Threaded personality slung over a shoulder
By Chris Zakorchemny
Temple News, April 10, 2007
A true bike messenger would rather get hit by a car before he or she
sit in a cubicle to earn their living. Their soul lies within a frame
of a bike and the energy they churn through it. Bike messenger or not,
you're still going to have stuff to lug around, and you'll want a bag
that can stand a few brushes with pavement.
R.E.Load Baggage in Northern Liberties
makes high quality messenger bags in-house, and can look as outlandish
as you want them to be. Made by hand from top to bottom, you can get
everything from a simple sleek everyday bag, to an absurdly detailed
depiction of James Brown's face - in fabric - on a messenger bag. It's
a matter of what kind of personality you want saddled over your
"Someone can come in and we'll make something for them, and they'll
know they're the only person in the world with that bag," said Fishtown
resident Sue Eggen, 30, who has sewn at R.E. Load for a little more
than a year.
Eggen is one of a handful of employees
who works at the small-staffed R.E. Load. Most employees are connected
to owner and co-founder Roland Burns, who started the company with
friend Ellie Lum in 1998. Burns grew up in Manhattan, N.Y., and
attended Drexel University in 1992 where he majored in engineering. His
journey from numbers and graph paper to sewing machines
and bikes just sort of fell into place, he explained.
"I did a couple of internships with a couple of pretty good companies,
and when I got out, there was just nothing available," Burns said. "I
knew what I didn't want to do from doing a couple of jobs through
Drexel's co-op program when I was an undergrad. So instead of taking a
job I knew I would hate, I decided to take a year off, and started
messengering; it kind of turned into this."
Burns met Lum when he was a mechanic at the now defunct Gear Junkies on
431 S. 2nd St., now home to a Cosi restaurant. Lum was in Philadelphia
during a cross-country trip with her boyfriend. A trash-picked bike she
found while traveling needed some repairs, and she brought it to Burns
at Gear Junkies. The trip became an extended stay in Philly, and the
two became friends when they began to work as bike messengers for the
"I had a bag that was horrible, and her mom had been a seamstress,"
Burns said. "So I asked her if she could help me out with making some
alterations to that bag, and once we started shopping for different
things here and there, we decided to start making bags for ourselves."
"She got what she knew from her mom and we just sat down and we did
everything," Burns said. "We really thought about what we wanted in a
bag and tried to make it. The first bunch of bags were pretty horrible,
but they worked."
Since then, the operation has stayed in Philly, but their national
reach has grown much farther. While the city might not be the biggest
on the East Coast, setting up base operations in Philadelphia made the
most fiscal sense, and Burns liked the community. Eventually, Lum moved
back to the West Coast and set up shop in Seattle, providing R.E. Load
(the R is for Roland, the E for Ellie) with a much wider reach.
As much as Philly is a good place to start a business, the store's
no-advertising tactic would hurt the average start-up business. Not
R.E. Load, which has found success through unique branding and a cult
biker following, which continues to grow in Philly and beyond.
"We're pretty lucky because we're in a category of products that almost
promote themselves for a lot of the part," Burns said. "We sponsor a
lot of races all over the place. We just sent some stuff to Japan for a
race that's going on there. In general, we try to sponsor a couple
events a month. Everything that's in Philly, by default we wind up
with. Last weekend there was a race in New York - it's like the biggest
fixed gear events of the year, pretty much - we made the prize bag for
"Our advertising budget aside from making bags for races is about
zero," Burns added. "For the size of the company we are and advertising
rates and everything, it's kind of tough. We do a lot of [advertising
in] zines, but mostly it's race sponsorship. And thank God for Google.
Everybody finds us that way."
And everybody wants their 100 percent American-made bags. From the
stitching and straps, to the Velcro, it's all U.S. of A. homegrown.
R.E. Load has taken orders from places as far as Berlin, Japan and
Australia. While there are a few standard styles to choose from, people
have creative room to personalize their bags as much as they want.
Orders for standard bags typically take five weeks to complete and
range in price from $80 to $150. Already-made R.E. Load bags can also
be purchased at Bike Line on Arch Street. But don't think the success
has made them coldhearted business people.
"It's more than just seeing, 'Hey, there's this navy blue bag that has
an R.E. Load tag on it,'" Burns said. "I used to even run up to the
person and be like 'Hey I made that.' I think we have a really good
connection with all the customers and I think that's one of the coolest
things about doing this."