Aaron Jones and Jason Bass met for the first time four years ago drinking whiskey at a bar with mutual friends. The two immediately hit it off and began working together on a clothing line Bass had visualized called IROCKFOX. They knew they wanted to start a business with strong Baltimore ties, but after a year or so with the clothing line, they had a better idea: bags.
They agreed there’s a dearth of well-made bags for urban travel and everyday life; others they’d seen on the market were made for the gym, outdoor activities or a luxury lifestyle. The pair drew up some sketches and came up with a high-end travel bag and, from there, a line of corresponding accessories and backpacks. They sourced materials and found a sewing house in Baltimore to produce the first few batches from their startup, Treason Toting Co.
The name Treason, they say, is a nod to going against the grain, and seeking paths unexpected of them. The company is “committing treason,” going against societal norms, and expectations, they say. With the help of local entrepreneurs and visionaries like Jones and Bass, Baltimore itself is fighting against its expectations, and making a name for itself as a great place in which to do business.
A few years after the company’s launch in 2013, Treason Toting Co. was approached by Sagamore Ventures, Kevin Plank’s venture capital firm. With newfound financial backing from an investor, they moved their studio to City Garage, solidified their production setup, increased production and opened a retail space in Fells Point, across from the Sagamore Pendry Hotel. Prices range from $50 to $250.
Now more confident than ever in both their business and their vision, Jones and Bass are dedicated to remaining in the city that raised them. Treason Toting Co. is also currently a featured maker at Practice and Trade, a rotating pop-up shop at the Village of Cross Keys in Roland Park.
Bass, the company’s CEO, reflects on running the business and the future of industry in Baltimore.
Collaborations can be tumultuous. You two had worked on a previous line together, correct?
JB: Yes. When I met Aaron, I was working on a streetwear line called IROCKFOX for about two years. He brought the technical knowledge to the table of how garments are constructed and had the skillset to do it. I knew we would make a good team after our first work day together, at his mother’s house. We already knew we had similar interests, but once we started designing and making garments [together], we knew it was going to work out.
What did you both do before starting a company? Is Treason your full-time gig now?
JB: Treason Toting Company is our full-time job. Aaron was a tailor at Nordstrom, and I was a multicultural marketing and sales rep for a beer/spirit brands.
What’s the visual inspiration for your brand? How has that changed from the first few products you made?
JB: We design products that are classic and considerate of modern day needs. Our original designs were based on our personal needs. Now we design with our viewpoint, but with the customer’s needs in mind. Once you learn how to listen to the customer and hear what they are trying to say, you can glean some valuable information.
How do you split up the workload?
JB: Aaron handles operations as the COO, and I handle the business as CEO. We include each other in all decisions that would have a significant impact on us or the business. I had been pursuing my MBA at [the University of Baltimore] but put it on hold to work on Treason and raise my 15-month-old son.
A notable and admirable part of your business is that your products are made and sourced locally. What has your experience been learning to source materials and work with manufacturers/sewers?
JB: Sourcing is easier than ever because of new online resources, but nothing beats going to the best physical locations for fabrics or manufacturing to find what you need and connect with real people. Working with manufacturers is a unique experience, and you learn that building trust is the first step.
Sewers are all different. Some love to talk and work on designs. Others don’t want to talk at all and want to focus on the workload. You just have to feel it out.
Can you describe your process for getting products made, starting with the first mockup, and then to the production of the finished, tagged products?
JB: Yes. We design, prototype and do small production runs, but our manufacturing is now done with a local partner. We start with an idea and a sketch. We walk through it as a group to see if it makes sense. Then we start adding dimensions. Then we make a pattern and cut the fabric. Prototyping is something we do very well.
A couple of years into the business, Treason Toting Co. was approached by Sagamore Ventures. How did that happen, and what it has meant for Treason as a company?
JB: Sagamore Ventures approached us after seeing a brand video produced by Shine Creative TV (view the video, here). It meant a lot to us to be noticed for our product and work. We hoped to find a partner that could provide resources and industry knowledge. We found great partners in Sagamore.
Tell us about City Garage.
JB: City Garage is a great space to learn from different disciplines and businesses. Everyone is open to talking business and life. It’s great to be around people going through the same things. It only makes us stronger.
Do you consider yourselves part of the handmade movement that is so prevalent here, or somewhere else on the creative spectrum?
We try not to use the word handmade, because the definition of handmade doesn’t include sewing machines, but hand tools instead. But as a general understanding of handmade, yes, we do consider ourselves a part of the community. I hope that we can all support each other and grow.
What does it mean to you that large companies like Under Armour operate in Baltimore?
JB: It proves that it’s possible to create and sustain something amazing in Baltimore. It provides hope and promise. Even a small company like ours has a chance to become a global brand like UA. I hope that more see the benefits of being in Baltimore and join the community.
What’s next for Treason Toting Co.?
JB: We have a few tricks up our sleeves, and fall 2017 is coming soon. Fall is going to bring waxed and synthetic materials into the product line, along with some all-new silhouettes.
Visit the Treason Toting Co. store at 1714 Thames Street in Fells Point or at Practice and Trade in the Village of Cross Keys, 5100 Falls Road. View the company’s products online here. Treason Toting Co. will give away a free bag at our Guide to Independent Schools Launch Party next Thursday, September 28. Click here to learn more.
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