Nothing used to fit me better than a new Zara jumpsuit. But that “new shirt feeling” would fade even quicker than the zipper would break and be replaced by buyer’s remorse. And yet, I kept putting myself through the same cycle. For too long, I ignored it, swallowed my guilt, and kept going about the usual business, because there really didn’t seem to be another option. But then everything changed.
Dan and I were at a consignment store and I remember turning around, catching just a glimpse of a sleeve and somehow knowing I had found… IT. No, not the creepy clown, but my soon-to-be favorite item of clothing ever. The shirt was 90s vintage with shoulder-pads and a strong earth-toned design and a holed lattice section, not quite full length but also not a crop top it landed right where I wanted it. This would definitely not be for everyone, but it’s perfect for me. I’ve worn it to a wedding, on a boat, and to a brewery. I feel damn cool when I put it on and it excites me every time. That was the moment two things happened.
1. I was able to put words to our design litmus test: The Shoulder Pad Aesthetic. I want our products to make you feel like I do when I put on that shirt. I want you to know that it’s okay to feel cool, and if an item of clothing or a leather bag helps you SHOW UP WITH CONFIDENCE — rock it.
There is something undeniable about shoulder pads - they’re a bit strange, they create angles and demand attention. Magnetism and undeniable attraction - I can dig it. In the world we want to live in, products allow you to express your self, not fit in. I want to give you the thing you didn’t even know you were looking for until you see it. Yes, I’m a stickler about beauty, perfection, durability, and fit. But the thing of most importance to me is, if our design doesn’t stand up to our Shoulder Pad Aesthetic, we’re not going to make it. Feeling cool means showing up just as yourself and connecting with people who do the same. ‘Cool’ means embodying a sense of being larger than life, of being just beyond understanding. In my book it's ok to belong at the cool kid's table, we just desperately need to redefine the definition of who belongs there. When you truly put yourself out there you attract likeminded people. And that’s our clique - our cool kid’s table, and you only have to want to show up to belong. It’s our group of humans who have an opinion, a desire, a “what if….?” and want and deserve to be heard.
IT’S FOR THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE OUT LOUD. WHO MAKE A STATEMENT. Who piss some people off, because if everyone likes you, or what you're doing, you're doing something wrong.
2. I finally had a viscerally direct comparison to how it feels NOT to buy fast fashion - for finding another way and discovering a unique piece that helped me express me.
Moving away from the expediency of how shopping has been can be difficult - AND we should do it anyway. But the hard part is you just have to do it. Make the slightly more inconvenient choice (in the short term, mind you) and take note of how you feel. Each time you have that experience it’ll be harder to go back. If a product doesn’t help you express you, it doesn’t belong in your life. I still have that shirt years later and it’s my favorite. It definitely isn’t the shirt I even wear the most — I even carried it around Europe without wearing it once and yet I didn’t regret bringing it for one second. Because special pieces are there for you when you need them. And even a glance at it always makes me smile.
I love the Shoulder Pad Aesthetic for the people it attracts. It pervades every aspect of our business. Some people are scared away and we’re okay with that, because the rest? They can’t help but be drawn in. It’s something unexpected, yet undeniable - just like that shirt with shoulder pads, our workshop, our products, and you.
On Monday a few years ago we received our first online order of our new leather duffel and we felt pumped, (but also delightfully surprised and a tad unworthy). Since we know that when you buy a bag, every last detail matters and should function exactly as YOU need, we reached out to the customer, Lorelei, to see if she had any additional requests (specialized sizing or a customized slip pocket). We also were dying to know, “with so many options in the online world, what made you decide to work with us??” And she gave us a peak behind the scenes of her purchasing journey:
Lorelei was planning a trip with her sister and needed a bag for it, so she did what she often did when she needed to buy something - she pulled up Amazon and found a $50 “leather” duffel (we could go on forever about ‘genuine leather’ but we’ll leave that for a different time). But something didn’t feel quite right. The bag looked okay, but Lorelei had recently found our shop and felt drawn to our leather and designs - she pulled up our $1,395 duffel on the other side of the screen and was utterly conflicted. If she went with Amazon, she was making the responsible, money-conscience choice, but then stopped herself — was she really?
