Cute, Durable, and Ethical Cycling Bags: A Workshop Visit with Wizard Works

London-based Wizard Works makes decidedly cute, sturdy, and durable bags for cyclo-touring and bikepacking. Founders and owners, Harry and Veronica, are committed to producing everything in-house, sourcing materials from within the UK and Europe, and supporting their small staff with livable wages and a positive work environment. They’ve turned what was once a hobby into a robust brand, now with stockists around the globe. Following this year’s Bespoked, Josh got to play tourist and eat biscuits while getting treated to some behind-the-scenes time at Wizard Works’ new workshop in Greenwich. With their cheerful space, happy colors, and employee-first practices, this is some wizardry where you very much want to look behind the curtain. Read on for more from Josh’s shop visit!

Having owned some of their products (including the matchy-matchy Mag-Neto Tool Roll I mentioned in the review of my Sklar Sweet Spot and a long Go-Go Top Tube Bag I’ll be writing about soon) Wizard Works had long been on my radar. Still, the intentionality behind the brand hadn’t fully resonated until I met the team at this year’s Bespoked bicycle show. Their booth occupied a central spot in the event venue and its bright, inviting, and interactive environment (I’d come to find) are all integral tenants of the brand’s ethos.

While I didn’t have much time to visit with many other brands or makers during my stint across the pond, Wizard Works’ fairly new workshop space was just a short distance from my hotel. So, to kick off my one day set aside for touristing, I pedaled a borrowed Brompton to the Tube’s Jubilee Line, traveling across the River Thames to the Greenwich Peninsula.

The idea for Wizard Works started for Harry and Veronica (or “Ve”) during the mid-2010s, first as a hobby, then a side-hustle, and eventually expanding into the full-blown global bag empire you see today. Way back in 2012, the couple moved to Melbourne, Australia together and took up bike touring as a logical intersection of their mutual love for cycling and travel.

As so many of us can relate, they started with short local rides and consistently added miles, gained skills and honed their gear selections. In 2015, they flew to Japan and cycled to Malaysia. That trip, which spanned nearly an entire year, changed everything.

A consistent thread through their conversations, both during their preparations and while traveling, was a focus on gear: what should they pack, how should they carry it, and what would they have done differently? As many can remember, this was during the Tweenies, when high-quality bike bags were primarily available in monochromatic colors and the products that were available in more vibrant options either weren’t widely available or didn’t excel on the quality spectrum.

Harry and Ve cycling in Malaysia and Cambodia with their original touring setups, ca. 2015

Following the epic Asia mega-tour, Harry and Ve ended up in Vancouver where they experienced their first winter after years of traveling to avoid it. Harry purchased a sewing machine during that winter and started making bags to pass the cold months indoors, focusing on some of their mutually brainstormed “wishlist” products while striving to weave in the lessons learned from their experience touring. Wizard Works found its first official home back in New Zealand in Ve’s parents’ garage with their Aussie friend, Jorja, selling some of their first products from her distribution operation Jambz Off-Road Cycling Distro. With an “official” warehouse, they adopted the name Wizard Works in part because both wizards and alliteration are cool (obvs) but also as a bit of a joke since Harry could never seem to escape the Harry Potter reference during their time down under.

This was their first taste of what was possible in using their personal experiences to inform bag design and trying to fulfill the market gaps for the emerging demand of cyclotourists and bikepackers. One more big move in 2019 brought Harry and Ve to Harry’s hometown of London where they officially launched the Wizard Works website and began filling orders.

From the early stages, once Wizard Works started to gain traction and Harry and Ve saw it had the potential to affect lives outside of their own, they were determined to build it into an ethical business: one that cared for its employees, made inclusive products for a diverse group of rider types and abilities, sourced domestic materials, and minimized impacts of production methods.

Working in less-than-ideal wage labor positions most of their adult years had left them feeling disposable as employees. As a result, Harry and Ve are committed to paying their skilled team what they are worth while also fostering a positive work environment.

