Camp and Go Slow: Unhurried Class
Camp and Go Slow is a bike bag and accessories brand from Northern California co-founded by Casey Clark. We had the pleasure of chatting with Casey about how bag-making and pottery have similar energies, how he collaborates, and how we can all learn a little something from John Prine.
Admittedly, when I first came across Camp and Go Slow I didn’t realize the pun in its name. Only once I saw stickers in that vintage Campagnolo script did I make the connection to the legendary Italian brand. The whole idea of the name felt obvious once I knew, and how perfect it was. Looking at the products and presentation of Camp and Go Slow, it's hard to not see a sense of class and deep taste in everything they produce. These are not off-the-shelf products meant to use one season and be chucked in the bin—they are thoughtful, well-designed products that will only get better with time.
Which seems congruent with Camp and Go Slow’s co-founder, Casey Clark. Over the past few weeks, I have had the fortunate opportunity to work with Casey on this interview and really enjoyed the same cool classiness that Casey shares with his products. Getting a glimpse into Casey’s life to see how he and his partner live, has been inspiring for me. But I am getting ahead of things so let’s hop right into it.
How did Camp and Go Slow get started?
Camp and Go Slow started with some die-cut stickers cut out of scrap vinyl. I wasn’t trying to start a business or anything. I just thought they were funny and I was giving these stickers away to my friends. Then, my friends started giving them away to their friends, and eventually one of these stickers made it across the country to Jarrod Bunk (of Hope Cyclery and The Radavist). Jarrod tracked me down and tried to convince me to set up a web store. I said no because it sounded like a huge pain in the ass, but he eventually talked me into it and we ran the thing together for a couple of years. When Jarrod tapped out to focus on his bike shop, I kept it going, and now my partner Sarah and I run everything together.
How do you describe your business?
It’s a side hustle, but we try to keep the hustle to a minimum. I make my living as a potter, Sarah is a small flock sheep shearer, and we have Campandgoslow. It’s just two of us running all three businesses, and it’s a lot of work, so we try to keep Campandgoslow small and low-pressure. Even though it can be really challenging, we like juggling all these jobs; we just have to make sure none of them get too heavy to lift on our own.
Tell us about the name... it’s so good.
It’s equal parts reverence and jest. I really love the bikes, the fashion, and all the mythology that surrounds road cycling in the mid-century. At that time, of course, Campagnolo was the brand, so for me, it serves as a stand-in for that whole era and its aesthetic. At the same time, I’m not much of a roadie, I don’t take cycling very seriously, and I’ve never raced a bike a single day in my life. I mostly like to goof off in the woods and tour. I guess Campandgoslow is my way of trying to tie it all together.
Where do your product ideas come from?
I think everyone who’s really into bikes pedals around and dreams up stuff that might make the ride a little better. I’m the same. I also get to work with a lot of really creative, highly skilled people and more often than not, they're the ones really driving the designs. We lay out the basic parameters together and then I try to just get out of the way and let them do what they do best. I always end up with something better than what I had imagined, every time. There's some really amazing people in this business.
How do you choose which vendors to work with?
It’s always different. With the bags and the sewn goods, I’m usually just a big fan of somebody’s work and I’ll pitch a project to them and hope they say yes. Other times I’ll have an idea and I’ll just wait until the right person comes along. Sometimes I have to go hunt for the right vendor. In the beginning, I set a goal to have 50% of the stuff I sold made by women-owned companies, but it didn’t take long to figure out I’d be better off doing all my business that way. These days it’s probably around 80-90%.
It looks like your new products are already selling out. How does that feel?
I have mixed feelings about that. Of course, it’s deeply flattering that anyone buys any of this stuff at all, and every time we have a successful release it comes with this huge wave of gratitude that’s hard to beat. On the other hand, when something sells out quickly, it usually means that there are people out there who wanted to get in on it, and wanted to support us, and didn’t get the chance. I get bummed about that and it makes me wish I was better at forecasting demand. I don’t know how big companies make their predictions. I’m just guessing, and since we’re on a shoestring budget I tend to guess low.
What is the holy grail of products for you?
I’m always after the perfect bag and I love working with bag makers. I think sewing has a lot in common with pottery. Some days you’re exploring this precarious balance of utility and aesthetics, and it’s really exciting to design new things and develop production processes for them. Other times you’re in the shop making the same object over and over and over again, which can be comforting and predictable or monotonous and boring, depending on the day. I think the two jobs require a very similar kind of discipline, and even though I’m not very good at sewing I find it deeply relatable.
You know, one day I just looked down and realized my socks didn’t match my handlebars, and I couldn’t live like that anymore.
Outside of selling gear, what’s your thing?
Well, riding bikes, of course. I love that as much as I ever did. Cycling is one of those things that can evolve and grow along with you, and during different phases of my life riding has served different purposes. When I was younger it was a really social thing, and since I’m kind of shy it helped me mix it up with lots of people. These days I ride alone a lot, and it gives me a chance to get away from my work and think and process. I find it really stabilizing.
I also spend a lot of time working on our little pottery compound. We live on a four-acre patch of half-wild land. We have a garden and a little orchard. We keep a small flock of sheep and we share the place with a lot of wild critters. We’re always working on something around here...fixing up old buildings, irrigation projects, grazing schedules…it’s a lot to learn and everything is always changing. Sarah reads a lot of Wendell Berry and I watch YouTube videos of dudes pulling out tree stumps with their pickup trucks and we trade notes.
Any advice for humanity?
The first big project I tackled when I moved here was cleaning out this dilapidated old barn. It was about a thousand square feet and it was absolutely packed from wall to wall with garbage, packrat nests, and 30-something years worth of accumulated debris. It was a big, tough job and I was feeling overwhelmed, which must have been obvious to my friend Paul when he found me standing in the doorway wondering how to begin. Using his walking stick, he traced out a rectangle in one corner of the building, and he said “that’s about the size of the back of your pickup, work on that today” and then he patted me on the back and left me to it. I followed that advice every day, and by the end of the month, I had myself an empty barn.
Paul’s been gone a while now, but I still think about that all the time. I also listen to a lot of John Prine and try to follow his instructions very carefully.
Where is Camp and Go Slow headed?
I honestly have no idea. I love being a potter, and I don’t have any ambitions to make Camp and Go Slow a full-time endeavor. But I’m really enjoying it and I plan to keep it going alongside the pots for as long as it makes sense. Maybe someday, when everyone is riding around on e-hoverbikes, there won’t be any demand for the stuff I think is cool, and that’s fine. Maybe the hoverbikes will have drop bars and I’m still in the game.