Otter x Francli Bellyboard Bags05 . 04 . 19
We now offer beautiful carry bags for our traditional wooden bellyboards; as with everything that we do and sell here at the workshop, these have had some serious consideration and craft put into them and we’re excited to share with you the story of how they came to be.
Ali Goodman is the creative force behind Francli Craftwear, a fantastic studio designing and making custom and made-to-measure rucksacks, workwear, aprons and accessories with a significant focus on repurposing materials. Her work breathes a second lease of life into materials such as ex-British Army kit bags or offcuts from the local marine industry such as sail fabric or the hypalon synthetic rubber used for rigid inflatable boats. Her beautiful studio is in a converted cattle shed not far from the Otter workshop at Argal Home Farm, just outside Falmouth – a creative collective homestead that she shares with other inspirational businesses including our friends at Cut By Beam and Yallah Coffee Roasters. In short, Ali was our first port of call when we started to consider designing a bag for our bellyboards.
Ali designed and prototyped several options for us, before we all settled on a final design and commissioned the first batch. She used the hard-wearing green canvas of ex-British Army kit bags, an old sail from a Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter named Mascotte, and new hardware and British sourced webbing straps.
“It’s a fine balance when repurposing materials. You can go a bit kitsch with patchwork and so on, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I still want my products to be a new looking product, so that they last as long as possible.”
She starts by picking apart the kit bags, which she buys from an MOD surplus wholesaler in batches of 100. They’re basically big duffel bags; 90cm in circumference and 90cm tall and so they yield a large square of canvas. Each bag carries a lot of character and features such as the stencilled initials of the soldier who owned it, stitch marks from the handle patches, and the patina from years of use; much like the grains and knots in wood.
The same goes for the sail. There are some obvious age marks on the sail that Ali tried to avoid when templating the parts of the bags, but there are other characteristics that she wanted to carry through to the new bags.
“I like to keep elements that hint at the material’s previous life, such as the stitching.”
Having a sail with such provenance was something that we were really excited about; using repurposed sailcloth, with its marine links, is one thing, but being able to trace the sail back to such a beautiful vessel is quite another. Mascotte is a 60ft Bristol Channel pilot-cutter (10ft longer than most) built in 1904 to service the ports of Newport and Barry. Her solid design and strong larch on oak construction suited the challenging and often heavy seas that she worked. Mascotte retired from service in 1915 (when steam cutters put may working sail boats out of business) and was subsequently sailed, laid up, and the converted into a houseboat before being purchased and fully restored in the mid nineties. She’s since been raced, used for film and television work, and chartered. We’re so excited that one of her sails has been given a new lease of life and that we can share Mascotte’s story with everyone who buys one of our bellyboard bags.
Ali’s process for our bellyboard bags involves her picking apart the original materials, cutting templates and patterns, stitching on badges (we had some special Otter patches made to sit alongside the Francli patch), and then assembling panels in a long chain using one of her industrial sewing machines. These are then separated and sewn together to create individual bags. Ali focuses on custom products for clients because, as she happily admits, “I’m the least motivated when producing in bulk”. Our bellyboard bags are the closest that she gets to that sort of work though, only making ten at a time. That’s still more than the one-off customs that she normally creates, however.
When we visit, the wall of her studio has eight unique rucksacks hung on the back wall; all part of a recent “team” commission that she received, with each individual having a pack custom made for them. Ali’s bespoke process involves her asking each customer a set of questions to help her to understand them, their personality, and how the rucksack will be used. This process may not feed directly into the finished item - questions such as “when are you happiest”, for example – but they help to relax customers and start the process of building a relationship that will result in them receiving a rucksack that is truly representative of them.
One of the things that we enjoy most about what we get to do here, is working with makers – be they people coming in to our workshop to make their own wooden surfboard, or the community of makers and creative who we get to work with on projects such as this. Whether you made your own bellyboard with us, own a bellyboard that we made for you, or are in the market for a new rucksack, then we’d highly recommend Ali’s incredible handiwork.
Click here to shop our new Francli Otter Bellyboard Bags.