Christina Monson speaks to Entrepreneur Natalija Walbridge

Q Tell me a bit about your history- in work, art, life. How did you get into bag making?

A In my early twenties, I moved from Duluth to San Francisco to pursue a career as a fashion designer.  My first job was working for a leather accessory designer where I learned specialized handbag pattern making and sewing skills.  I continued to sew from my home studio to support myself while earning a degree in Fashion Design.  After graduating, I worked as an assistant for designer Margaret O'Leary, which involved daily interaction with in house sample makers, local suppliers and sewing shops.  These years of learning directly from the local workers were fundamental in completing my education. 

I have chosen to return to my roots as a designer.  Duluth is home to a vibrant community of artists and small business owners who are pushing back that trend by producing goods that add lasting value to our lives, through the use of innovative design, local resources and sustainable materials.

Q Can you describe your production process from start to finish? Concept, design, creation, etc?

A My mission is to combine art and functional engineering.  Each new print is an opportunity to engage the viewer with fresh perspective on the beauty that surrounds us in the Northland.  An equally creative challenge is designing each construction detail to provide maximum utility, such as the rubber-reinforced straps which provide structure and strength.  My goal is to provide a functional accessory that will be a lasting keepsake, for years of travel adventures.

Each bag is handcrafted in my studio from start to finish.  After creating the drawings, I make a silkscreen stencil for each color to be printed, momentarily converting the main work space into a dark room to expose the screens.  Printing is my favorite activity since it requires a certain rhythm to move quickly and accurately. Once the prints are ready, I settle into the sewing process which has a slower rhythm, but also brings the satisfaction of finished bags at the end of the day.  

Q Why the aerial lift bridge? What significance does it have in your life?

A I'm inspired by the elegant architecture of this 110-year-old structure that has facilitated the passage of people and commerce for so long.  Its delicate lattice of steel adds a level of interest to our Canal Park neighborhood, and even to the entire hillside of Duluth, which I find stunning.  I think the aerial lift bridge exemplifies my goal for DOCK 5...the combination of beauty and function that is timeless.

Q What materials do you use for the bags and why?

A All Dock 5 materials are selected to age gracefully and perform for a lifetime guarantee.  The fabrics are all made in the USA, including water repellent canvas, waxed canvas and 100% pure indigo, red-selvage denim.  I believe that quality craftsmanship includes researching and using the best of materials, that will stand the test of time.  

Q How did you choose orange for your most common ink color and what is unique about this ink?

A Bright orange is the signature color because it is energetic and strong.  It's an all season color that evokes an outdoor feeling on the Olive Drab canvas, while having a vintage vibe when paired with the denim.

Q Who is your target audience? Who are your bags made for?

A My bags are designed to appeal to people who appreciate craftsmanship, durability and original art.  Inspired by the unisex aesthetic of vintage denim jeans, I design with colors and styling that can be incorporated into a variety of personal styles.  Once you own a Dock 5 bag, it will become a trusted travel companion, always improving with age like a favorite pair of jeans. 

Q You're very connected within the community. Do you have any advice on networking and a specific organization that you would refer to a fellow business owner?

A As a self-funded start-up, my financial resources are limited, but I've found an abundance of opportunities by making connections with other artists and entrepreneurs.  One key to my success has been working with Business Advisor, Meg Thoreson.  She's with the Women's Business Alliance, at the Entrepreneur Fund here in Duluth. Having a committed advisor, coach and sounding board has been essential as I learn and my business evolves. This service is available to anyone who is starting a business in the region! 

I'm also participating in their Ignite Forums, a six-month series of guest speakers and interactive group sessions for women in business. I'm excited to get to know more local women business owners through this event and see how our businesses evolve over the next six months.

Q How did your relationship with Vikre Distillery and Waters of Superior develop? Can you tell us a bit about how you're working with them? Will we see Dock 5 behind any other businesses/products in the future?

A In addition to my own line, I am also creating custom bags with unique art for local businesses.  Although Waters of Superior is only a mile from my studio, we met while I was showing at the Loring Park Art Fair in Minneapolis.  

Emily and Joel Vikre are also clients at the Entrepreneur Fund, so we were introduced through our advisor.  Over the summer, Emily developed recipes for a cocktail book that I designed for a freelance client.  We've been brainstorming along the way, and now I'm starting production for a custom tote with art work inspired by their distillery equipment.  The tote is designed with waxed canvas interior pockets to hold two bottles, with the straps positioned around the bottom to balance the weight for carrying.  Also in progress is a roll-up cocktail tool kit, for the mixologist on the go! 

Q Do you have any plans to make other products?

A Last summer, I participated in a series of art fairs and was able to talk with many people about what they desire in a functional bag.  Their ideas will be inspiration for several new bag designs, from a small cross-body bag to a messenger bag for wheelchair users.  I'm also experimenting with a new print process that will incorporate line drawings layered over abstract color washes, to mimic the weathered paint on boats.

Q What are your future goals for expanding in other retail stores or other geographic markets?

A Recently, there has been a growing collaboration between small businesses in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth.  Many of us share a passion for things that are locally made and crafted with care - as well as a love of the rugged beauty of the Northland.

Q Where can someone find Dock 5 products?

A The Dock 5 website has a store and links to follow the latest news through social media

The entire Dock 5 collection is also available at the Minneapolis Textile Center Holiday Gallery Shop

Custom bags are available at Waters of Superior and Vikre Distillery, both located in Canal Park.  The Duluth Coffee travel kit will be available in early December at their cafe in downtown Duluth.