On today’s episode of the Craft Industry Alliance podcast, we’re talking about building a business in bag making with my guest Ellie Lum.

Ellie Lum is an accomplished creative entrepreneur, artist, and skill-building educator based out of Portland, Oregon. Ellie’s passion lies at the intersection of education, art, creative business, and environmental justice. Along with her passion for creating, she is deeply committed to sharing her skills with those who want to learn.

As a business owner of 20 years in a craftsman-based business, R.E. Load Bags, she has honed her skills as a leader and teacher instructing those who worked with her how to master the craft of industrial sewing as well as small business management. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.S. in Ecoliteracy, where she studied adult hands-on learning theory in garden education. For the past few years, she’s been teaching sewing and mentoring folks on their creative business ventures through her DIY Workshop and handmade goods brand, Klum House.

sewing class
Ellie Lum teaching at Klum House.

We begin the conversation by talking about Ellie’s childhood growing up in California and her early entrepreneurial experiences selling handmade friendship bracelets to local surf shops while in grade school. Ellie talks about being involved in the punk scene as a teenager and the handmade ethos that was part of that culture. 

Next, Ellie talks about becoming a bike messenger in Philadelphia and then going into business with a friend, who was a bike mechanic, making custom bike messenger bags using sewing skills she’d learned from her mom growing up. That company was R.E. Load Bags and when Ellie moved to the West Coast she opened a division there. She talks about the struggles of creating a made-in-America handmade brand in the late 1990s when there wasn’t a ton of support for that sort of company, but the satisfaction she got from working with the sewists who created each bag.

Workshop space
The Klum House workshop space.

Ellie then decided to go to college and created her own degree at Berkeley focusing on ecology and the physical impact of working with your hands and body. After graduating and pursuing a scholarship project, she founded Klum House with her husband with the idea that making things with your hands gives you power, self-confidence, and the ability the control your environment and the world around you.

Klum House is a place that (pre-pandemic) provides in-person workshops, online classes, patterns, and kits for bag making. The goal is to have something for the maker at every stop in their journey – to meet them where they are. During the pandemic, Klum House has pivoted, making their Sewing Machine 101 class free for everyone.

Klum house product
Klum House products on display.
bag making kit

I ask Ellie to offer some tips for those of us who are teaching adult learners and she has some great ideas to share. If you’re interested in teaching your craft, definitely tune in to this episode!

I also asked Ellie to recommend great stuff she’s loving right now. These recommendations didn’t make it into the audio, but we wanted to be sure to include them in the show notes.

Ellie recommends:

Check out Klum House on their website where you can check out their online classes and read the Klum House blog. And, of course, follow along on Instagram as well.

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