The Vitrine

by Blaire Dessent
November 20, 2012
An interview with RJ Diaz of Industry Portage

RJ Diaz is the founder of Industry Portage. He designs a range of functional, well made,  and smart looking bags that are inspired by his background in architecture and construction. But beyond the good looking bags, Industry Portage also collaborates with non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity-giving back to the community. It’s a pleasure to include some of his work on The Vitrine. Thanks to RJ for responding to my questions!

The Industry Portage Studio, Fall 2012

Q: When and how did you decide to make the leap to start your own business, Industry Portage? 

A: I’ve always loved the intersection of function and design.  This is why I love architecture and construction.  In 2010, I was frustrated by the amount of money I had spent on work bags over the years and came across information on resourcing product manufacturing that gave me the courage to prototype my own designs, do some test marketing and develop a brand around my concept called Industry Portage.  In hindsight, I realize that the seed for this concept was planted in 1990, when I designed and built my own bag that held the items I needed to carry around for my architecture and drawing classes at the time which included an oversize drawing pad and even a special holder for my T-square (I’m really dating myself here!).

Q: Do you have a studio where you work or where are the designs created? Is this full time for you now or do you still practice architecture/ construction? 

A: I have a home studio where I keep my computer, equipment, materials/hardware samples and inspiration boards.  Since I always keep my sketchbook and iPad handy, my design studio is pretty much everywhere I go. Currently, I am a also a construction management executive in New York City.

Q: How did you choose the materials? It’s definitely unique, but why the welder’s jacket? 

A: I chose canvas because of its durability and versatility.  The bags I’ve liked and used the most during my career in construction were made of a combination of canvas and leather.  I was definitely inspired early in this process by brands such as Filson and Klein Tools and their bag designs used mostly canvas. I wanted to celebrate the craft of construction and always loved the patina of the heavy suede jackets worn by ironworkers on my jobsites. From spark burns to the softer areas of the jackets, I believed the effect would translate well to a carry bag. I also wanted to explore the ideas of upcycling, which in my mind would repurpose a utilitarian item into something of a work of art and expression of craftsmanship. 

Q: Tell us about your connections to non profits such as Habitat for Humanity and Room to Read? How are they linked to Industry Portage? 

A: As a father to two young children born just before Industry Portage was started, I made a conscious decision to use the brand as an extension of the advocacy work I personally believed in.  The right to have a home for anyone willing to work hard as well as every child’s right to an education and play is extremely important to me. I am also an advocate for the environment and believe in the importance of thinking globally and acting locally.  I am a volunteer with my community’s Green Team, which advocates for an environmentally conscious lifestyle and governance. I also love the fine arts and especially modern dance and therefore support it whenever I can. 

Q: Did you take any special training when you started designing the bags or did it come naturally? 

A: I did not take any formal classes but I definitely did a lot a research and spent a lot of money in my lifetime buying bags that never seemed to do exactly what I wanted.

Q: What/Who are some of your design influences?

A: In addition to Filson and Klein Tools, my design, aesthetic, and brand  influences include Harley-Davidson, Levi’s, the ‘64-1/2 Mustang, Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, Picasso, Apple/Steve Jobs, Giacometti, Carlo Scarpa, da Vinci, mid-century furniture and industrial design, ’70s top 40 radio, construction sites, and recently Luis Barragan.

Q: What books are currently at your bedside?

A: Impact Equation by Chris Brogan, Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Geek Dad by Ken Denmead.

Q: Favorite cocktail? 

A: Greyhound or Margarita


If The Lamp Shade Fits

Life is too short to live ugly.

by Raina Cox

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I don't have to tell you, my delicious Dumplings, that I'm lucky enough to have the smartest, most creative and best-looking followers in all the blogosphere. Several moons ago, RJ Diaz chimed in with a particularly witty insight. I trailed him back to his website and found that he makes some seriously handsome bags under the label Industry Portage. I fell hard for his Suede Welder's Tote before noticing the one-off wonder was already sold.

Made from an actual welder's protective pigskin jacket, the bag is assembled from carefully cut pieces.

RJ recently let me know he'd tracked down another vintage welder's jacket and whipped up version 2.0. Behold the Milton Tote - a bona fide beauty of blue collar origins. Made in America, this cleverly upcycled bag features strategically-placed pockets and several cubic feet (approximately) of storage.

