The story of “finance man turned entrepreneur of beautifully crafted goods” is one we know all too well. It’s a story we hear a different iteration of almost daily, and to be quite frank, a story that never gets old. We were first introduced to Matt Weaver of Andover Trask through our good friend, entrepreneur and Atlanta-native, David Kowalski of Brick and Mortar Antiques. David and Matt hosted a pop-up shop together recently, and Matt’s product immediately caught our eye. Andover Trask creates utilitarian, durable bags by hand using natural canvas and leather sourced in America. The final product is simple, good-looking, and practical enough to be passed down for generations. We got in touch with Matt to learn more about his story, life in Atlanta, and even about his soon-to-be most treasured possession.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how Andover Trask came to be.
I started Andover Trask as a passion project, really. I’m from North Georgia, and I dreamed of moving to New England all through college. When I graduated, I did move up to Boston and was working in insurance/finance and spending my weekends exploring all of the historic old villages I had been dreaming about. Pretty soon, though, I accepted a job offer back in Atlanta and left New England for the South. As I was driving back to Georgia, it struck me that I had given up my dream for a job that I didn’t really even like. So I decided to do something that I loved. I bought a bunch of books and started teaching myself to sew, and pretty soon I was making (really bad) bags for my friends. I stuck with it, the bags got better, and two or three years later the Atlanta Journal-Constitution caught wind of it and did a feature on me. That started it all.
What prompted you to pick up sewing?
I didn’t know anything about sewing, and this was pre-Instagram, but when I was in Boston, I met a guy who was making neckties. I was intrigued by the craftsmanship and the challenge of starting that sort of business. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I started exploring the idea of doing something similar, and the more I learned, the better I liked it.
What was that process like — teaching yourself how to sew?
Frustrating, challenging, and very rewarding. Most people learn to sew on a home sewing machine, but I wanted to work with heavy materials like canvas and leather, which home machines can’t handle. So I taught myself on industrial machines, which are a lot less intuitive. Everything I made in the first 2 or 3 years was pretty bad, but like with anything, practice makes perfect.
How many folks are part of your operation? Is it still a solo show?
There are 2 of us in the studio full-time, and we have some part-time help, etc. As the business grows my role is shifting more towards marketing and logistics.
How do you see your business growing?
Our growth has been pretty organic so far. We don’t have much of a marketing budget, so word-of-mouth and social media are invaluable. From a product perspective, we are working on some new styles and preparing to introduce new materials that will broaden the appeal of our brand. Most of our retail sales come through our website currently, but I would love to see a brick and mortar store in the future.
There’s such beauty in constructing a piece by hand — do you plan to always be this involved with the production end of the business?
It’s rewarding to see a piece of raw material pass through the production process and then send it to a customer across the country or wherever they may be. We do our production in-house for a few reasons: the quality is superior, and in-house product allows us to be agile. Our lead times are short, and we are able to keep a minimal amount of inventory on-hand.
Where are your materials sourced?
We source from a variety of places: leather from Pennsylvania, canvas from New England, machinery and sewing supplies from Georgia, etc.
What would your advice be for entrepreneurs interested in pursuing a business based on handcrafted goods?
If you want to build a business and not a hobby, you should spend some time doing serious market research to see where your product fits into the market. Building a strong, cohesive brand is important, and it requires a lot of skills that may be unrelated to your craft (photography, graphic design, marketing, PR, etc.). Think about how you will handle each of those functions.
Which bag do you get the most use out of?
I carry the Harper (in navy and tan). Its design is based on a tool bag, and it has lots of exterior pockets and a generous interior. It keeps me organized and accommodates all of my gadgets.
Do you see yourself staying in the South, or venturing back to the Northeast? Or elsewhere?
Atlanta is home now, but I travel a good bit and I try to make it up to New England as often as I can.
What’s the best thing going on in Atlanta right now?
Oh man, that’s a hard one. There are so many exciting things happening in Atlanta: The Beltline is Atlanta’s version of NYC’s Highline, and it’s fantastic. It’s open now, but construction is ongoing and it will eventually consist of 30 miles of paved bike + pedestrian trails with a streetcar running alongside. The completed portion has already stimulated billions of dollars of development and is lined with all sorts of great restaurants, galleries, bars, etc.
What do you find most inspiring about your city?
The people. Atlanta is a big, sprawling city, but it almost has a small-town feel. It’s an easy place to make friends and build lasting relationships.
And finally! We ask everyone we interview several questions from the Proust Questionnaire.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? Mark Twain. You may have noticed that several of our bags are named after Twain characters. I love his sense of humor, his progressive way of thinking, and his vivid descriptions of life on the Mississippi.
What is your greatest extravagance? Good booze. I love to entertain and I don’t cook, so you can always count on me for a well-crafted cocktail.
What is your motto? Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Thrift. Life’s too short.
What is your most marked characteristic? I’m outgoing. And usually laughing.
Which word or phrases do you most overuse? I say “perf”as in perfect all the time, but I don’t think it’s overused. It’s perf.
What is your most treasured possession? Well, I haven’t actually taken possession of my most treasured possession yet, but my grandmother has a Swedish mid-century bar cart that she gave me and then retracted (she was going to downsize to a smaller house and then changed her mind). I’m gonna get that damn cart, though, and it will be my most treasured thing.
Who are your heroes in real life? I’m always inspired by a great American success story, which is often an immigrant story. I think it’s heroic to start with very little and make a life for your family.
When and where were you the happiest? Fall in New England