Cleveland Motley has a background in sculpture and mechanical engineering, and he’s crafted a bag and backpack manufacturing company based in the Mission district of San Francisco, called Motley Goods. He’s an idea guy, and a maker of things.
As the owner/designer of Motley Goods, Cleveland is filling a niche for unique, craftsman, American-made products. One might say he’s part of the Etsy generation—where cottage industries start from handmade talent. Consumers are responding positively to these handmade goods—as they search for unique items that not everyone can have. They are looking for quality, style and creativity—not just brand names.
Cleveland strives to build bags that use a combination of modern and rugged materials to achieve a classic and durable design. “Motley Goods are built to last,” he says. By combining classic materials like hand cut leather, with modern waterproof fabrics like Cordura, Cleveland has been able to create things that consumers crave.
His talent as a maker of things was apparent even as a young boy. As a result of his passion for backpacking in the Sierras of California, he taught himself to sew in order to make simpler/lighter backpacks not otherwise available through traditional manufacturers. After college, he moved to San Francisco and continued to make his own bags for bicycle commuting, and finally ended up working at a small bag manufacturer. He then decided it was time to launch a business of his own. “I saw a market for quality hand made goods that were simple, not over designed, and durable.”
Cleveland sees the emerging market of bicycle commuting as a great niche for Motley Bags. “Bags are not a revolutionary new product. In order to be successful I have to find ways to stand out, and new ways to reach customers. Niche markets revolving around certain lifestyles are a good way to secure growth, especially ones that appreciate good design.” He sees young urban professionals who pedal commute wanting stylish, durable ways of carrying their things. He sees most products made for bike commuters being “way behind the times in terms of design and material.” So he designed a pannier (a bag that attaches to your bicycle rack while you ride) that easily converts to backpack, and gave it unique styling.
Like so many emerging boutique businesses, Motley Goods relies on the Internet and word of mouth. Ninety percent of their business comes from outside of San Francisco via the web. Even though Motley Goods is a small company, he can reach markets all over the world. Cleveland uses social tools like Instagram (he has 10,000 followers) to integrate taking pictures of the entire manufacturing process, with his lifestyle, and great photos of the products to generate buzz, and buyers.
So what’s next for Motley Goods? “I have to admit that as of late I have been more than slightly obsessed with the technology going into the new Americas Cup AC72 winged catamarans. I’ve been a sailor my whole life, and right now being less than a mile from one of the Americas Cup teams has been pretty incredible. To me they are the epitome of speed, technology, and beauty. These guys are really pushing the envelope in terms of sailing, and what they are doing for the sport is nothing short of spectacular.”
Yep, Cleveland Motley is an idea guy, and a maker of things.