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
``I used to do a lot of blading and I made a bag to carry my gear,''
Clients kept asking about the courier bags, so Crumpler kept making
``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
``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
``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,''
The bags are now made in
-- 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
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.