For the past three years, Bryan Couchman has been making some of the slickest bike bags out there as Steady Co. based in Oklahoma City. We spoke with Bryan on being a designer, how he got started as a bag maker, his workflow and where it's all headed. Photos by Josh McCullock.
Steady Co. caught my attention immediately with its standout products and website. It was clear that the company was led by someone with a deep understanding of design, and that person is none other than Bryan Couchman, hailing from Oklahoma City. Bryan's expertise in combining patterns and colors creates a masterful, unexpected, and simultaneously modern and nostalgic feel.
As someone who admires designers who have honed their craft, I was eager to learn more about Bryan's workflow and process. I reached out to him about a year ago to ask some basic questions and was thrilled when he agreed to participate in an interview. In this interview, Bryan shares insights into his approach to design.
Back in 2018, I was fortunate to learn how to sew during a paternity leave stint. I've always been obsessed with bikes, backpacks, and soft goods, so with some free time on my hands while caring for a newborn, I purchased a low-quality Singer sewing machine and started crafting toiletry bags and wallets. Though my intention was always to create bike goods, I had no idea where to start. Fortunately, I stumbled upon an industrial sewing machine for $150 at an estate sale.
It wasn't until 2020, just before the COVID-19 shutdown, that I began taking orders. During the pandemic, I was confined to my home, spending time with family, working, and making bags. It was a period of immense growth and learning. The peculiar timing of the pandemic, the boom in the bike industry, and my status as the only bicycle soft goods maker in the state led to an overwhelmingly positive response from the local cycling community.
My inspiration for colors comes from a variety of sources. With over a decade of experience in the design industry, creating unique color schemes for numerous projects and clients has become second nature. Sometimes, I'll stumble upon a good palette outside and take a picture of it to reference later in conjunction with my material options. However, my favorite color combinations often originate from the corner of my office where my fabric is stored, the bin above my desk containing all of my cord options, and the scrap box under my desk. I'll put a material or scrap away and realize that it looks amazing next to another color. From there, I'll obsess over those colors until I find the perfect balance of color, contrast, and texture. By the time someone orders a custom Color Study bag, I usually already have a few ideal color palettes swimming around in my head.
The digital camo material I used before was discontinued so I decided to make my own in illustrator. Instead of using traditional camo colors, I went with a bright confetti palette.
The Terrazzo and Static pattern was a little more thought out. I've always loved the texture of recycled rubber and had never seen anyone using a texture like that in soft goods. I created a brush in Procreate on my iPad that mimicked the rubber texture. From there, I added layer after layer until I found the right balance of color and noise. I've got a lot of combos that came from the exploration and I'm excited to show them off sometime!
Some of the textures and patterns I like to use also come from materials already out there like any of Challenge Sailcloths materials, XPac, Dyneema, etc. I especially love squaring up the ECOPAK that Challenge produces. I don't think I've seen anyone do that before. Also shout out to Ripstop by the Roll for their printing services!
Definitely the Terrazzo and Static. They're really cool on their own and they really work well when paired with other colors. They remind me of those old posters you had to squint your eyes at to see the hidden image. I'd love to learn to make one of those so I can put hidden images on my bags.
Aside from being able to fill my own marketing needs as a small business, my experience as a brand designer helps me work through problems and find solutions that are both functional and aesthetically nice to look at. I've found that I can use the same process of problem solving in the way I design my bags. Finding that primo balance of functionality and style is key to a good product.
I'm located in Oklahoma City, OK, where the terrain is, as you might expect, relatively flat in the metro area. However, that doesn't discourage anyone from riding bikes. In fact, we have a massive weekly group ride that attracts an average of around 150 riders, sometimes even up to 200. If you're up for a short drive or a long bike ride, you'll find some of the best gravel roads in the country nearby. There's nothing quite like cruising down a red dirt road on a warm evening with your friends.
There are many other soft goods designers that constantly inspire me. Among them, Sand from Portland, Take a Trip from Bend, OR, and Local Stranger from California are a few that I get particularly excited about. Their use of color, textures, and various materials inspires me to keep pushing the envelope.
Nike is another big inspiration for me. Although I'm not particularly into sneakers, I am enamored with the interesting color combinations, textures, and materials that they utilize for their major releases. One of my friends gifted me a pair of Nike x Blue the Great Jordans, and they are simply breathtaking.
While I'm not currently doing as much work in the art and design world, I'm still heavily inspired by it. Given my background, I can't imagine that it won't continue to be a major influence on the design decisions I make for Steady products.
Burrito House is a small boutique shop based out of Chiba, Japan. They're my first step into the international market and I really appreciate their continued support. They recently transitioned to solely ecommerce and small pop-ups. It's the only spot in Japan to pick up some Steady gear.
My biggest goal for this year is to afford studio space and a new machine. Eventually I'd love to have a very small production team and someone to help run the admin side of things. As for products, I want to expand on the Tool Pod concept and introduce a line of bags with similar features and functionality. More on that later.
I'm also going to be introducing more colors of the Recycled Rubber to my materials palette. I've got a couple of collabs coming this year that I'm excited about. One is with Path Less Pedaled and is a rackless rando handlebar bag with some fun extra features. The other is with Camp & Go Slow. We're working on a larger capacity Tool Pod that's going to be super sweet for the MTB folks.