From the Nursery to Nature: a Mom-approved Stylish Backpack
Updated: Oct 12, 2020
All About Tchoup Industries
When our family lived in Nashville from 2015-2019, I became interested in sustainable fashion, especially with handbags. And don’t get me wrong, I loved my Louis Vuitton and Tory Burch purses, but I have not bought one of those “big designer” brands of backpacks, fanny packs, purses or wallets since 2015.
Instead, I choose to buy bags that are either locally made, raise awareness about an issue, create jobs for struggling populations or give back to the environment. If I’m on vacation, I try to find leather goods, jewelry and accessories made in that area by a small business as souvenirs. I believe this practice allows visitors to give back to the place in which they are taking memories from, and to be reminded of the moment they were in at the time of the trip as well as the cause behind the gift.
So naturally, when we visited New Orleans in 2019, I stopped in at the Lower Garden District storefront of Tchoup Industries. The minimalist design drew me in, and the mission of the company and quality of the products caused me to linger, and eventually purchase a red wax canvas fanny pack before our trip was up.
Founded in 2013 by former outdoor gear designer Patti Dunn, Tchoup Industries aims to build bags and accessories that support the Southern Louisiana community, that have a reduced impact on our natural environment, and that instill a spirit of exploration. Tchoup's namesake honors Tchoupitoulas Street, a major thoroughfare for trade along the Mississippi, named after a native Louisiana tribe called the Chapitoulas.
To uphold its mission and heritage, Tchoup uses local, natural materials and Louisiana talent whenever possible to create large backpacks, fanny packs, wallets, can holders and more. For example, the cotton woven panels they use are made by a New Orleanean weaver named Daron Douglas.
“She is one of the most delightful human beings you’ll ever meet!” said Dunn in an interview with FitTravelingMama. “Her grandmother taught her to weave and she still uses her family’s heirloom looms.
Tchoup also buys genuine alligator leather from Lafayette, Louisiana from a distributor who works directly with local hunters and tanners. Apparently, this material is such a hot commodity that it’s priced by the square inch. Patti and her team also source the brand’s signature stainless steel hooks – a custom design she created herself – at Begnaud’s Metal Manufacturing based in Lafayette. “Everyone there is so friendly and it’s been incredibly convenient having a high-caliber production facility right here in the state,” said Dunn.
You may be wondering how Tchoup uses animal products like alligator leather and nutria, literally a swamp rat, in its bags as part of its environmentally friendly practices. According to Dunn, she prefers to use natural versus synthetic materials, which create less waste.
“Most faux leather and furs are synthetic (or plastic-based),” she explained. “I think we are all well aware of the plastic trash problem we have on this planet. Plastic does not biodegrade for a loooong time. When I started Tchoup Industries, it was in response to the Deep Horizon rig explosion and oil spill. I made a conscious decision for our brand that we would steer clear of oil-based materials as much as possible. We would much rather use fur from an invasive rodent species (nutria) that is pushing out native fauna and eating wetland grasses-leading to land erosion – than put more plastic into the world!” Read more about Tchoup’s sustainability efforts here.
My Roulez Pack
After falling in love with the style and durability (toddler-tested) of my fannypack, I had my eye on Tchoup’s backpacks, specifically the high-end Roulez Pack with black leather. I’ve had a Northface backpack (again, big brand that I do not buy anymore) and was looking to upgrade to a new pack I could use while traveling, for work and play dates away from home with the kids. Tchoup’s model is for “City and Swamp,” meaning the water repellent bags are durable enough for outdoor adventures and make for the perfect urban exploration companion, too. I tested out my new pack on two recent trips to San Luis Obispo County, Ca. and the Highland Lakes region in Texas.
