certainly around before that in the shipping industry, as mentioned above.
However, the Martexin family business focused on creating a material that would work for smaller items, such as bags and backpacks.
What is truly remarkable about the Martexin brand is that, like the material it sought to perfect, it is incredibly durable. Almost a hundred years later, the Martexin family still continues to work on the material, developing it further, modernizing it, improving it. The recipes they use have been passed down from generation to generation, each new generation improving on the previous one.
Builford waxed canvas bags exclusively use Original Martexin Waxed Canvas™. In fact, we partnered directly with Martexin to create a slighter thinner, more flexible version of the material. While we loved the look of the material already, we felt that it was a bit too rigid for our designs. Our goal was to create a modern version that drew from the heritage and history, but also looked forward to the future.
The vision was to create a fusion of past and future, and use the waxed canvas as both fashion and function. Builford aims for its bags and backpacks to have the same durability and strength as the first rugged rucksacks that used waxed canvas. But we also aim to create fashion accessories that can be just as home in the city, in the office, or at a party as they are in the woods.
That’s why we wanted a slightly modified version of the great Martexin material. The difference is not very noticeable to the eye. But to the touch, our version is softer and more flexible. Waxed canvas can be a bit rough, and that’s why we wanted to smooth it down.
- When you look directly at the bag, however, our waxed canvas still has the same rugged quality that harkens to the past and brings out the vintage flavor. You can see the faint grid patterns and the material moves in a particular way. It has a satisfying weight to it.
In a nutshell, that’s where the waxed canvas we use comes from. While we don’t believe in only looking backwards, it’s important to us to honor the past and the learnings it brings.
That’s why we named one of our first backpacks the Classic Backpack.
- The New Classics of Waxed Canvas Fashion
- Merriam-Webster defines the word Classic as “serving as a standard of excellence : of recognized value,” or something “traditional and enduring.” In art and fashion, classic is something iconic and timeless, something that can always fit with the times.
Call us dreamers, but at Builford we want our backpacks and bags to be classics. Of course, only time can tell if they will. However, we’ve worked exceptionally hard to ensure that our waxed canvas bags have the staying power they need to last.
It was with this hope and this determination we named the Classic Backpack, one of the first backpacks Builford ever released.
- The Classic Backpack has elements of both past and present incorporated in the design. Actually, most of the defining elements of modern backpacks were created for convenience and efficiency. That’s why manufacturers switched buckles and flaps for zippers, for example. It does make things easier, certainly, but now all backpacks have the same shape!
At Builford, we try to find new ways to solve these kinds of problems in order to maintain a unique look, but without the hassle.Let’s take the Classic Backpack as an example. We liked the shape and feel of a drawstring-style closure with a flap top.
This kind of closure is very common in old knapsacks, seeing as zippers didn’t exist or weren’t widely used at the time. However, we knew that using buckles for the flap would be too cumbersome and take too much time to open. That’s why nobody uses buckles anymore – if there’s anything we prize in the modern world, it’s those extra few seconds!
We kept the buckles in the end. But then we hid magnetic snaps underneath. Instead of unbuckling every time, the flaps just snap shut. Indeed, it worked so well we did the same thing for the front and side pockets! When everything is closed, the buckles give a decidedly vintage flavor.
- Then, as a bonus, we added a zipper on the back side, all the way down the main compartment. This way, users don’t even need to open the flap or the drawstring to access the inside of the backpack. To keep with the aesthetic we chose a metal zipper, which actually lasts longer as well.
Actually, we liked the side zipper so much, we’ve added it to most of our backpack models!
This example of the zippers and buckles is just one way Builford balances the old and new. We like to ensure that whatever decisions we make for aesthetic purposes also have functional outcomes. After all, a backpack that only looks nice is no use to anyone.
That’s also why we focus on the inside of the bags as well.
- The Builford Craft Inside Out
- There’s another thing from history Builford took into its process. It’s something that adds to the overall vintage quality of the bags, however, it’s not something tangible. It’s not a design concept, or even a material.
It’s a way of working.
