Inside a nondescript warehouse in Missoula, Carson Wilde describes the features of a small, black backpack he’s just sewn together. He calls the prototype an “urban pack designed to wear like a technical pack.” Wilde notes its diamond ripstop, 500-denier, waterproof fabric, its “free-floating” shoulder straps and taped seams. He drops jargon like a seasoned outdoor gear salesperson.
But Wilde’s not happy with it. The 21-year-old owner of Brothers Wilde Designs, or BWD, a startup specializing in backpacks, is just as quick to point out the pack’s imperfections as its selling points. The “seam allowance,” or inlay, is off by a fraction of an inch in one spot. He’ll go back to the drawing board, literally. He’s standing next to it. On the table are four pieces of cut poster board in the shapes of the pack’s main components. He’ll tweak the patterns and eventually, after several iterations, turn this “initial concept” into a final design that he hopes will make it to store shelves.
In talking about BWD, Wilde always refers to “we.” But despite what “Brothers Wilde” implies, the company is a one-man show. The extent of his brother’s contribution was a small loan to help launch the company a couple of years ago. Ever since, Wilde’s been toiling away at sewing machines, first at a small shop and now in the warehouse he shares with Everest Designs, a knit hat company.
“I sat at a machine for long hours every day and just kind of learned the hard way by doing,” says Wilde, who calls local hang glider Jeff Shapiro, who sews his own harnesses, a mentor. “I didn’t go to school for it or take any classes. It was more taking a bag apart that I had for years and figuring out how they put it together, and then kind of replicating it and changing what I thought could be better.”
Early on, Wilde only made custom backpacks that he sold online. (Orders can be placed at bwildegear.com.) Now, he has shifted his focus to contracting his prototyping and development skills to other companies. Wilde says another company is considering buying the design for the small pack he was working on earlier.
“There’s a lot of exciting stuff coming, eventually,” Wilde says. “It’s all written and designed and patterned and just a matter of time.”