Heart and soul into every stitch: Porter at Bulang and Sons

by Daniel Giebel - Feb 21 2017
Heart and soul into every stitch: Porter at Bulang and Sons

Porter bags offer timeless style and superior quality from an authentic background of traditional Japanese craftsmanship that maintains its own high standards since the 1930s. Here’s the full story of how Bulang and Sons got to know, love and present these rare and precious items. A selection of Porter bags is now live in the Shop.

It’s no secret that at Bulang and Sons, we have a lot of affection for the things we sell. Those watches in our shop – it’s only pieces that we like and would wear ourselves. The same can be said for our very own wristbands and that handful of the other selected goods we have on offer: If we don’t truly like something, it won’t appear in our shop. And it can take some time to conquer our hearts. But then, pretty much all good things take time.

Heart and soul into every stitch: Porter Bags at Bulang and Sons

80 Years of tradition

Which takes us right into the realm of Yoshida & Company, who have been manufacturing an extensive variety of bags in Tokyo and Japan under the Porter trademark for more than 80 years now. Its founder Kichizo Yoshida was a craftsman himself who designed and produced various things for other brands. In 1935, he finally decided to create his own label, and that marked the humble beginnings of the Yoshida Co. Ltd. and Porter.

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Today, Porter offers a vast range of different bag designs within well over a hundred collections – and just as it always has been with the Japanese company, all of those bags are still handcrafted and manufactured in the spirit of absolute perfection at independent specialist workshops across and around Tokyo. Yet, outside of Japan and some of its neighboring countries, the Porter brand has remained a bit of an open secret.

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Fascinated by the brand

Felix Engelmann could be called an expert on the label. With Haptiques, he leads an agency for exclusive and strategic marketing and distribution in Munich. In cooperation with the French luxury company Hoghan, Felix has been representing Porter in many European countries over the last six years. He remembers clearly how he initially became fascinated with the brand, long before he even entered the luxury marketing business:

Heart and soul into every stitch: Porter at Bulang and Sons

“Back then I didn’t have this knowledge of and appreciation for Japanese culture. At first, it was people I thought of as cool who I noticed sporting some Porter product. I started to associate the brand with people I admired, out of arts, design, music or fashion – more of the maverick kind, not the uniformed guys. People with tastes of their own who somehow had more knowledge than others. That totally sparked the interest in Porter for me.”

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As he got more and more information, Felix couldn’t help but be amazed by the production values and the sheer quality of it all: “Porter products are made by craftsmen contracted to make one variety of bags only, and they really sew the bag from the first to the last stitch. There are designs that people are only allowed to be handling after years of experience, and some that only the most experienced craftsmen in the room will make.”

This personal involvement in delivering the best job possible is ingrained in Japanese culture, says Felix: “In the Porter shop in Aoyama in Tokyo, you may happen upon the grandmother of Teruyuki Yoshida, the company’s director, fabricating hand-sewn leather grips. There is such a passion in producing, the craftsmen are held in such high regard. This isn’t about craftsmanship as a trend – they’ve been doing this for eight decades now.”

Heart and soul into every stitch: Porter Bags at Bulang and Sons

Today, Porter offers a vast range of different bag designs within well over a hundred collections – and just as it always has been with the Japanese company, all of those bags are still handcrafted and manufactured in the spirit of absolute perfection at independent specialist workshops across and around Tokyo. Yet, outside of Japan and some of its neighboring countries, the Porter brand has remained a bit of an open secret.

As stated in the beginning, good things take time, and so Porter demands some patience from its customers, especially abroad. Apart from the company’s shops in Asia, there’s neither additional stock nor warehouses, and there are no seasonal collections or pre- orders. Every order is added to the production plans – and when it’s ready, it gets shipped. “Whenever my clients ask for delivery dates, I can only quote the Yoshida slogan “With heart and soul into every stitch” – I simply wouldn’t be able to give dates!” smiles Felix.

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Porter at Bulang and Sons

Giacomo from Bulang and Sons has been a fan of the Porter brand and its ethos for years, not least since he picked up a second hand bag on a trip to the Japanese capital – a bag he carries to the office every day. One morning Bernhard arrived at the B&S headquarter with his vintage US military helmet bag and Giacomo was instantly intrigued: “We started comparing design features and materials and the respective patina of our used bags. This conversation would turn out to be crucial later on when the time came to choose which Porter products we wanted to add to our profile”, remembers Bernhard.

