In March 2013, the City of Austin enacted an ordinance banning single-use carry-out bags. The law regulates the types of bags that can be distributed by businesses and has encouraged a larger cultural shift toward reusable bags. Plastic bags quickly became nonexistent in grocery stores, and bring-your-own-bag campaigns began popping up everywhere. That spring, Christopher Ferguson, Assoc. AIA, and Megan Marvin were ready to graduate from The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, and with just a few short months left to go, they decided to make some bags for their final design studio.
The project has grown into a small, promising business. DO.GROUP DESIGN is what they call themselves, and while the two young designers are not quitting their day jobs at architecture firms any time soon, they plan to take their Bundle bags as far as the experiment can go. Ferguson splits his time between Austin and New York, while Marvin spends all her time on the East Coast. The markets, they say, are similar, and the bags have been well received — at larger events such as Brooklyn’s Renegade Craft Fair to small neighborhood farmers’ markets in New York and Austin. “Actually, we cannot meet the wholesale demand,” says Ferguson. “We are still searching for a partner manufacturer that makes sense for us.”
Colorful, stackable, and strong, Bundle bags are made out of reinforced matte plastic and expand to accommodate larger objects. They are durable: Bundle bags withstand heat, do not tear, and can be easily cleaned by hand with soap and water. The bags work individually or as a group. They can carry up to 20 pounds alone and more when reinforced as a stack.
For Marvin, starting a small business has been eye-opening. “As we grow our tiny venture, I have learned just how essential business and design are to one another,” she says. Shipped from Arizona, sheets of plastic are rolled out and then cut with a single-axis die cutter in Marvin’s Manhattan studio. The fact that the bags are designed to lie flat streamlined the team’s small home-based manufacturing setup. Small efforts to increase efficiency on the production side, argues Marvin, allow them to focus on growing the business. Ferguson, who worked for Andersson-Wise Architects in Austin before changing jobs to be able to travel between the two cities, emphasizes that without his day job he might not have been able to bring to the table important skills for dealing with suppliers and building client relationships.
“It was invaluable for me to be able to watch Arthur Andersson and Chris Wise at work,” he explains. “Thinking about the business side of design is not something that you walk out of university understanding.” Both Marvin and Ferguson are quick to note, however, that the challenge of the Bundle bag project is worth it. “It is ours, and we are making it grow,” says Ferguson.
Catherine Gavin is editor of Texas Architect.
Originally published in the January/February 2015 issue of Texas Architect.