Our job to find great stuffs from all over the world doesn't stop at product level, I believe understanding the concept and stories behind is far more important than product features. Only through digging deeper will I be able to bring true benefits to end users, in the process of doing this I learned a lot and makes my job an adventurous one. It is exactly this practice which sets us apart from a typical retail chain store.
This review is separated into two parts. Part 1 is a story in this post, Part 2 is a product review in the next post.
I first found Wotancraft from random searching on the net a year or so before, then I popped into a great store in Hong Kong called Annie Barton and found their products there. Admiring the quality and aesthetics I grew interest in the brand, I was scared away by the price though. So despite having the feeling that those bags suit my needs and in styles I adore, I found myself staring at them repeatedly on the net and never got myself one. What stopped me from getting one? The price tag and lack of knowledge about Wotancraft's true attention to details. Annie Barton told me each one of the bags were made by hand by those artisans in Taiwan, I couldn't believe it, no way, the bags are so well made I thought they were produced by professional mass producing bag maker. Judging from the details, each model requires literally hundreds of manufacturing processes and it was not possible to be made by just a few persons by hands. The story turned out entirely true when I got a chance to visit Taipei 20 days ago.
On the day I arrived Taipei, before other business engagements I shot right away to the Wotancraft showroom/shop. It was a huge disparity between what's inside the place and everything else surrounding it! Inside a dim florescent lit office building full of local trading businesses with zero taste and style decorations, I was still assuming Wotancraft a corporation you know, but once I entered the showroom, everything changed.
Surrounded by cozy fixtures made from aged wood and pig iron, products made from leather and canvas, I immediately felt homey. One side of the store was an open shelf displaying full product range and prototypes, while the other side is a service counter full of custom made leather straps for Panerai watches. I picked up the City Explorer series of bags and started examining each one of them until a friendly staff came out of the backyard and explained to me product details.
Soon I was unpacking my camera bag and started trying out almost every model possible. I guess camera bag to a guy is like fashion to a girl, you can spend hours enjoying the selection process in a setting like that. The staff noticed my Traveler's Notebook and some of my leather craft stuffs like camera case and straps. "James have the same notebook! He made crazy customization of it." That's when real conversation began.
By then I realized that each one of their bags were literally made by their own hands. Four artisans made up the entire Wotancraft company, the two I met in store were among them. It was not a corporation I presumed before, just a small bunch of people doing everything by themselves. Time to leave for a business engagement, hungered for more stories, I used Paypal to pay for the City Explorer 002 Ranger bag, left the showroom and determined to contact James about his Traveler's Notebook and come back a few days later. During my initial stay at the showroom, there were constant influx of Panerai fans looking for unique leather straps, but I'm not gonna cover that part of the story here.
3 days later, after a few email exchanges I finally met James, the soul behind Wotancraft. The company was created out of his pure passion in photography and watches, despite working as a bio-chemist after his graduation, he started to make his first prototype camera bag 5 years ago. Not satisfied with camera bags with trivial features and ugly looks, he explored different forms and materials and came up with a bag he would use. He was kind enough to show me all the thoughts he put into this City Explorer 002 Ranger bag, comparing it to his first prototype. I will cover the details in Part 2 in the next post.
Let's talk about James' Traveler's Notebook. In a typical Traveler's Notebook show me yours and I'll show you mine fashion, we exchanged our usage patterns. His cover is not the original but one made by himself, a very thoughtful implementation. There are two layers of leathers, a thicker one forms the shape while the outer thinner one gives its distinct Wotancraft look.
The thin leather on the cover is the same material James uses in his City Explorer series of camera bags. Stitched together on 3 sides, the notebook cover has an opening on one side doubling the cover as a pocket by itself. To increase the pocket size, James relocated the elastic string attachment point from the middle of the back to the edge, creating an inner space large enough for his stationery stuffs.
As a master of customization, he of course couldn't settle with a bookmark without his very own Wotancraft branded charm and leather tag. On typical day, James would use two types of notebooks inside - Traveler's Notebook lightweight paper for note taking, sketch paper for sketching. Inspecting his TN, I found inspirations common to creative people, not only would he take notes in meticulous details, he sketches out architectural structures purely out of his head, perhaps this keen practice is his way of precipitating his creativity into reality.