And they’re having fun with it, too. A quick perusal of their online catalog and you’ll see product names like Teeny Houdini Saddle Bag, Voila Stem Bag, Alakazam Basket Bag, Lil Presto Barrel Bag, and so on. Clever names, interesting colors, cute shapes, everything is fun! And to consistently keep things fresh, they’ve embarked on collaborative collections with adjacent brands such as Angry Pablo and Raeburn, along with regularly offering seasonal products like Wiz Viz and special colorways for important causes.

Growing the business and team has also enabled them to increase purchasing power and obtain materials at scale. You might assume that staying small is the most sustainable way to run a business. Well, when working with materials like fabrics, zippers, straps, etc, that’s not really the case. Smaller producers lack the buying power and influence needed to unlock certain options only available to larger entities that meet minimum materials’ order thresholds. So, through scaling up, Wizard Works will be able to obtain eco-friendly materials, that are either produced domestically in the UK or Europe, from suppliers that provide supply chain transparency.

They’ve also acquired specialized machines to improve efficiency and quality, facilitating construction that wasn’t before possible. Finally, working at a more efficient scale and pace ultimately means that less cost is transferred to the consumer. So, acknowledging that, of course, making nothing would be the ultimate form of environmentalism, they’ve set out on a journey to continually improve and innovate with sustainability in mind, making products that are built to last and are repairable when needed.

The first Wizard Works workshop was a beautiful historic brick warehouse in Peckham, just southeast of the London city center. While the building was full of character and charm, it lacked many modern amenities and space needed to sustain the growing team and production operation.

This past March, Wizard Works packed up their equipment and headed a few miles east near the tip of the Greenwich Peninsula in a recently built space in the Design District. Intended to house London’s creative industries, the Design District is comprised of fourteen buildings, each from a different prominent architect, and puts creatives front and center in a bustling part of the city adjacent to the O2 Arena, North Greenwich Underground station, and IFS Cable Car.

Inside, the workshop is a bright and vibrant space. Natural light floods into the large primary room, blanketing the sewing stations, storage bins, and large tables used for cutting fabric and product assembly. Peering out the east-facing windows, over a rack of colorful paper templates, cable cars from the neighboring elevated transport move across the Thames River. A disco playlist blends with sounds of whirring machines and sporadic laughter-inducing banter amongst the team. Beyond the west wall, adorned with delightful shapes in fun colors, is an office and a stock room. It’s positive, efficacious, comfortable and altogether pretty darn cute; a spatial representation of the Wizard Works ethos and values.

My visit was on the Monday morning following a full weekend at Bespoked. The team was reeling with excitement from the show while, at the same time, jumping into production for the upcoming busy holiday season. Their day started with a planning/strategy session before filtering into their respective roles with Alfie assisting production and shipping, Tasha and Meg on sewing and production, and Harry and Ve acting as the maestro utility players, jumping in wherever needed while simultaneously conducting the stitchwork symphony.

But the humans aren’t the only personalities in the room. Many of the machines have names and identities with individual quirks and traits of their own. Jackie, for example, was their first industrial sewing machine and she’s a “first-rate stitch” and excels at tacking stitches. She was so popular that they bought another one and named it Jackie II who is the diva of the fleet, often in time-out. Jema, the hot-cutting machine, is responsible for slicing all of the webbing and cordage. Everyone’s favorite machine, though, is the Pfaff, heavy-duty and super-sexy pneumatic walking foot named Michelle, after Michelle Pfeiffer, which works hard and looks good doing it.

At 11:00am, Harry announced: “It’s Elevensies!” and the team stopped mid-project, gathered around the large fabric table to enjoy a variety of biscuits (that may or may not have been staged because they knew an American was visiting) and chatted about non-work related topics. Elevensies is a daily tradition where the team of five drops what they’re doing for a few minutes, turns the music up, disconnects from work and stokes everyone’s excitement for their craft. The tea and biscuits may be quintessentially British, but the positivity, compassion, and intentionality behind the small extra step to brighten everyone’s day is all Wizard Works.

Thanks, Harry, Ve, Meg, Tasha, and Alfie for your time. You’ve got something special with Wizard Works and I’m excited to see where you take it from here!