Head on over to RJ's place to check out all of his glorious man bags!

by Chris Brogan
March 19, 2012

Earn Your Way In

Angry Phone

One aspect of doing business is access: who can you reach and at what level have they surrendered their borders to you? For instance, if one has a website selling quality industrial bags like RJ Diaz, and you come to that site, then I have zero access to you, except that you’ve loaned me your eyeballs for a moment. If, while you’re there, you see RJ has provided you with links to his Twitter account, for instance, so maybe you’ll choose to follow his account there, and that will be another point of access.

If he's smart and lucky, RJ will earn the right to send you email. This will either go to your only email address, or more likely, to your “place where I subscribe to stuff knowing that others might eventually spam me” account. That’s another layer of access.

RJ doesn’t have access to your phone, nor does he have permission to text you. Yet. Does he need that? Another point to consider.

Earn Your Way In

To me, here’s the current access continuum:

  • Eyes on a site.
  • Social network connectivity.
  • Random/Junk email address.
  • Say hi at event level.
  • Personal/primary email address.
  • Text message level.
  • Phone level.
  • Take private meeting.
  • Stop by the house level.

Obviously, we earn this access. Sometimes, we earn it over time. Other times, we earn it because of a perceived exchange of value. Sometimes, we bypass "earning" it via friends.

One Quick Detour: The Perils of "Bypassing" Instead of Earning

I have a theory that any access that we earn via those bypass methods doesn’t really stick around. For instance, I bypassed earning access to a very successful entrepreneur and I was able to speak with him on a very personal level, but now, I won’t really be able to call back at my whim, because I didn’t fully earn it.

The same is true if we rent an email list or try to muscle our way into a level of access that wasn’t really a mutual experience. If we push for your email address and offer you an iPad, we’re not earning your address, we’re bypassing that earning. Do I think you’ll be more loyal to the interaction because you were trying to win an iPad?

How Much Access Do You Need?

Maybe the first thing to consider before you go about earning access is knowing just how much access you need. Let’s say you are looking to sell a product or service. Depending on what you’re selling would determine how deep access would be. Depending on the level of relationship you intend to have with the company, you’d know a bit more about the access you need.

In my case, people who subscribe to my free newsletter know they’re getting value after the very first issue, and when they do, they give me even more earned access. Do I need that level of access? Not exactly, but I like the intimacy. It works well with the Human Business Works mindset and ethos.

In other cases, like with RJ Diaz above, we might even have to ask just how much access RJ needs. I’d offer that he’d do better with your web eyeballs and maybe access to your less-than-private email. That’d probably be enough, at least for this project.

So, start by knowing what you do or don’t need for access.

How to Earn Access

Be helpful. That’s always my first advice. That’s what I do with my newsletter. I do something helpful. That’s how the blog works. That’s how one might earn more and more access.

Share other people’s stories. For whatever reason, access seems to grow if you do what you can to promote others. The more I tell the stories of others, the more people come to me to want to tell their story. Sometimes, this is useful. Other times, it’s a problem of people trying to bypass access. Either way, it helps me earn access.

Connect two helpful people together. This can be done so very wrong. But done right, connecting two people who are meant to do business with each other is a powerful way to earn access. Just pushing two “good people” together never seems to work. I have people offer that to me all the time, and I never do much with the contact. Never because the other person isn’t amazing but because there’s no immediate need nor any particular glue to keep that relationship going. That said, connecting two really helpful people together often lends itself to great future experiences.

Keep the contact alive. Access is a living thing. If you don’t connect with the person every few months at the least, you run the risk of losing that access. Keep it alive.

Give MUCH more than you take. This is the most important of these rules, and the one people overlook. My inbox is littered with takers. Oddly, I don’t seem to reply to them often. Then, I seem to forget their addresses. Then, I don’t see them around much any more. It’s like a magic trick. Give more than you take. It’s the only right way to do it.

Earn Your Way In

One last point. The people you should earn your way into are the up-and-comers. They need the relationships and so do you. It’s great to shoot for the “known stars” of a space, but it’s usually those people who have many clamoring over them. Instead, give the smart rising stars a shout. They will do more for your life than any “big name” ever will. I know that from my experience with working my way through this world. There are so few “big stars” who can spare the time to add value. The ones who give me my love and relationship value are people exactly like me, the up and comers.

You with me?