San Util Design: Bike Bags & The Trail To Happiness
San Util Design is the moniker of Adam Nicholson, a 27-year-old bag maker from Winter Park, Colorado. San Util has been creating beautiful and rugged hand-sewn hip and bike bags for the past two years. We spoke with Adam about how he got started which eventually led to more introspective themes like how to feel fulfilled in life. Let's go.
I was introduced to Adam of San Util by Kook Grin Media and was instantly floored that his company San Util had not come across my eyeballs until that introduction. Poking around the website quickly reveals the pedigree that San Util has in the MTB space—with press from Pinkbike, Loam Wolf, and Singletracks. In fact, I wasn't even aware that any of those sites were concerned with bike bags until I came across Adam and San Util.
Digging deeper into the San Util site, I was as impressed with the maker of the bags as the bags themselves. Adam comes across as a thoughtful individual who seemingly has had the courage to make some great decisions in life in order to prioritize his happiness and understand his place in the universe. To push that idea even further, he created a character called Mr. SUDS to embody this energy and to tell us that hey, maybe life can be simple and, god forbid, maybe even fun. However, I don't want to give it all away so grab a coffee and enjoy.
When and how did you get started making bags?
I started making bags about 5 years ago when I was living in Denver. At the time, I was working at C3 Bike Bike Shop and Bentgate Mountaineering and was fascinated with the idea of riding from my house to a big multi-sport adventure. The goal was to develop bags that could hold ski gear for a ride from Denver to the summit of Mount Evans. I was hoping to go in the spring, ride to the lower gate, and ski to the summit. I tinkered on a home sewing machine and made a few packs, but got caught up with other goals and ended up putting it all on the back burner. A few years later, I started gravel riding and wanted to design some packs that could hold a bunch of beer and clothing while out on long rides. I sewed a half-frame bag and then a hip pack. Before I knew it, I was devoting a full day to sewing every week. A year later, I started San Util Design LLC. I designed a logo and character to represent the brand and we were off. Shortly After, I ran a Kickstarter campaign and ended up quitting my job to give San Util a real go.
What does San Util mean?
San Util translates literally to “without utility” or “without satisfaction”. Throughout my adult life, I have found myself trying to balance rigorous goal setting with simply enjoying life. I am often my worst critic and can be ruthless toward myself when I don't perform. San Util is a reminder to take life a bit less seriously and enjoy it.
Tell us about your studio.
Haha, in the old days, everyone thought I ran my business out of a VW Van. Sometimes I wish that was the truth, but that would be brutal in such a tiny space. The van is owned by my good friend James Barkman, a professional adventure photographer and mountaineer. James is the friend who pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and make the Kickstarter campaign. We worked on a commercial and photos for the campaign and I was excited to use such a sweet van for it.
My studio started in my room with an industrial sewing machine in the corner. When I started working one day a week at San Util, I transitioned everything down to the garage, and then at the end of the Kickstarter, I decided it was time to get a real workshop. My current workshop is a 600 sq ft space in the back of a print shop. It's humble but it works great for me! Swing by if you are in the area, I love drop-ins (and often have beer in the fridge).
What is the San Util process for custom bags?
Every bag starts on my website sanutildesign.com. From there, folks can shop through two categories: Mountain/Race and Adventure/Life. Let's play one out… Jonny is looking for a sweet custom hip pack. He clicks on “Mountain/Race'' and selects the hip pack design he likes best. Jonny wants a larger hip pack, so he would click on the “Covert Hip Pack” (our 2.5L option) and choose between 20+ different colors and fabrics for the primary and secondary colors. He also gets to choose what type of buckle he wants, the color cord he likes, and what color webbing is going to match the bag best.
Most bags go through that process, but there are two exceptions. The Half Frame Bag and the Full Frame Bag are both fully custom bags. You will pick through options on the website like all the other bags, after you place an order I send an instruction sheet requesting a photo of your bike. That way the bag matches up with your bike perfectly.
Who is Mr. SUDS?
Mr. SUDS is a character I created to represent what San Util is all about. He died to do what the world tells us we are supposed to do but is now living out his dream. Mr. SUDS is a reminder to chase our dreams and do things simply because they sound fun.
You self-describe as “a feller who is trying to make sense of things by creating things to engage with the world”. There seems to be some decent introspection to you. Tell us more.
When I wrote that I thought that ever since childhood I have had deep thoughts and feelings towards the world. The cycle of “mountain top” to “dark valley” emotions are not a stranger to me. When I am in those heavy times, I am often thinking about what my place in the world is and why we are all here. Over the years, the simple answer I have come up with is that we are here to love each other, to create beauty, and to engage with the world and with each other. I am sure that will continue to change over the years, but my vision is that San Util will allow me an outlet to create things with people I love in an industry that gives me joy.
What's the one thing you haven't done yet?
There are so many things I haven't done yet. For San Util, I am working on building a “bag builder” feature on my website that will mock up bag colors as the customer selects them. It has been a difficult and long process developing the widget, but I am pumped with the progress.
In life. I am pumped to build a house. To design it, and do as much as I can myself on it with my friends and family.
What other bag makers out there do you crush on?
So many. I have been blessed by many bag makers out there and a lot of us are friends behind the scenes. In regards to design, I am a fan of BagsxBird, Hungry, 1733, and Pathfinder. For community engagement, I look at Take A Trip, The Salty Boob, Thermal Lift, Fish Ski Designs, and Swift Industries. And in the MTB space companies like Troy Lee, POC, and Fox.
Where's this all headed?
When demand gets to a place where I can scale the business, I can't wait to bring people on staff and continue this group project together. My vision is that my team and I can run a business that we love while supporting each other as co-workers and friends. Where we can support our families and make time to ride and race bikes while never forgetting the reason we are showing up to make San Util happen every day!