By Justin Huang
While preparing for a local crit in 2009, Eric Fischer wanted to carry his tubular racing wheels in a backpack. So he sewed a pair of shoulder straps onto a wheel carrying case, creating his first bag.
The wheel backpack sparked a fascination within Fisher. He started researching cycling backpacks, paying close attention to their assembly and ergonomics. Soon, he crafted his own designs.
Now the 22-year-old spends eight hours a day sewing backpacks in his workshop at Berkeley, California. Fischer is the sole founder, owner and worker of Inside Line Equipment.
Inside Line Equipment specializes in bicycle commuter backpacks. Fischer’s bags have a rectangular utilitarian design and are constructed out of sturdy cordura and waterproof vinyl. Inside line Equipment backpacks are available at ilequipment.com and select retailers, prices range from $180 to $360.
Fischer said he receives enough orders to stay in business, he recently sold backpacks to customers in Japan, Australia and Belgium, but not enough orders to hire additional employees.
“I can’t sew for more than 10 hours a day,” said Fischer. “I start hallucinating after 10 hours.”
I visited his workshop to see the one-man-factory in action.
When there is a wheel, there is a way
Fischer is 6’4’’ tall and his limbs are as thin as baseball bats. His physique reflects his cycling background: he was a Category II cyclist racing for Team Clif Bar Cycling in 2010 and Team Safeway Bicycle Plus in 2009.
Fischer said he always liked building things. He constructed a two-story tree house during middle school and an elephant sized BMX half pipe during high school, but he had no handicraft experience.
“There are sewing and fashion classes out there but I like making my own patterns, doing my own research and figuring out how things work by myself,” said Fischer.
For all of 2010, he drew hundreds of sketches, tested dozens of prototypes and practiced sewing until operating a sewing machine was as easy as riding a bike.
Out of the nest
Fischer originally worked in his parent’s house but eventually the business needed a space of its own.
“It takes an awful a lot of space to run a sewing production facility,” said Howard Fischer, Eric’s father. “There are all sorts of material and machines, it’s not something you can do in a space of a small bedroom.”
When Fischer expanded production from his bedroom to the dining room, Howard repelled him back like a warring general. Howard didn’t want the house to turn into a factory.
To have adequate working space, Fischer moved to a 900 square ft. studio in Berkeley. Bundles of fabric, a large cutting table and two sewing machines transformed the studio into a workshop.
The workshop also doubles as Fischer’s home, his bed is just a few feet away from his sewing machines. Fischer joked the best part of working at home is sewing immediately after he wakes up.
Howard said he is proud of his son’s independence. Fischer didn’t borrow any money from his parents. He purchased all the equipment, including a $1,600 sewing machine, with the money he earned as a bicycle mechanic.
An artisan in an industrial world
Fischer said it’s hard being a small company in an industry geared toward mass production.
“No one wants to sale you ten buckles, you got to buy 200 of them,” said Fischer, pointing to a black buckle on his backpack.
Fischer sells only 10 to 20 backpacks a month, so buying large quantities of fabric and parts is costly for him.
Acquiring equipment for heavy duty sewing is also difficult.
“This is not used by the majority of people that sew,” said Fischer, referring to a small metal cutter. “So it’s not something you can buy at a crafts store. I found it in a sailing shop.”
Fischer said he spends extra time and money on quality materials and machinery because he wants to make a durable product.
“This could sit in someone’s back for 15 years,” said Fischer, holding up one of his backpacks. “Or sit in someone’s closet, that hurts me.”
Handmade in the Bay
Without money to hire additional workers, Fischer, who still works as a bike mechanic to supplement his income, spends most of his time sewing. He said his girlfriend is frustrated by his long working hours, but Fischer said his hands-on production insures high quality.
“You can definitely tell they are handmade,” said Tobeano O’Neil, an owner of two Inside Line Equipment backpacks. “It’s not a mass produced thing, where lots of times, you get little threads that come undone.”
Being a small company also gives Fischer the flexibility to create custom bags. He built a backpack designed specifically to carry a model lightsaber for a Star Wars enthusiast.
Most importantly, Fischer likes his job.
“I’m doing it because I really like making bags, I really like making things, I like packing things and sending them out,” said Fischer. “Not because I want to make lots of money.”
A major in cycling
Fischer, who dropped out of college after one year, credited competitive cycling for preparing him to run a small business. He said following a training plan, having racing goals and being accountable to his teammates taught him discipline, long term planning and responsibility. Fischer is riding recreationally this year but intends to race again in 2012.
If business picks up, Fischer plans to hire employees and expand into cycling apparel, such as jackets and jeans tailored for cyclists. In the meantime, he says he enjoys making backpacks for people.
“I love seeing people ride around wearing my bag,” said Fischer. “I haven’t sold that many yet, so it’s rare but very exciting.”