Bicycle bag maker Swift Industries settles into historic Ballard building

On a lovely rooftop garden of their new studio space one sunny afternoon, I chatted with Martina and Jason, the creators and designers of a growing Seattle company that makes custom bags built for bike touring. Swift Industries bags are different than other panniers, not only in the way they look but also the way they are made. Each bag stands out with bold colors and style that are often lacking in practical gear. But what really sets them apart is the philosophy of Swift, pedaled by creativity and connections.

Swift started from humble beginnings in 2008 in the basement of a punk house on Beacon Hill. Things have been evolving for Swift ever since then, and they launched a new website during the March Seattle Bicycle Expo allowing customers to design and order their own bags online.

Orders started coming in every day and the production took over Jason and Martina’s whole house. They moved into a new studio space in June and added Sonia to the team, another stitcher who has helped fill the demand of increased orders.

Their new studio is in a historic landmark that was among the first to bring electricity to Ballard. It now hosts studio space, including Swift and other artists. The new space reflects Swift’s desire to live in the city and cultivate community while drastically changing what our urban spaces are like. The artists and owners maintain a rooftop garden, keep bees and rally around the love of bicycles.

Swift bag owners love other Swift sightings on the road and get excited to swap stories with other cyclists about the adventures the bags have facilitated. Each bag is custom ordered with lots of options, including hardware and even thread color. There is a strong sense of craftsmanship in the structure of the bags, which stand up to extraordinary weather. The bags also boast lots of thoughtful details, like including water bottle pockets lined with reflective strips that increase visibility. The bags are not only designed with functional details but are art pieces that reflect the personal style of the customer.

From start to finish, either Martina, Sonia or Jason cuts out each pattern piece and sews every stitch. This is far different from most other mass-produced products where one person performs the same monotonous task all day. This rejection of industrialized factory manufacturing is a big part of the underlying philosophy of Swift. Martina notes, “We are whole beings, we shouldn’t have to make pockets all day long … cycling makes us feel how whole we are.” There is a strong drive in the folks at Swift to create, to sit down and keep on sewing, keep on evolving.

The bags encourage people to get on their bicycles and go out into the world, beyond their daily commute and travel in a more engaged way. There is a strong sense of liberation in having everything you need packed in your panniers. When I asked about tips for people who are looking to start bike touring Jason responded, “There are a lot of places you can go for overnight camping within a day’s ride of the city. Start with that and see if you like it. Then if you do, just do it.” Connecting with your body, your breath and the world all around you.

There is also a celebration of experiencing all kinds of weather in bike touring. This winter Swift will feature a “Ride with Old Man Winter” campaign to support riding in all kinds of weather. Don’t be afraid, you can throw on another pair of gloves and invest in another pair of wool socks and hop on your bike. Put an extra sweater and socks in your pannier, if you get caught in a downpour, your stuff will still be dry. An amendment to that old outdoor adage might be “There is no bad weather only, bad panniers.”

For a holiday special Swift will feature stuffed saddle bags, complete with a mini-pump, swift cap and more. Also, stay tuned for product redesigns … but not on the roll-top panniers because Martina and Jason noted “we totally nailed them.” (And as an owner of a rad set of Swift’s roll-top panniers, I can say they are right!)

My Swift panniers all loaded up for a trip back to Seattle from Whidbey Island.

Kelli is a yoga teacher who can be found at her blog Yoga for Bikers and on Twitter at @yogaforbikers. If you are interested in writing for Seattle Bike Blog, email tom@seattlebikeblog.com.

About Kelli Refer

Kelli is the author and illustrator of Pedal, Stretch, Breathe: The Yoga of Bicycling. She works for Cascade Bicycle Club.
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9 Responses to Bicycle bag maker Swift Industries settles into historic Ballard building

  1. Jim Hunt says:

    Thanks for the great article and photo. I like the utility of the layout/cutting table with wheels, so it can be moved out of the way to shoot a few hoops.

  2. Davey Oil says:

    Nice piece, Kelly!
    Martina and Jason our good friends of mine (Martina was part of our kid’s birth team!) so I may be biased in that my love for the people flavors my love for the bags, but I sure do love my swift luggage!
    I don’t do a lot of bike touring right now but Swift bags are perfect for the adventure of commuting, too.
    I have a saddle bag and a porteur bag on the family minivan and they really pull the bike together (fashion-wise) and allow me to never have to wonder, “Can I stop by the market for this week’s produce?” YES. “Can I carry a roll of tools I’ll need and my ulock right on my bike, where I never need to wonder if I am prepared and can just throw my leg over and ride?” YES ALSO
    Grant Peterson said that bags are the best part of the bike. That’s certainly true when they are Swiftys.

  3. Chris says:

    Great to see Swift getting more attention. Cheers to Martina and Jason, you deserve it!

  4. Gary says:

    On the design, a patch of reflective material on the back would be worth having.

    One question, do they have the quick release clips for on/off the rack like the Ortlieb’s do? That’s part of why I have those paniers for commuting.

    Otherwise they look cool.

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