Behind the Brand: TM1985 with Tielor McBride

Unless you’re a militant minimalist, there’s no getting away from carrying stuff. Whether it’s headphones, keys, mobile phone or a tablet, nowadays we’re always carrying something around. Now I like to put my stuff in nice things and appreciate craftsmanship and attention to detail, which brings me to the brand TM1985. I came across TM 1985 and the Creative Director Tielor McBride while I was visiting Brad Ford ID and his Field + Supply show in Upstate New York.

Tielor McBride moved to New York after studying scenic design in Cincinnati; he’s as versatile as the products in his fashion label, TM1985. Though he devotes most of his time and attention to his bags, he still finds time to hike in the Catskills and tend a garden at his apartment in Brooklyn.

 

Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Kansas City. I’ve been in New York for almost a decade.

 

Why did you create TM1985?
I started creating bags out of sheer necessity while working as a designer at Ralph Lauren. Schlepping samples, fabrics, and materials through the Garment District and around Manhattan is arduous to say the least, and if you don’t have the right kind of bag for the journey it makes it that much more difficult.

The first bag I ever made was a re-purposed and reconfigured Army surplus duffel. I needed it to transport my sketchbooks and samples, with a secure opening at the top for the rolls of fabric I’d pick up. I got a lot of compliments on that first roll-top bag, and as I developed my bags to suit my needs, I became very aware of the interest they were garnering. I always kept in the back of my mind that this could be a plausible business venture.

The deeper I went into the inner workings of Ralph Lauren I found I was getting further and further away from the creative process. I felt pulled back into a world where a hands-on approach to work was part of my everyday existence. At some point I just jumped and five years later… here we are.

 

What led you to start your own business?
TM1985 started out as a hobby and a love of making things that were useful to me. Bags are our everyday companions. We take them everywhere, and they hold our whole life. I like thinking about how to create a bag to complement a lifestyle. Hiking trips in the mountains, day trips to other cities, jaunts to the farmers’ market – all of these activities have different needs. I like problem-solving so for me, designing bags for specific purposes is a tangible way to do that.

 

What inspires you and your business?
Things that stand the test of time, utility pieces that have lasted generations and give us a sense of history and trust inspire me. I’m kind of a “Jack of all trades” and working on the master part. Making furniture, lighting and gardening have always inspired me but in a way creating intangible things, like keeping manufacturing here in the U.S., is the most fulfilling and inspiring part of my work. Creating sustainable jobs for people in this industry, especially after such a mass exodus of the garment industry to China motivates me. This kind of skilled labor is vanishing in NYC; that’s why it’s essential as a business-owner to help preserve and rebuild it. Any company working with this particular ethos is inspiring.

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Running a business is tough, what do you do when you aren’t working, and how do you manage the work life balance?
I’m always working. Walking down the street, riding on the subway – my eyes are constantly doing recon to see what’s out there, how people carry what they need, how they wear their bags. It’s often sensory overload. When I feel my creativity is zapped, or I’ve hit a wall, I sleep it off. Take a nap and wake up with a fresh idea. I keep a notepad and pen next to my bed. My best ideas come to me when I’m either waking up or falling asleep. It can occasionally be annoying because, after a long day, all I want to do is rest, but as soon as my head hits the pillow and my eyes close, 101 solutions to the day’s creative problems are right there in front of me. When that strikes, I’m driven to get right back up and start working again.

Though I do have a regular yoga practice and make sure to have dinner and drink plans with friends, and I always some outdoor adventures when weather permits.

 

How big is your team?
The in-house team is a small group. My brand manager and I form the core, and we hire freelancers as necessary. The other facet of the business, our production partner out in New Jersey, has an office of 15 to 20 people, depending on what’s in production.

 

What are your plans for the future growth of your business?
In the next few years, I see our line expanding into furniture, lighting, and home accessories. It’s always been an interest of mine, and I’m in the process of discussing collaborations with a couple of people in these areas. I’m excited to see how working in each of these areas will inform the other.
How do you find the balance of creative ideas vs. commercial viability?
We have trade shows a couple of times a year, where we can bring in new designs and receive valuable feedback before bringing things into production. We’re rarely sampling a design and then immediately running straight into a production of a hundred bags. We can see what works by using the bags ourselves and tweaking before running them. Even after we’ve made the bags, we always revisit and refine them. Our Roll-Top Backpack is in its third or fourth generation, depending on who’s counting.