She told us that while her father had passed away, he always stressed quality and the importance of buying things that last. With his voice in her head, this is what she told herself “One of those duffels may not even last this one trip, the other one is going to last long enough for me to pass on to my son.” Boom. The CARTER purchased with no second thoughts, no guilt, no buyer’s remorse. Caring about the things you use and investing in quality isn’t an indulgence, Lorelei told us she felt responsible and confident spending her money on unique heritage leather goods, especially knowing that we fix anything we’ve ever made. Lorelei broke out of the cheap product cycle that we can all too easy to fall into, because here’s the thing:
Cheap, instant gratification only leads to disappointment and waste. Companies like Amazon want you to believe that it’s just the way the world is now, but you’re smarter than that - you’re an ahead of the curve free- thinker and you have a choice. “That’s the way it is” has always been on the wrong side of history anyway. We believe this is more than just about products. Every thing you use and surround yourself with (down to the bag or wallet you carry) is a statement of you, your values, and an outward expression of the things you care about. Amazon has offered a mass-manufactured answer to human existence and we want no part of that.
Our answer is to journey with you in the process of crafting these intentional products, so that what you carry serves you. Call us up or send over an e-mail and let’s talk about co-creating that perfect heritage piece for you —
In May 2019, Dan and I drove our 1976 VW Bus, Clyde, out to Utah. This was by far the longest we had driven Clyde and to our surprise he made it there without a single problem. We were driving to The Bacchanalia - our celebration of partnership — both in life and in business. After three days of fantastic food, people, weather and partying, we packed Clyde up and headed out Sunday morning for a short drive on a beautiful day, landing eventually at a campsite by a river. This was the beginning of our slow, meandering journey back to Seattle, that was to be filled with hikes & wineries, and rest - a mini-honeymoon of sorts. We drove out of the campsite at 8am on Monday morning. Oh, no wait - we drove 100 feet from our campsite and then Clyde stalled. Flash past a terrifying 8 foot rope tow down the highway to the only mechanic in the whole state of Montana that knew anything about VW buses (somehow only 1.4 miles away in the tiny town of Divide), followed by hour after hour of trying and failing to diagnose the issue.
It should have been easy. Vehicles like this need three things — GAS, AIR, & SPARK. Just as it was approaching 5pm and I was approaching the point of giving up all hope and figuring out just how expensive a tow to Seattle would be, the mechanic technically got Clyde working. I say technically, because although we could start him, what we would later find was that if we weren’t actively accelerating, he’d die.
But it was good enough for us. read: good enough for people who have no other choice. So we booked it. We got as far as we could until the sun set that first day only having to perform the ‘Gas Maneuver’ once. Oh, the ‘Gas Maneuver’? When we’d pull off the Interstate for gas, Dan would flip Clyde into neutral, keep his right foot on the gas to rev the engine, while simultaneously braking with left foot. Any slowing down was accompanied by restarting the engine. And if you have never driven a 1976-era car please note the lack of power steering as well and the manual transmission makes this last sentence even harder to pull off than it may sound. Pulling off the freeway meant holding tight, and me yelling at Dan if the coast was clear so we could cruise through the one stop sign or so to get to the station.
Seems kinda fitting for our life if I’m being honest. We’ve spent most of our relationship doing things that shouldn’t work, but out of stubbornness and luck, even when everything is breaking down around us, we figure out how to keep going forward. The result is always different than expected, but also more fitting and interesting than I could have devised. Clyde teaches us all a good lesson. I’m not sure any of us are too complicated. Although we are very proficient at complicating things. I think we all just need gas, air, & spark. Even if these things are a little different for each of us. After arriving back to Seattle we immediately took Clyde to our mechanic. When she said “I can’t believe you drove this from Ballard” (a neighborhood of Seattle ~2 miles way), we paused then said “we came from UTAH.” Clyde never should have made it 2 miles, let alone 1,000.
And you could read this as a story of a little engine that could. But let me make a different point. We put many systems in place that shouldn’t even get off the ground and yet they do. Then we figure out ways to sustain them for longer than we should. But at some point it will come down. The signs just keep getting louder until we can’t ignore them any longer, try as we might. Just because it “technically works” doesn’t mean it’s working. Look under that hood of yours and see what’s up.
To commute from our old, cozy (read: small) studio apartment to the Uphill Designs store we had to cross one street and a local fast food joint. During one of these times I stopped, mouth agape (no, seriously this isn’t an exaggeration) to read their new sign claiming their food was ‘handcrafted’. I went from my dead stop into a sprint, swung open the door to the workshop with gusto and yelled at Dan “sound the alarm, ‘handcrafted’ has officially lost all meaning.
A franchise owned by a $30 Billion corporation is using the same wording we were. It’s something I had already knew and I avoided using the term whenever I could but this was the last straw. I mean, if Bourbon has a legal meaning, shouldn’t Handcrafted? At the same time, I’m thankful that this problem exists - it points towards a re-discovery for appreciating human-made goods, and of course big companies are trying to capitalize. The desire to show off how and where things are made creates connections between people and products, but let’s face it - human connection can’t be faked. And you can’t be fooled by their attempts.
