Title image by Geo Jenkins
Anthony Kovacs fires up the heater in his studio. “Sorry about the cold,” he says as I zip up my puffy. Pittsburgh in the winter can be brutal—especially in this building: a cold, hollow warehouse that used to house an electrical switch manufacturing plant, tucked next to the Ohio River just down the street from the correction center. But for Kovacs, this is a sanctuary. The cutting tables and machines here are laid out in a work space that is half production line, half creative lab, and all Kovacs Company. The 27-year-old started sewing only three years ago, so it’s been a bit of a whirlwind for Kovacs. I can tell it’s all still kind of surreal for him as the warm air fills the studio space and the florescent lights heat up and hum monotonously above our heads.
Video production by Geo Jenkins
Like so many of us, Kovacs never expected himself to be in this position: renting studio space, creating a label, and launching a website, all while designing and manufacturing packs, slings, and accessories for the most discerning carry enthusiasts. No, this wasn’t planned. Kovacs Company is a product of good timing and an insatiably creative mind.
“I’m a super visual person, and I’m inspired by these things that are not bag related, like architecture…”
Anthony studied architecture briefly at the University of Pittsburgh before moving on to studio arts in his later years, where much of his work was still industrially inspired. To this day, you can see that geometry leak into his designs. Right corners. Straight lines. He admits, “I’m a super visual person, and I’m inspired by these things that are not bag related, like architecture… and I like to try and convey that through my work.”
Kovacs picked up his first sewing machine and taught himself to sew in college between art assignments and trying to make rent. We walk over to an old blue tabletop Singer, threaded up and ready to go. “Right around the time I got this machine, I discovered made-in-the-USA clothing and selvedge denim and that type of stuff… being a maker, I was intrigued,” says Kovacs.
Like many artists, Kovacs honed this new skill through repetition and recreation of the greats. He walks across his studio to the cutting tables and grabs a stack of bags stored underneath. He plops them in front of me, “My first bags.” I recognize the silhouettes instantly: a Topo Designs copy, a Teranishi copy. Kovacs smiles, “When I would see a design I thought was cool…I would try to make it or modify it in some way,” he continues, “Yeah, that was exactly how I did it.” He scratches his head in search of the memories, “I turned all my Incase bags inside out to see how they went together.”
Kovacs’ greatest inspirations though have always been the work of Thrice guitarist and master maker Teppei Teranishi, and that of James Kamo, who hand makes one of a kind bags under the label Rucksack Village. The story goes that a chance Instagram comment about what to do in Seattle led Teranishi to invite Kovacs over to his studio on Vashon Island, WA. Teranishi had been hosting Kamo—the two had connections from their childhood in California—and Kovacs left that day inspired and awe struck. Rightfully so. Both Teranishi and Kamo are heavy weights in the carry world, influencing design and aesthetic standards globally. Eventually, this relationship resulted in Kovacs being offered an internship under Teranishi at his studio on Vashon Island, but Kovacs’ last four credits of college prevented him from taking the gig.
Learning to sew is one thing. Learning to pattern is another entirely. The spatial differentiation needed to successfully conceptualize a pattern out of thin air is nuts. But it’s this high end conceptualization and architectural background that gives Kovacs an edge. In recent feats of strength, Kovacs took on Don Jensen’s classic design and reverse engineered the classic frameless Jensen—a real testament to the history of the craft and his commitment to mastering it.
Flipping through the stack, I come upon his first original design, a well-worn red flip top with a single speed release buckle. Hiding underneath the lid is a surprisingly tasteful globe-print fabric wrapping around the 10mm poly. nautical rope cinch-top to the main access. Manually sewn button holes around the cordage in the zigzag stitch are starting to fray, but the iPad sleeve inside is still holding strong. We both laugh at the milestone, “Whoa! Beach vibes, dude,” I kid. Kovacs laughs back, “Yeah man, that’s what it was all about.”
“You look at [bags these days], and you almost start thinking of stuff you can put into the pockets, and I don’t think that’s the right way to think about carry.”
After gaining a sound understanding of patterning and process, Kovacs designed more originals of his own and has been selling semi-custom bags since 2014. Today, the bags are Anthony’s iteration of retro inspired minimalistic all-day bags. They’re clean and unmistakably simple. When I ask him about pockets, he says bags these days, “have all these pockets where it’s like, you look at them, and you almost start thinking of stuff you can put into the pockets, and I don’t think that’s the right way to think about carry.”
One of the driving design philosophies for Kovacs is creating a bag that looks as good full as it does when it’s empty, which is a deceivingly hard thing to do. “I hate bags that don’t look good when they’re not packed full,” says Kovacs. “One inspiration for me was to make a bag that looks good even when it’s not packed full of stuff. I asked myself, ‘I wonder if I can do that?’” By using 1000D Cordura nylon, he’s able to give some structure to his day packs. The fabric is also extremely water resistant and burly enough that it will essentially last forever.
Kovacs enjoys completing the task by hand while he can. His business is growing, so he’s anticipating having to scale soon, but until then he is completing the entire process by hand, and it allows him to do custom work. This bespoke portion of his business has seen some pretty cool projects like this NASA themed project that inspired Hollywood Director and Prop Maker, Ryan Nagata, to pick up his own. Nagata is most famous for building museum quality space suit replicas, specifically those from the Mercury and Apollo missions. Side note: Nagata made one for Adam Savage from Myth Busters. Rad.
Kovacs has been super appreciative of the opportunity, too. He gets to make something for one of the greatest makers out there. “I wasn’t formally trained,” Kovacs shrugs a little, “but I suppose that’s always the best kind. It’s weird because it didn’t come from a lifetime of camping and traveling and learning how to pack a bag properly, or like taking things with you that you need. Backpacks came from me getting toward the end of school, having this art degree and not knowing what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to sit in an office.” Anthony’s eyes lighten. He sits back. He turns his hands to the ceiling and raises them slightly, “I want to make stuff.”
Other notable collaborations Kovacs has done include a custom pack for legendary Pittsburgh BMX rider Chris Doyle. Lucas Beaufort, a prominent French alternative artist, also has ongoing talks of getting a collaboration pack of his own. You can check out Beaufort’s work on his Instagram.
A true maker in every sense of the word, Kovacs says his bags are for the everyman. “You can take it with you if you want to go hiking, but its not for the extreme outdoorsman,” Kovacs explains, “Its minimalist, durable, everyday carry for the average person, ya know?” It’s a pretty saturated category, but after getting to feel through his in-stock, I have to say I like his interpretation.
Interested in learning more about Kovacs Company and keeping up-to-date on Anthony’s projects? Check out his work at kovacscompany.com and follow the brand on Instagram to get the latest on in-stocks.