It was only a few weeks later at Berlin’s Seek trade fair that Bernhard and Giacomo finally happened upon a real-life Porter Helmet Bag – which was on display at Felix’ Haptiques “had a very nice and long chat about all kinds of things” says Giacomo, and Felix adds: “We soon discovered common interests and opinions. For Bulang & Sons, it’s all about a certain approach to their products. I could tell right away that they really take pride in curating the goods they want to present.”

Heart and soul into every stitch: Porter at Bulang and Sons

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Tanker and Force

They decided on pieces from Tanker and Force, two collections which have both been seminal in the success of the Japanese brand. “Force and Tanker share many qualities we also like in our very own watch straps – mostly that they feature materials which one might think don’t age too well – but they do”, explains Giacomo. Furthermore, both lines have a strong design background and can already be considered modern classics.

The Tanker collection

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The Tanker collection was introduced in 1983, inspired by vintage military items which were popular with Japanese collectors at the time, especially the iconic MA-1 bomber jacket. Porter invented their own fabric for this, a polyester-cotton bonding for the outer shell, with an orange padded lining on the inside. As Felix knows, “the idea was to get an extremely light and robust material which is even relatively fire-resistant. It may look delicate, but if someone’s cigarette rubs against it in a crowd, hardly anything will happen.”

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Shop this Porter bag and the rest of our selection here >>>

He continues: “The roots of Porter are in leather, which is heavy, but it evolves and takes on this patina, which again is something very important in Japanese culture. The Tanker material is a lot like that, it ages with wearing.” Plus, all the buttons are coated in a way that will show beautiful traces of usage in the years to come. Products from the Tanker line are usually padded and have a certain cushioned touch to it, also they take on the wearer’s body heat, while the bags in the Force line do not reflect or contain warmth.

The Force collection

Heart and soul into every stitch: Porter Bags at Bulang and SonsHeart and soul into every stitch: Porter Bags at Bulang and Sons
First sold in 2012, the inspiration behind the Force line was rooted in the fact that vintage military bags were once made of the most different lots of fabrics and materials. Back then, colors and textures could vary greatly, as military apparel was produced upon order – many of these old bags have individual nuances which make each and every one unique. That was the designer’s approach with the Force line. Working with different dying techniques and colors is intended as part of the design to achieve a highy individual look.

“The material of inflatable rescue floats formed the base for the Force fabric, but in a different strength. Normally this material isn’t dyed, but sure enough, Porter found a way to dye it” enthuses Felix: “It is very light and very rugged, but in a way that again allows for signs of usage – not that particular sheen in this case, more like scratches on the surface,booth. The three got talking and while the material itself is extremely tear-proof and will last virtually forever.”

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Besides the different fabrics and colors, the lines also offer distinct features. For example, both feature helmet bags, and while those may seem pretty similar at first, there are a few differences. The Force Helmet Bag is a bigger and more modern version of the Tanker Helmet Bag, which itself was modeled on bags from the Vietnam war – back then, if you were a leading officer, you had a special and expensive helmet with a leather bag. Lower ranks were given simpler helmets, with a bag usually made from canvas – simple, but padded. And that was the exact blueprint for the Tanker Helmet Bag.

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Inside most Force bags, one will find the quilted orange lining, also the collection usually features a detachable bag for documents or a laptop. Furthermore, the Force Helmet Bag has a zipper along the sides to be able to increase the volume even further, and a detachable shoulder strap. By the way, the “2Way” in the names of the bags refers to the ways of wearing them – 2Way means one can carry it in the hand or over the shoulder.

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Heart and soul into every stitch: Porter at Bulang and Sons

Regardless of the collection they belong to, the idea behind them or the fabric they are made of, Porter products are first and foremost bags for everyday use and that is one of the key reasons for Bulang & Sons to stock them: “Porter Yoshida stands for timeless, iconic designs which are low-key and elegant. At the same time and for eight decades now, the brand represents an uncompromising stance on hand-made quality and certain ethical values which we also have come to follow and believe in”, concludes Bernhard

Heart and soul into every stitch: Porter at Bulang and Sons

“In Japan, the target group is everyone – from students to business people. Over here, I’d say it is those who simply value quality,” says Felix: “Sure, you can get any cheap bag to transport your stuff, but then you can also get some cheap notebook to check your e-mail. The user experience won’t be the same, at least for people who are fond of a certain sense of quality and longevity.” People who know that good things do not only take time.

They also last.
Heart and soul into every stitch: Porter at Bulang and Sons