The notion and trade of craftsmanship is decidedly an old-fashioned idea. Our world now moves too quickly for craftsmen. Efficiency wins over quality, and in the meantime scientists race to design robots and machines that can give us both. Science fiction dreams of ready made everything with the touch of a button, the pinnacle of modern development.
In that sleek chrome future, there never seem to be any craftsmen. The joys of making something with human hands is mostly lost these days. Builford, however, knows that there still is a lot of value in the human touch – probably more than we can imagine.
After all, when you get something made by a robot, it’s nothing more than a product. When you get something made with human hands, by someone with real knowledge, experience, and talent, it has a quality and feel that is altogether different.
Builford has had to make some compromises along the way in this regard. We’ve struggled with questions like how to balance craftsmanship with demand and how to handle increased sales and keep reasonable prices.
At the beginning, all our bags were hand-cut, assembled, and sewn. As demand increased, we had trouble keeping up with this approach. Eventually, we found a solution consistent with our mission to balance past and present: Now, our bags are machine-cut and hand-assembled.
Fortunately, those first steps as fully craftsmen-style bags have left some traces. We’ve been adamant about keeping them as we go forward. Two of those traces are an attention to small details and quality inside and out. Here’s an example:
Many customers, upon first exploring their new waxed canvas bags, are impressed by a simple detail we add to almost all our bags: pen loops in the pockets.
It’s such a small thing, and yet it makes a difference! It adds order, helps with organization, and gives a sense of attention and care to the whole bag.
Pen loops might seem insignificant in the big picture. However, they tell a story of craft and consideration that is reflected in a larger way.
When it comes to the interior of the bag, for example, this approach is definitely not insignificant! We make sure that the inside of the bags look just as good as the outside.We use a durable, fabric lining that’s soft and smooth to the touch. It doesn’t tear or rip, one of the big ways backpacks generally fail.
The same attention to detail that led us to put pen loops in the pockets is always present in the interior organization. The majority of our backpacks and messenger bags have laptop sleeves, another nod to modernity we make sure to include. This is a padded compartment with a Velcro strap to keep your computer secure.
Of course, if you’re only using a waxed canvas backpack for hiking and camping, you won’t be needing that laptop sleeve! But that’s the beauty of Builford. You might indeed use it for camping, and take it to school in the city the next day. For the latter, you definitely need that laptop, and you need a place to keep it safe.
- Beyond the laptop sleeves, we also include document sleeves, mesh pockets, secret zip pockets, and other interior organizational tools to keep your life in order. Many other brands tend to pass off extra pockets as organization, especially in the military/hunting style.
Builford, on the other hand, prioritizes minimal external pockets and more interior possibilities. It’s easier to find later, and keeps your valuables safer.
While Builford bags are no longer made fully by hand, they have the feel and quality of a true hand-made product.
- The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of the Parts: Adding It All Up
- How to make a top bag that balances past, present, and future? When it comes to Builford, the ingredients are the following:
- A heritage material that’s been revamped, reimagined, and reworked with respect and care;
- Carefully chosen design elements that blend with the vintage concept but don’t compromise functionality;
- A high quality interior with extra attention to organizational tools; and
- A craftsmen-like approach to production and development.
- When you put all of these elements together, the resulting waxed canvas bags really are stunning in their appearance and user-friendliness. We’re proud of how we’ve incorporated the history and heritage, but set it a modern context. Fans of the traditional waxed canvas look can enjoy this bag, just as much as people who have never set foot in the wilderness!
So, will our Classic Backpack become a classic? That’s not up to us in the end, only time can tell that! We’ve done everything we can to ensure that it will be. But of course, we know there’s always more to improve, and we’re still learning and improving. If not the Classic Backpack, perhaps our other rucksacks or bags will stand the test of time.
Get your own unique waxed canvas backpack at our online store. Each of our bags comes with a lifetime guarantee. Builford: Built to Last.
Tags: Waxed canvas bags, waxed canvas backpacks, waxed canvas rucksacks, vintage rucksacks, vintage waxed canvas rucksacks, vintage backpacks, knapsack, waxed canvas and leather backpack, hiking backpack, student backpack