I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in such evolutionary times. Being a product of the sixties, I’ve witnessed first hand the infusion of technology into mainstream America. I’ll never forget my dad coming home with our first Packard Bell color television… complete with rabbit ears of course! In the seventies, I saw digital calculators replace slide rules. The eighties brought more of the same, but faster; Apple, Cell phones, America Online, MTV, and shopping malls…. America would never be the same again.
My dad was an industrial designer, machinist, and self-taught engineer. My mom was artistic and spent much of her free time sketching and painting. Growing up around them was something like being enrolled in an immersion school for Fine-Industrial Arts. I conceived, drew, prototyped, and created in wood, metals, textiles, plastics, and leather. It was great, if I could dream it, I could build it. I was so fortunate to have all the resources at my disposal.
Early on, projects were small. I built a few knives, holsters, and even milled some guitar parts. I then graduated to things with wheels, and motorcycles became a true obsession. To this day, few things capture my attention like the exhaust note of an old air-cooled twin. Over the years I’ve restored numerous bikes including old Triumphs, Ducatis and Hondas.
I’m also a car nut and especially liked the older European stuff. My first car was a ‘73 BMW 2002tii, I restored it from the ground up putting it in near concourse condition. In 1981 I saw ‘King of The Mountain’ (a flick about road racing on Mulholland Drive). I was mesmerized by Porsche, pinched pennies for a few years, and built a very sweet RS Clone that was ultimately stolen, rolled into a ditch, and totaled a few short years later.
College began with the intent of becoming an architect. My primary interest was residential design. A couple of years in, I realized I was wasting my time. Maybe I was being overly simplistic, but it seemed good residential design was about thoughtful simplicity and all the coursework was turning it into a sterile, formulated process with too many rules and too much pageantry. I switched to business school where I double majored and minored in Clothing, Textiles, and related Arts. It was a great fit, I loved designing, clothing and textiles were a new challenge that I took on with much new- found curiosity. I managed to find a balance of Art and science in truly perfect proportion.
After college, I designed and built my first screen printing press and launched a small shirt and poster printing company. Shortly after I moved operations from Oregon down to Los Angeles. It was there, I met my lovely wife and we began working on our lives together and our business. Together we made the perfect team, she’s the yin to my yang, where I’m weak she is strong and vice versa. It’s an interesting dynamic that I’m very fortunate to have. We have a unified vision but often from very different vantage points and it somehow works so smoothly. In ’99 we had our beautiful, smart, and witty daughter, Claire. Its been our goal to instill the desire in her to be creative, think for herself, and contribute to the world; Not an easy challenge in a world today where most heads are bowed down, almost in prayer, succumbing to a smart phone with endless distraction.
I’ve spent the majority of my career in fashion. It’s truly an amazing, fast paced industry, with very unique business models that could prove useful to nearly any other industry. I love the fact that Fashion is in perpetual flux. I can’t think of any other industry that re-invents itself a minimum of four times a year, and more realistically every single month. Most products run a cycle of a year, or decades for that matter. This perpetual evolution makes for a very dynamic and tuned-in business. Fashion is also unique that it incorporates consumer psychology, and understands human need and desire. Fashion understands people. Most other businesses are too busy commoditizing their products to focus any attention on the people using their product. It’s this big picture approach that I love, this melding of art and science that lends itself to the creation of amazing products. When I think about it every business should be in the business of Fashion, Apple most certainly is, and has applied the concepts to their little company with handsome reward.
I’ve always had a deep admiration and appreciation for finely designed and crafted things, especially when they’ve been built with my own hands. For me, it’s always been about saving up and buying, or making, something nice that I could appreciate over the long haul. I still have a McIntosh stereo amplifier I bought in the early eighties and it’s better than most audiophile equipment being made today, and quite a collector’s piece to boot (although I do wish it had a remote)! My old Rolex and Seiko Divers watches are both worth much more today than when I bought them decades ago, and I still wear them daily. My take is we can invest in a few quality things in our lives, or buy a ton of junk. Nice things compliment life, junk has an equal and opposite effect.
My wife and I created Philosophy bags for a couple of reasons. The most obvious, being the desire to give people a great bag and to prove we can still craft terrific products here in America and support one another’s efforts. The other reason though, and our real ‘mission’, is a means to help fund the ‘Industrial Arts Project’, a non-profit program we’re creating to teach grade school children creative thinking through immersion courses in textiles, leather, wood, and metal working. We feel it very important to preserve and hand down some of these endangered traditions.
Today, nearly all, creative ‘hard-to-test-to’ curriculum has been systematically erased from our public schools. Even though we pass bonds and levies, and have a pro-education government, we continually see our children’s education being compromised and stripped down not unlike a broken car along a desolate roadside.
It’s our mission to create extra curricular programs that can be scaled nation wide at some point to help our youth overcome this fault in our educational system. We believe with everyone’s support we can make a difference in the fulfillment of kid’s lives. It’s my sincerest hope we can do this together as a village.
