Pinkerton grad has a brand new bag in Washington stateBY KATHLEEN D. BAILEY
Special to the Union Leader
October 04. 2017 10:12PM
TWISP, Washington — When Jonathan Baker opens up his small factory the first Thursday of every month, people bring their outdoor gear in for free repairs. He and his staff sit at their industrial sewing machines and fix the items for friends, neighbors and clients. One item that probably won’t be repaired: anything made by Baker.
Baker, a 1993 graduate of Pinkerton Academy, has sustainability in a bag, or rather a series of bags. He is the founder and CEO of eqpd, a company that makes sustainable tote bags, log carriers, tool totes and other gear. He is the creator of The Last Bag, a reusable bag that he says will never need to be replaced. The Last Bag and Fix Your Gear Night are part of a broader vision Baker has for sustainable and responsible living.
Art and architecture
Baker, a native of Derry, was class president his four years and captain of the Lacrosse team. He was also heavily involved in both the architecture and fine arts programs at Pinkerton. “It was a 50-50 split,” he said. “My grandfather was a builder, but I had always loved illustration and art.”
Though his first choice was the Rhode Island School of Design, or RISD, he spent his first year of college at Roger Williams University instead. A scholarship opening made it feasible for him to transfer to RISD. He also changed majors, moving from architecture to industrial design.
During his junior year, Baker snagged an internship with the Patagonia company, which changed the way he looked at both design and life. “I spent the summer with them, and saw it was possible to have an ethically driven culture with a responsible product,” he said.
After RISD, Baker was “incredibly lucky” to be hired by Cascade, a lacrosse equipment company, as a freelance designer. He drew on his design skills and high school sports career to design lacrosse helmets, and he did it for the next 15 years. Several Pinkerton Astros lacrosse teams have worn helmets this alumnus designed.
Baker lived in the Northeast for most of his freelance career. “I didn’t know Washington State existed,” he said jokingly. An avid mountain biker, kayaker and skier, he was at home in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and “loved them.”
In the late 1990s he vacationed in Washington State, and found it, he said, “Like New Hampshire on steroids.”
What can design do?
When the company he designed for was bought out, Baker faced a career crossroads. “I returned to my original mission, ‘What can design do?’” he recalled.
He moved to eastern Washington to “hide and check out from the world,” he said, and the perfect place to do that turned out to be 900-resident Twisp. “The town has the same amount of people as my high school graduating class,” he said.
Baker began to look closely at other people’s products, and he wasn’t thrilled. “Design had gotten diluted,” he pointed out. “Some things looked expensive but fell apart, some things were expensive but were cheaply made.” He remembers challenging himself, “What object can I make that fulfills a greater mission?” He listed his mission criteria: using design to solve real-world issues, creating a sustainable product, and keeping jobs in America.
“What are the worst things people own in their lives?” he asked rhetorically, answering, “Everybody has a closet full of reusable bags that are falling apart.”
The Last Bag concept was born, and he started eqpd in 2014. The bag is “the last bag you’ll ever own,” he said, and is designed to reduce waste, leverage the idea of design and create American jobs. Baker explained, “If we’re not making things in the United States, our design systems are benefiting someone else.”
The Last Bag is available in several models, waterproof, breathable mesh, larger and smaller. “It’s one piece of fabric, four stitches and six rivets,” Baker said. “It can hold water, hold a cinder block, hold produce or beach gear.” Models are available in leather, recyclable plastic, nylon, polyester and felt.
Like many entrepreneurs he started out in a garage and made the first bags himself. It’s fundamental, he said: “The founder should know how to make his own product.”
He began showing bags around the Methow Valley where Twisp is located, using friends and neighbors as a prototype audience. “Twisp was a quiet, safe place to do this,” he recalled. “We tiptoed out into the world.”
Touching a nerve
Twisp loved the bags, with everyone from senior adults to high school students buying them. “We touched a nerve,” Baker recalled. He opened a factory with seven workers, and he expects to double his staff over the next 12 to 18 months.
“Good design creates jobs,” he pointed out.
Baker is a strong believer in buying local, and for that reason, he’s looking to expand eqpd facilities around the country, so less fossil fuel is used getting people’s Last Bags to them. He hopes to keep the Twisp plant and eventually have facilities in the Southeast, Southwest, Midwest and his home turf of the East Coast.
And he has a vision for those facilities to be more than a factory tucked away in an industrial park. “What if,” he posited, “a factory was more than a place to make goods?” He’s working on this concept with Fix Your Gear Night, among other ideas.
“We can change the world,” Baker said. “We just have to be clever enough to do it.”
For more information, visit www.eqpdgear.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (509) 997-2010.