Boy (Oscar) meets girl (Nell) in a coffee shop. They design a small "Bear Minimal" (our first name) bag and make a terrible prototype. Fortunately they soon find Amy, a master bag maker. She makes the bag much better.
Fast forward a couple of years and the range has expanded. Nell and Oscar are married. The team has grown, and thanks to being featured in WIRED, are now called BearMade, they got our name wrong and it stuck.
We exist to challenge what it means to be a responsible business.
We make bags for a better life and planet. We do this by making them locally, from responsibly sourced materials and use our funds and time to do good things for people and planet.
Thanks for your interest in our journey. Read on to learn more!
Our Story in about 5 minutes
Thanks for taking the time to learn more about how BearMade was born and why we make bags for people who love the outdoors.
The story of BearMade is heavily tied to my (Oscar) relationship with Nell. Had we not had a chance encounter in a Hampshire coffee shop back in 2018, then Bear likely would not exist. During that first encounter, I somehow managed to convince Nell to come fly fishing with me.
At the time I was working as a fly fishing guide in Hampshire and Nell had just moved to the UK from Australia. She wasn't working at the time, but was, and still is a Veterinarian.
So a couple of days after our chance meeting, we met on the river. In those first few hours we spent together, Nell mentioned that she had previously tried to take up fly fishing but, she had found the amount of kit and flies she supposedly needed so overwhelming and confusing that she had given up before she even started.
This got my mind going. I had always known that fly fishing wasn't an easy sport to take up, but had not thought so much about the complexity of equipment being a big barrier to starting out.
So I started to think about how we could solve that problem.
After coming up with a few not so good ideas, I approached Nell with the idea of making a small bag that would just take the bare essentials, and we would use our funds to help get people into the sport. Fortunately, she thought this was a great idea. We also decided that we wanted the business to be a platform for us to talk openly about mental wellbeing. We both suffer from mental health difficulties and have found that being immersed in nature has greatly benefited us. We wanted to share these benefits with others.
So we had the concept, now we needed to make it a reality.
I used to fly fish for the England youth team and whilst I stopped competing a while ago, I still spent a lot of time exploring wild places working as a fly fishing guide focusing on the more adventurous side of the sport. From competing at that level and working as a guide, I knew how important it was to have good gear. More importantly, I knew what I didn't like, and what I thought we could do better.
There was one issue. Neither of us knew how to make a bag. I had never even used a sewing machine. So the prototype production was down to Nell. She had access to her grannies sewing machine, and sort of knew how to use it. We came up with the initial design concept and I left her to it.
On the first prototype, Nell accidentally measured in inches rather than cm... The bag was huge. So for the second one, I thought I would try and help out. It quickly became obvious that Nell did not have the patience for this kind of work (potentially I might have been a bit of a perfectionist), so I asked her to show me how to use the sewing machine, and I took over.
I made loads of prototypes before eventually settling on the design we still make today. However, there was no way we could sell what I was making. They were not pretty. We needed some professional help.
Before finding someone to make our bags, we had to be clear on our direction as a business, and we needed a name.
For our name, we knew that minimalist design principles were at the core of the brand and that we wanted to make a bag that would just take the bare essentials.
We came up with a few shockers like "Simplifly" before one of us mentioned Bear Minimum, we knew it was right straight away. This then became Bear Minimal and has ultimately become BearMade.
We also knew that we wanted to:
- Make simple and functional bags with a timeless design that would last a lifetime
- Make them in the UK whilst matching the price of products produced halfway around the world
- Have the smallest environmental impact possible
- Use our funds to get people outdoors
Achieving all this without much money behind us, and no experience of the industry was not going to be easy. It became even harder when we couldn't find anyone in the UK willing to make a small number of bags for us.
After weeks of searching and calling lots of different places with little success, we found Amy. She was and still is amazing. Without her, it would have been impossible to move forward with Bear. She allowed us to order tiny quantities of bags and helped us understand more about designing the bags and sourcing materials.
Finally, in February 2019, we launched BearMade.
Between then and now, a lot has changed. Nell and I are now married, and live in the Yorkshire Dales. We still make some fly fishing bags, but most of our bags are now designed with a more general outdoor lifestyle in mind. They are multi-use and designed to be used everyday, no matter where that day may take you.
Whilst our products have changed, our purpose remains more or less the same. Instead of just introducing people to fly fishing, we now have a broader goal of getting people outdoors.
This year hopefully will see us running our first outdoor workshops for our community and the launch of some exciting new products and initiatives.
The pandemic has been challenging, but it's had its silver linings. The past year has seen us build a small team of awesome people who are helping us grow our impact and our business.
We don't like to settle. We are constantly refining our products, and the materials we use. By November 2021 we will be sourcing nearly all our parts and materials from within the UK. Amy is still making all our bags, and through carbon offsetting, they are now all carbon negative.
The most special thing about starting, and running BearMade over the past couple of years, has been the people we have met along the way. We are so excited to meet more of the people who use our bags and keep growing this awesome community.
We are on a very exciting journey. Thank you for being a part of it.
Oscar, Nell and the BearMade team.