The Roulez Pack is big enough to fit my laptop, my belongings and all the kids’ things, but it doesn’t feel bulky and big on my back. I appreciated the comfortable, repurposed nylon straps while hiking on a cool and misty California beach as well as in hot, dry Texas Hill Country. The top of the bag folds down like a drybag on a canoe trip and is secured with a hook that doubles as a beer bottle opener – score! The nice leather panel on the bottom dresses up the bag for fancier occasions, like when I visited wineries in Paso Robles wine country (you can bet I fit more than a couple bottles of wine in there). Some other relevant features on the bag include an interior iPad pocket made from repurposed rice bags, an interwoven key loop and plenty of exterior pockets on the canvas body. In sum, this pack is made for people who like to work hard, play hard and look sophisticated while doing it.
Getting Chatty with Patti
FitTravelingMama interviewed Dunn about her background, the future of Tchoup and getting creative with business opportunities in the wake of the pandemic.
FitTravelingMama: Your background is in creating gear for the outdoor industry. You tell us a little more about that, and how it’s helped to open your own business?
Patti Dunn: My experience in outdoor bag design helped me bring the highest quality product to market under our brand, while also giving me a hazy outline of the marketing and sales side of things needed to get the business started. I certainly had more to learn, but it was very helpful having professional interactions with larger companies before starting my own.
FTM: How do you generate the ideas for products you create? Are these typically inspired by custom requests from outdoor enthusiasts or from your own outdoor experience?
PD: It’s a mix of both! For instance, one of our best-selling items – the Fanny Pack – was something added to the collection after receiving a plethora of requests. We couldn’t get through a market without someone asking for one! The first bag I designed was the Roulez Pack. I love the large volume that is great for camping or travel, and the ergonomic shape that wraps around your hips while wearing the bag. The cost of that pack ended up being a little higher than expected, so I made it our ceiling price point and was more discerning about balancing functionality with cost on future designs.
FTM: What are some of your favorite memories since you’ve founded the brand?
PD: All my favorite memories include heartwarming interactions with customers, or the strong friendships built amongst our teammates over the years. 2020 has been a really tough year, I had to lay off our entire staff shortly after the pandemic hit this spring. The Tchoup Industries krewe has always been an ever-evolving group of creative, independent-thinking, sassy (mostly) women and our annual holiday handmade or local Secret Santa gift exchanges were truly inspirational gatherings! I hope to host a holiday reunion for us again this winter.
FTM: Can you tell us about a specific time in which Tchoup gives back to the community environment?
PD: I mentioned woven fabric earlier, and a few years back the director of The Guild of Raphael Village reached out to me about using fabric her students had woven out of used plastic shopping bags. The fabric is so colorful and has a wonderful texture for a bag. I love that it keeps plastic out of our waterways and landfills and is made by young adults learning useful life skills! We used the fabric in our 2018 Mardi Gras Collection and it was a hit.
FTM: What is your family’s favorite park in the New Orleans area and why?
PD: Good question! We definitely have a handful of favorites. Our most frequented is Annunciation Park because it is right across the street from our house! It’s a great spot to watch the sunrise and we enjoy keeping up with the pandemonium of quaker parrots that frequent it as well.
City Park by far has the most to offer. We love sitting under the chimes tree, strolling through the sculpture garden, and exploring Couterie Forest. Plus you can’t go wrong with a park that has beignet & coffee service!
FTM: Covid has been devastating to many industries, including retail. Can you tell me about your future outlook for the brand or any new products you’d like readers to know about?
PD: I have been taking this challenge as an opportunity to creative problem solve like never before. Recently, we have set up one of our industrial sewing machines in our dining room to fulfill a small amount of new production. I even found a way to convert my 1998 Toyota Tacoma into a mobile pop up shop for customers who just need to see things in person. Our business has always run very lean (profits have never been very high for us), and now I’m just planning to stay small and svelte until tourism, festivals and shopping get back into full swing.
Follow us on social media to catch new fabric launches (as we move through our existing material stock). And definitely keep an eye out for our 2021 Mardi Gras collection… we just can’t pass up an opportunity to flaunt something new during that time of year! : )