Joan Strong Cameron
I was born in the 60s, and grew up on the East Coast, in PA. I was interested in fashion from a very early age. My mother would remind me often of how much she loved watching me, as a tiny kindergarten kid put together my own outfits, complete with accessories borrowed from her. I dreamed of going to where the action was: Europe, New York City, Los Angeles. As a teenager, I really connected with Molly Ringwald’s character in Pretty in Pink. I shopped at thrift stores and altered what I found, putting together a funky wardrobe that was only admired by a chosen few of my catholic school crowd. The catholic school environment was not the best place for me. I remember watching the TV series “Fame” and wishing so badly that I could be going to school somewhere like that! The girl with the desire to express herself through her wardrobe was reduced to a Kelly green polyester jumper-yikes! I spent my spare time watching videos on MTV, checking out trends, and trying to copy them. I would spend all my birthday money on fashion magazines, and poured over the JC Penney catalog (a staple in our home growing up), making my wish list of outfits I put together, but could never buy. As I reflect on that now, I realize that is where I learned the fashion basics of trendspotting (not even a word yet), learning color palettes and collections, the descriptive names they gave to regular colors, and the fashion vocabulary used to describe styles, fabric, prints, etc. Herringbone, tweed, ditzy, foulard-thank you JCP catalog! You were my introduction to fashion theory.
I spent my first 12 years of formal education in catholic school (not a good fit for a creative kid) longing for the day that I could leave this religious indoctrination and this small town behind. I had visions of owning a super funky boutique somewhere cooler than I had ever even been to yet. I made it through the catholic years with my creative tendencies still in tact, amazingly enough. When it was time to choose my college, I applied to the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC, intending to go for fashion design. I was accepted, but chickened out at the last minute, and decided to go the safe route and majored in business administration instead. I followed my then sweetheart to Penn State and had a miserable time not attending parties and other typical college events because my boyfriend wasn’t into such things, and, since he was the boss of me (I am quite a different person now-just ask Troy) I did as instructed. So, I spent my college years being neither social nor creative, so, with nothing to distract me, I did excel in my business classes.
Soon after, I deeply regretted my decision to not follow my creative heart and go to the big apple, but then, in 1990, it all became clear why I made the choices I made. My then boyfriend was long behind me, and, I had moved to Southern California. I was finding my own voice, and was working as a manger in a fashion boutique. It felt as if I was getting closer to my dream; but the most important thing in my life also happened that year. That was the year I met the love of my life, my partner in everything, Troy Cameron. The most interesting, positive, smart, funny, resourceful, ingenious guy I had met so far, and since. He had his own business, and, after hearing my plans, encouraged me to do the same. He made it sound so easy, and at the time, it was. Flash forward to today, with Philosophy Bag Co, not so much, but I’ll talk more about that later.
We added a daughter, Claire, to the mix in 1999, and we are trying to get her to see the importance of having skills you can make a living with. It is important to us, as parents, that she participate in our little family business. Most days it’s by force, but we are still hopeful she will develop an admiration for the gift she has been given. We try to cut her some slack, she’s 13, none of her friend’s families are self employed, and it’s no fun to be the odd man out when you’re a teen.
We moved to the beautiful Pacific Northwest in 2005, just as Claire was entering first grade. Although living in Los Angeles was so much better for business, we didn’t want to raise our child there, so we moved closer to Troy’s family in Oregon.
On Working together…
We met. We married. We incorporated. We have been self employed for the majority of our married lives, which, at the time of this writing, is eighteen years. We make the perfect partnership because we love working together, and our individual strengths compliment the other’s weaknesses. Neither of us have huge egos, so we can truly critique and speak freely, without getting the silent treatment, or worse behavior, from the other.
To date, we have started, grown and sold 5 businesses together. We like to keep things fresh, and once that particular business has been learned, developed and procedures in place, we like to get on to the next thing that “ we’ve always wanted to do”. The majority of our businesses have always been garment related: embroidery, screenprinting, design and manufacturing, etc. Different markets and mediums, but we’ve always been operating behind the scenes. Troy is remarkable in that he knows the technical, creative, and business sides of everything, which is so rare to find. I’m happy to handle the administrative side of things, with occasional assisting in the design side of things. We’ve done a few lines of our own, but the majority of our work has been designing and manufacturing for big name brands.
Going forward we want to manufacture our lines, our way... Made here by us.
In the past, we have manufactured domestically and overseas, whatever suited the project’s bottom line. But, with Philosophy Bags, we have put that way of thinking behind us, and it’s been a bitch, to put it frankly. As we have come to find out, the vast majority of the American domestic supply chain and manufacturing infrastructure has been shuddered or sent overseas. Our goal of using only domestically made components has made this manufacturing process so much harder than we could have ever imagined. Manufacturing overseas is definitely a no brainer, we’ve got qualified suppliers we have worked with, it is industry standard, the quality is good, produced on time, basically a few calls and emails and they do all the work. With regards to our bag line, they could be manufactured overseas, for a fraction of the cost of manufacturing domestically, and with much more intricate details and features. We have made the commitment to ourselves to bring back made in the USA lines, starting with Philosophy Bags. We’re determined to do the right thing, even if it kills us. We truly hope that we aren’t the only people that feel this way. If this sentiment speaks to you, please join us in helping the” Industrial Arts Movement” gain some momentum.