In the Bag: A GRAY Design Collaboration

It’s not often that you compliment someone’s handbag, only to have them respond, “thanks, I made it,” but such was the case when Portland-based artist Zach Matheson traveled to IDS Vancouver last year. As soon as Matheson walked into the convention center with “the bag”—a super structured see-thru black mesh tote—GRAY’s editors lost it. We each had to have one, stat (read more about them in our June/July issue).

It was a reaction Matheson had become accustomed to—in the months since he made that first bag, which he took with him on a trip to ICFF in the spring (the team at Perkins+Will bought his first prototypes while he was there), he would be approached about the bag wherever he went. “I really think the lightbulb moment, the one where I thought this could become a real product, was when I was walking through the Portland airport with it and a woman stopped me to ask about it,” Matheson recalls. “TSA loves me with this,” he says with a laugh.

Matheson has spent years in the design community and has recently started getting back to his first love, art. The bags, or baskets as he dubs them, are the direct result of inspiration garnered during a trip to the Louisiana Museum in Humblebaek, Denmark. In one of the exhibitions, Matheson saw a traditional net bag used by French fisherman to hold their catches as they dived. The simple design caught his eye and he thought the concept would translate well on dry land. “It reminded me of the snow mesh we had in Michigan growing up, but I had a vision for what mine could be,” Matheson says. “Later, I bought a whole roll of snow mesh at Home Depot to play around with, but I couldn’t get it right, so I contacted all these mesh makers in North America. Mine needed to be sleeker,” says Matheson.

But as soon as he started experimenting with the mesh and the basket shapes, something unexpected happened—memories from his childhood started materializing. “In the rust belt, it’s difficult to do things out there and my mom made money weaving baskets,” Matheson recalls. “As a kid, I would sit around and weave baskets with her; It wasn’t until I started pursuing this material that I realized my mom was a basket maker and now I’m a basket maker.”

Matheson’s network of creative is deep in Portland, and initially, he thought he would put on some workshops, or make a few with friends and it would supplement his “schtick as a furniture sales guy,” but more and more friends and strangers were asking for their own. In the month after ICFF, he started a site and an Instagram (@mzdidstudio—“M” for Mariam, his wife and collaborator on the bags).

Matheson often ends up selling the basket off his arm to people who stop him on the street, and ever since the GRAY editors have been toting them around, not a day goes by that we aren’t asked, “Where did you get your bag?”

This constant stream of inquiries sparked the idea for a collaboration between GRAY and Matheson, to create a limited edition basket in a special new size (three wine bottles wide to be exact). Over a few months, we tweaked and measured the size—the proportions had to look good next to a body, the handles had to be just the right length to feel comfortable, and we wanted to add a detail that only our bag had. Look closely on the bottom of one handle and you’ll see a little G stamp. Each one is hand-stamped and numbered by Matheson, in a limited edition of 125. You will want to carry this bag everywhere—we do.

This is just the start of more GRAY Made collabs to come!