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Why Does Crumpler Use Sweatshop Labour?

Crumpler now makes their bags in Vietnam where sweatshop labour is common and labour organizing is banned. Here is an account of working condition in Vienam.

The question of the month: Why are bike messengers so cool?

The accidental businessmen

Melbourne Herald Sun , May 25,2002

by Caroline Chisholm

Caroline Chisholm reveals how a couple of mail addicts and an in-line skater broke the law, created an international bag empire and still manage to avoid being ``busy chaps.''

It all began in 1988 when Will Miller and David Roper deferred university in Adelaide to have a bit of fun.

``We started up a postal service, just doing overnight postal deliveries around the city,'' Roper says.

``We were into mail in a big way.'' Just one minor detail -- what they were doing was illegal, thanks to the Postal Monopolies Act. Eventually, the cheeky 17-year-olds were hauled to Adelaide's postal head office, where they faced lawyers, QCs, ``the big head mail guru from Sydney'' and were presented with the irrefutable evidence of their misdeeds -- photographs of the hapless teens delivering mail. With a ``stop -- or else'' warning and the politely declined offer of jobs as postmen, Miller and Roper wondered what else they could do with their client base -- perhaps an activity that didn't involve breaking the law? They became bike couriers.

``It's haunted us to this day, we're still slightly obsessed with mail and deliveries,'' Roper says.

Later, in Melbourne, the pair started bike courier service Minute Man and met a courier named Stuart Crumpler, who started making bags for his colleagues.

``I used to do a lot of blading and I made a bag to carry my gear,'' Crumpler says.

Clients kept asking about the courier bags, so Crumpler kept making them.

``Each time they got better,'' Crumpler says. ``I'd make one, use it, test it, sell it to someone else, then I'd make a better one.''

Around 1995, Roper and Miller thought ``there might be a dollar in this'' and leased premises in Flinders Lane, bought sewing machines at auction, and Crumpler ``got into it''.

Their first customers were couriers and bike shops, but the Crumpler guys hoped word would spread. It was time for some creative marketing. Crumpler had studied visual arts, and a funny little man kept cropping up in his work, an obvious choice for a logo.

``Initially we didn't want to tell anyone what we made, we just wanted to get the logo out and about and get people curious about what it was,'' Crumpler says. Miller explains:

``Stuey made stencils about that big (2.4m by 2.4m) and we just charged around at night in his van and painted that (the Crumpler man) on building site hoardings, footpaths, bike tracks, under bridges, for about three or four nights we just went crazy, all over Melbourne.''

Crumpler adds: ``We'd park the van on the footpath with a big sliding door on the side, park right next to the wall and open the door, hold the stencil up, spray it and off we'd go.''

They took courier friends on bikes with two-way radios to watch for police, but eventually got booked by an unmarked police car.

``We just did things our own way,'' Crumpler says. ``What we did was fun; we'd just have a few beers and think of ideas.' These ideas worked. ``Overnight it was just unbelievable,'' Roper says of the response.

``It's been done to death now, but when we were doing it there weren't a lot of others,'' Crumpler says. Bike shops and the close-knit courier community continued to help spread the word, which reached commuters, computer users and photographers. Seven years later, Roper and Miller handle sales and marketing and Crumpler designs the bags from his home and studio in Ballarat where he lives with wife Suse, son Owen, 3, and daughter Belle, 2.

Crumpler is now pretty big in laptop and camera bags, on top of the original bike and carry bags.

``It's not necessary that we were smart about it, we just stood out, '' Crumpler says. ``Sure, we must have done something smart, but I think we did our thing at the right time and didn't consciously try to do something different. We never tried to be too serious about it.''

Crumpler bags are available in Belgium, Germany, Greece, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Singapore, Taiwan, the UK and the US. Roper, Miller and Crumpler have recently acquired two German partners (dubbed the Jerries) -- Joerg Bodenschatz and Siegfried Elgert.

``We didn't want to come in and be busy chaps,'' Crumpler says of the business. ``We just wanted to do a creative thing, have fun, lots of beer and pizza and not many meetings or serious stuff. They're our busy chaps,'' he says of the Germans.

``We call one of them Mother -- he just bosses everyone around,'' Crumpler says. ``We're pretty disorganised and we've had to work on that the last few years. ``With this big, pushy Jerry saying, `We need this by this date'-- well, it's a bit hard to get used to at first, but it has been really good. He knows what he is doing,'' Crumpler says.

``The Jerries are really experienced at logistics, and now that we' re selling bags all over the world we have to think, `How many times a year do we want to produce bags?' and the logistics of the business,'' Miller adds.

The bags are now made in Vietnam -- for quality and reliable supply rather than cost-cutting, Crumpler stresses.

``They're still expensive to make, if you want good quality, that is,'' Crumpler says. So what next for the Crumplers? They said they'd ``never'' do backpacks, but have just decided to. And maybe the odd piece of clothing. ``Nothing seasonal. We don't want to get into fashion, but very basic, well-made, hard wearing things like jackets and jeans -- not some kind of `spring collection','' Roper says.

``Stuey's a Ballarat hick, so he's got no idea about that kind of stuff.'' Crumpler agrees: ``I don't, either!'' Since 1995, the guys behind Crumpler have used some smart and cost-effective ways to get their business identity out to the public. Starting with 2.4m by 2.4m stencils of the Crumpler man throughout Melbourne and the fact bike couriers were their best advertisements, Crumpler moved on to stickers, more spray painting and even metal signs to be bolted on to pillars and posts.

In 2001 and again in 2002, they've been making fruit stickers --a little Crumpler logo in place of the usual apple variety ? which they've paid an orchard to slap on its fruit. An advertising industry magazine covered the story, Roper says proudly.

Others have tried guerilla marketing -- designed to create a buzz or even some media coverage of the subject -- and its more subtle, covert cousin, viral marketing, to varying success. The concept is not new -- Alfred Hitchcock floated a life-sized replica of himself down the river Thames in London to promote the film Frenzy nearly 30 years ago -- but is increasingly used by the dot.com and corporate sectors to raise brand awareness in non-mainstream ways.

Tactics can include skywriting, stickering and light projections, but the more imaginative and unexpected, the better.

In late 2001, author Bryce Courtenay hired people to act as commuters, all in black but wearing white gloves, to read his book Four Fires on trains, buses and trams in cities across Australia. Just a couple of months ago, a group of faux zealots calling themselves Standing for Standards in Society ran a phony campaign against the ill-fated Big Brother magazine, to promote the brand. The idea was met by a collective yawn of indifference from the public.


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