 

What are the blocks to building a strong brand in today’s market in your opinion?
Transparency and integrity. Two words saturating our world right now, but no less true. Customers want to be able to count on a brand for quality. We’ve experienced a huge shift in our economy and people want products that are made to last and also know exactly where their money is going. I’d much rather buy jewelry from someone I’ve met and shared a story with, than a brand I’ve no connection with, aside from the pleasurable aesthetic.

 

What’s been your most successful form of marketing and promotion for your business?
The most enjoyable form of marketing and promotion are the trade shows and market fairs, by far. Here we get to see customers interacting with the pieces, touching the leather, getting excited by the smell, the texture. Here we can share the story of the brand and the production process. People want a connection to what they are buying. Speaking directly to our team, with the product in-hand, is the best way possible to do that. It’s also fun to meet people who have purchased previously and bring their experiences and feedback.

 

What’s been your favourite project to date?
I rolled out three new bags at once, earlier this year. It was exciting to work on three different designs at once, refining each one on its own and thinking about them together as a mini collection. I’m always looking ahead to what’s next so truthfully my favorite project is my next one.

 

What’s the best thing about running your business?
As a business owner, managing creative ventures, production, and marketing, I am happily finding more routes for creativity on my own terms. The uncharted territory of acquiring more skills, refining the best ways of doing something—these are welcome challenges for me. As long as I’m building something, conceptually or physically, I feel like there is a balance.

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What advice would you give to any budding entrepreneurs?
JUMP! Listen to your gut. It’s old news that you should go after what makes you happy, but oftentimes your mind is running through the unending list of challenges that you’ll face, and you quiet your instincts. To help assuage your mind, and to keep you from stopping yourself before you start, make a list of everything you need to do to get your business started, put them in order of importance and then list what is needed to accomplish each one. Any day of the week, looking at the bigger picture is sometimes enough to shut the door and pull the covers over your head. One large business is built on a lot of small tasks and projects.

On the rough days, recognize that while you won’t have a day off, no one is going to be yelling at you should you need to stroll to the office in the sunshine and meet up with a friend for your morning coffee before getting down to business. So it’s a give and take.

 

What’s one of your pet peeves about the fashion industry?
How it thrives on the need to discard quickly and move on to the next.

 

How do you overcome it?
I set out to make products that will last and to keep the work in the U.S. When setting our prices, we account for materials, as well as production and design time, but we don’t set the number so high that it’s unrealistic. Access to quality, American-made goods is extremely important to us and at the core of everything we do.

 

TM1985 offers rugged luxury with a strong point of view and attitude, how do you keep your point of difference from other brands doing similar work?
We haven’t jumped on the American-made bandwagon with the intent to cash in and then run off. You won’t see us manufacturing anything outside of the U.S. because we stand behind what we say. American-made is a part of our logo and deeply engrained in everything we do.
We also continually look at a product for ways to improve upon it. We don’t merely design a new tote bag and a new backpack every season, and we look at what we’ve made and try to make it better and then add other silhouettes to the collection.

We take customer feedback very seriously. We want these bags to withstand the everyday journey and then some. We’re continually looking at how people carry their bags and how their lives are changing and integrating that into our designs. We want to grow as a brand. Currently, we’re looking into creating a capsule collection with sustainable materials – recycled ballistic nylons for example. Our world is changing, and we’re doing our best to observe and listen.

 

What inspires your designs?
I’m a practical man; I need to hold something in my hand. To see it, touch it, smell it and know it’s good. In that way, the materials inspire the designs. Materials inform about 90 percent of my design and ideation process. I can sketch a simple plan for a bag, but it’s not until the materials have been selected, does the design have any real body. Picking the right combo takes time but I feel that it’s one of the most important steps.

Utility and functionality are also prime motivators. Different activities have different needs and call for something specialized: hiking trips in the mountains, schlepping materials across town, trips to the library or the market. I want to create products that appeal to the fluidity of people’s lives. Few people do just one thing anymore. Our bags are meant to be with people on their journey.

Trends in the industry seem to converge these days, with men’s & women’s fashion overlapping quite a bit. It’s always been in line with our aesthetic and values – we want to create useful things for people, no matter their background. Our bags have that populist appeal: something for everyone.

 

What’s on your work playlist?
Our music runs the gamut. We have anything on from Chet Baker and Fleetwood Mac to Etta James and dance hall music. It depends on whether we’re trying to focus or slog through a really tough day. Spotify plays a crucial role in the everyday here.  We also love the former radio show Chances with Wolves ¬– they turn out a great show, and it gives you two solid hours of music for work or just relaxing.