I sat at Chomp Chomp, an underrated food stop on East Adams street, and admired the bar stools with seat covers of the Misfits and other bands while I waited to meet Burro Bags designer and Burro Bar co-owner Chris Williams.
He casually walked in right on time and before sitting down, briefly greeted the employees of the tiny eatery who knew him on a first name basis. He sat down and smiled. One of the workers handed him a beer almost immediately. It was obvious to Williams, downtown is his home.
With Williams familiarity to the area, it only made sense for it to be the place where he started turning his dreams into reality, which is exactly what he did when he created the first Burro Bag with Matt Borts in 2007.
Chris Williams producing a Burro shirt
photo cred: http://sphotos.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn1/34281_130907250280766_3125303_n.jpg
Five years later, the University of North Florida graduate is doing what he loves, which oddly enough has nothing to do with his Bachelors degree in English. In fact, it was his journey to the campus from downtown that sparked his idea to do something different. Williams said he would commute to school via bike and bus and needed an easier way to keep his gear in order, thus created Burro Bags as a way to make biking around town more applicable.
The initial creating of the bags did not cost much, as his father being an upholsterer gave him easy access to necessary materials. According to Williams, perfecting the creations in to what they are today was just a trial and error process. Now, in addition to riding gear, Burro Bags also deals apparel.
After lunch, Williams led our one and a half block trek to his shop. The entrance is split between a record shop, and Williams side displayed some of the 100 percent made in America bags, t-shirts in a variety of colors, and other miscellaneous apparel readily available for purchase.
Artwork consumes nearly all the walls in the shop, and in the front is a mural of donkeys, the animal that is the logo of the brand itself. Williams said the animal was picked in part because they travel in packs, and essentially so do bike enthusiasts.
The Burro logo on a backpack
Another wall in the middle room of the shop
Through the back is the production area. Though filled with a wide-range of materials, cardboard boxes, tables and sewing machines, the work area had simplicity to it no murals, no real distractions, just a space to keep the business flowing.
Williams estimated the time of creating an item from anywhere between 25 minutes to an hour. He shared one of his designs, a backpack complete with a YKK zipper, various compartments and sweat-reducing shoulder straps.
Various interior compartments
The success of the designs is largely in part because before Burro Bags, Jacksonville had not yet seen a company that catered to the needs of cyclists and other aspects of urban lifestyle. Williams credited the city and noted how building a dream in a quieter place is sometimes easier; if he had tried to do the same in a place like New York he said it would be harder to break in to. By generating Burro Bags in Jacksonville, Williams and his co-creators were able to set the bar for others.
Though working locally does have its downsides, Williams admits. Theres a difference between people knowing your stuff and wanting to buy your stuff, he said.
And if one is familiar with downtown, chances are, they are familiar with his affiliations. The members of Burro Bags partnered with Shantytown pub to create Burro Bar, which opened in 2011. Since then, it has developed into a popular music venue and one of the few Jacksonville hang outs that still plays anything from the Smiths to New Order to Iggy Pop on any given night.
There are other young entrepreneurs such as a Williams based in downtown, but he hardly sees them as competition.
Collaborating excites the same part of your spirit as fighting, if you do it right, he said.
Though both Burro Bags and Burro Bar is undoubtedly reflective of Jacksonvilles youth, Williams insisted the brand has something to offer everyone. Williams said the secret to appealing to a variety is learning how to read people, and in order to prosper, every business has to expand their audience.
What further ensures the products individuality is the customizable options available for order on their website. A customer can order items ranging from a padded laptop pocket on a roll top bag, a right slung messenger bag for lefties, or belt loops on hip bags.
It is a wonder how the entrepreneurs success has become so tangible before the age of 30. Perhaps it is his balance between humbleness and confidence that lead him to such perseverance. As laid back as he was upon introduction, sipping a beer and reluctant to talk himself up, his dedication and business-like attitude is proven in his endeavors.
To purchase Burro apparel visit the store at 228 E Forsyth St, or customize your own on the website: http://www.burrobags.com/
article and photos by Melanie Pagan