BearMade is an exploration into a different way of doing business. We want to prove that it is possible to run a business that does something genuinely meaningful and makes amazing products that don’t cost the Earth. We want to have a business that we feel genuinely good about building.
Through transparent pricing, making and selling locally, carbon offsetting, and using our resources to connect people with nature, we challenge what it means to be a sustainable business.
Scroll down to read the story of how we started BearMade ↓
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, we’re now called BearMade. They got our name wrong, and it stuck.
We're now selling quite a few bags a month and feel like we're getting somewhere. So much so that we’ve been able to open our first brick-and-mortar shop and start the Wildish Club.
So thank you. It's massively energising to know there's a tribe of people out there who share our love for nature, sustainability and really well made bags.
The full story
Thanks for taking the time to learn more about how BearMade was born and why we make bags for wildish people.
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 BearMade 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 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.
Having previously competed at a high level in fly fishing and spent over 10 years working as a fishing guide focusing on the more adventurous side of the sport, I knew how important it was to have good quality functional gear. More importantly, I’ve learnt what does and doesn’t work in a practical setting.
I approached Nell with the idea of making a small bag that would just take the bare essentials. 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 and the highs and lows of starting a business. 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.
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 together 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.
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.
As for our direction, well we knew that we didn't want to add more crap to the world, and that we wanted to use our funds to help people connect with nature.
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 competing on price with products produced halfway around the world
→ Have the smallest environmental impact possible
→ Use our funds to get people outdoors and connecting with nature
→ Talk openly about mental wellbeing and how getting outdoors can impact it.
Achieving all this without much money behind us, and no experience of the industry was not going to be easy (naivety is a very useful tool). 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 BearMade. She allowed us to order tiny quantities of bags and helped us understand more about designing bags and sourcing materials.
Finally, in February 2019, we launched Bear Minimal (now BearMade).
Between then and now, a lot has changed. Nell and I are now married, and live in the Yorkshire Dales. Nell has quit being a Vet and is now working full time at BearMade. We now make bags with an urban X outdoor lifestyle in mind and our fly fishing bags are now under a separate brand. We also have a brick-and-mortar shop called the Wildish Store in Pateley Bridge.
Whilst our products have changed a little, our purpose remains the same. To make great bags for awesome people that don’t cost the earth, and use our time and resources to help people connect with each other and the outdoors.
In July 2022 we launched The Wildish Club and it completely changed our lives. We pledged to help 200 people get outdoors, through community meet ups, outdoor art workshops, and doing just about anything we could imagine outdoors.
This year we have set our biggest goal yet. We are going to help 2000 people.
We have met so many amazing people over the past few years. It's been our favourite thing about building BearMade and we are so excited to keep growing this special community.
We are on a very exciting journey. Thank you for being a part of it. If you want to be kept up to date with our progress then you can sign up to our newsletter below.
Oscar & Nell