We’re proud to have built an ethos of craft, care, and intention into our business model and plan to stand by it. Our goal is to share what we truly value in an intentional manner with others who share those principles. We know the whole world can’t work like this (because let’s face it, the age of instant! prime! now! deliveries makes buying cat litter a lot easier), but our neck of the woods can. We believe that beautiful, human-centered heritage goods crafted with loving intent are worth waiting for. Because, despite the offerings many business put out -
Our four hands can only do so much and we like it that way. We love not having to chase margins or increase shareholder value - it means we can use the absolute, no-compromise, last-forever materials like full-grain leather and solid cast-brass hardware. If it looks at first like that other bag from Madewell is just as good - it isn't and time will always win out.
Our limited production means each we can take time and care with each piece ensuring that it’s built to last, and if we built it, our shopdog, Ragknarr, guarantees that we’ll fix it. Once you receive your product, our goal is that you now have a once in a lifetime heritage piece that add value to your life and become infused with your experiences. every. fricken'. day. You haven't just found a bag, you've found THE bag.
And yes we do custom work, if you have something you're S-T-O-K-E-D about, let's talk.
During my senior year of college I was in my Grandma Ruth’s living room, excitedly telling her my post-graduation plans. Our family culture was one of agreeable nods and polite deflection, so I’ll never forget when she looked me in the eye and stopped me mid-sentence, “Why? What makes you so sure you should be doing that?” I heard the words, but didn’t really take them seriously. Then when she died suddenly, I began to re-ask myself the question that she no longer could. “Why?” Why was I doing what I was doing with my life? At her funeral I committed to follow a dream I’d stifled years before - attempting a continuous hike of the 2,665 miles from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail.
That spring, I sat at my mother’s sewing machine in Olympia, Washington, intimidated and overwhelmed. Scattered around the crafting room were pieces for a lightweight hiking backpack and the hike’s start date was closing in. I questioned myself. “Who was I to sew my own backpack? What if I couldn’t do it? What if it failed at a critical point along the months’-long journey and all my gear and food just tumbled off a mountain-side? What if I failed?” But I owed myself (and maybe Ruth) at least one good attempt. I took a deep breath, shrugged, picked up the first two pieces and started clumsily sewing. I messed up. A lot. The sil-nylon fabric was slippery and liked to unfold at just the wrong moment. I broke a needle so bad that parts of it were jaggedly sticking out of the seam - I had to work them out with pliers. Yet, two days later, I ended up with a backpack that was somehow, someway, robust, and lightweight. I had reached my masterpiece - something I could hold in my hand, look at, and say ‘well, I guess this is good enough’. Two weeks later I swung the pack and myself into the back of a minivan headed to the Mexican border alongside. Insert lots of walking. No, like, a lot of walking - I walked so far I couldn’t feel the bottoms of my feet. I walked so far I lost 45 pounds, I walked so far the bones in my feet separated and my shoes grew to size 11 and then 12. And I received the trail-name "Uphill".
101 days, 5 pairs of shoes, and 3 US states later I walked into Canada… and had to decide what was next. I felt a slight pull away from responsible and stable careers and toward…. something else. I would love to tell you I had a grand idea for a company, but that would be rewriting history. Here’s what I knew - I wanted to connected to that feeling of purpose and freedom I had on the trail. And so, in September of 2014, I founded Uphill Designs and began making our first product bamboo hiking poles with recycled champagne-cork handles.
We manufactured in a studio apartment with a hobby sewing machine and X-acto knives (hello future early-onset arthritis). I begged Mallory for some help and we eventually moved into in a 160 sq ft back-alley workshop in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. We hit our stride and went to as many farmer’s markets and holiday pop-ups as we could (176 days of markets in 2017, Oofta). At this point, we’d learned two things: (1) There is no substitute for direct human interaction & customer input. (2) even when we said we made everything, people were skeptical. But we did and still do and the desire to flip the traditional model of retail on its head grew. In In early 2018, after a lot of hustle (and definitely some luck and privilege) we signed the lease on our 1500 sq. ft workshop in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. We built our vision into an open floor plan where visitors could walk in and experience our products being designed and made in the same space where we sold them.
On May 3rd, 2018, we opened our doors to the public. From Day 1, we were astounded by just how much our story and craft landed when people were able to see and experience it. Since then we have evolved from a hiking gear company to one that makes luxury leather goods and apparel and although ‘Uphill’ is still at the heart of what we do, we’ve become a little (a lot!) more. It’s time to pull back the curtain again for the next unveiling. So, starting November 3, 2021 we put a name to the change that already happened — Luto Vhum. Whether it’s a hiking backpack, a fanny pack, or a silk dress, we believe the things we wear are expressions of who we are and we're here to make it for you.