A bag is one of the required items when getting on your bicycle. It is a fact that it is surprisingly difficult to choose a bag with the right shape and purpose. Shoulder bags, tote bags, backpacks, etc. etc…. Someone who has an answer to the bag problem faced by these cyclists is Chie Noguchi, the maker of Cosset-Bags in Kyoto. Their basic shape is messenger bags - those bags that bike messengers have slung across their bodies as they speed across cities.
“If I was to sum up my bags in one phrase it would be: light messenger bags that can be used every day. Messenger bags were originally for professional use and quite mannish. Bike messengers have to cycle no matter how bad the weather is so they go for durability and reinforcement. But these qualities are not so important for people who are just generally riding around town. So I have moderately simplified the specifications of the messenger bags I make.”
When you hear the words ‘simplified specifications’, you might get the impression that there is something unreliable about them but this is absolutely not the case. The waterproof function which is the optimum point of the messenger bag and the functionality of the buckle that can adjust the length of the shoulder strap are still features so that the contents of the bag do not get wet when used every day and so that movement in the forward-bent posture unique to cycling is not hindered. On top of that, the most important feature is that the weight of these bags has been reduced.
“Basically I make the bags with sufficient specifications for everyday use for ordinary people. Of course, I can make more sturdy bags if the client requires sturdier specifications.”
That’s right. Ms. Noguchi’s bags are fully made to order as a general rule and only by Ms. Noguchi herself. Her basic style is to welcome customers to her home-cum-atelier in Kyoto and show them sample products and material and thread samples so that they can order their preferred bag. It is Ms. Noguchi’s Cosset-Bags that make users’ wishes come true.
Around 8 years ago in 2006, sports bicycles became tremendously popular. Up until then, many people who had had no connection with bicycles began riding cross bikes or road bikes. However, at the time, the range of choice for accessories such as clothing and bags was limited and there were only core products such as professional specification messenger bags in bicycle shops. For many users who felt that these weren’t bad but that they weren’t exactly their style, Ms. Noguchi’s Cosset-Bags were the answer they finally came across, something that represented what they really wanted in detail.
“There are people who wear the shoulder strap over the right shoulder and others who wear it over the left so I make the straps to follow the line of the body as much as possible. These are tote bags with handles to which are attached messenger bag straps and buckles and because there is no flap, there is no noise from the Velcro when it is opened. So you can open and close it on the train without worrying about disturbing people. In the end, I thought that it would be good if bags were easy to use once you get off your bike.”
It is precisely this concept that gets close to everyday lives which does not exist in traditional brands. You can choose your own color freely from the samples and create a bag that is completely your own, somewhat different from mass produced products. Of course, it is possible to purchase one of the samples if you like the color and specifications.
“The choice of colors is completely free but there are some cases where there are restrictions to the clothes you can wear with your bag if you use too many colors. Some customers order bags of only one color for precisely this reason. Personally, I like subdued colors so many of the sample colors are quite conservative.”
30 - 40% of Cosset-Bags’ customers are women. The bags seem to be acknowledged as stylish items supported by women who are interested purely in bags rather than just in the realm of bicycle bags and Ms. Noguchi hears compliments from female customers such as this was just the bag that they had been looking for.
Popular secret products are picnic sheets, wallets and accessory cases made from remnants such as waterproof tarpaulin. Allowing customers to match bicycle bags and accessories shows that Ms. Noguchi really has her finger on the pulse of everyday life. So, how did Ms. Noguchi come to create Cosset-Bags in the first place? Let’s ask her about her background and way of thinking.
Ms. Noguchi started off as a triathlete, something that it not easy to imagine when you see her. She began doing triathlons when she was at university in Kyoto and this was the first time she had ever experienced riding a sports bike. She had always enjoyed sports and was a member of the swimming club at high school. However, she had never ridden more than a ladies’ bicycle with a basket.
“It may be strange that my first opportunity to ride a road bike was triathlon but, in the first place, my first full marathon was during a triathlon. That is much more strange in my opinion!”
“At any rate, by the time you start the full marathon in a triathlon, you have already cycled 160 kilometers! It is a competition of endurance. I cried as I was running. But when I got to the finish line, I thought, “You can do it if you try”. As long as you are not standing still, you are moving forward, even if it is one step at a time.”
The mentality of “you can do it if you try” is connected to the job she got after this. Ms. Noguchi came across the job of bike messenger when she was at university. Ms. Noguchi talks nostalgically about the great memories she has of riding around the expansive Kyoto city center all day every day and the idea for making messenger bags came to mind during this time. Ms. Noguchi spent around 3 years of her life after graduation working as a professional messenger in Kyoto but she resolved to look for a job as a bag maker in Tokyo. There she learned the know-how to make messenger bags.
“The reason I wanted to make bags in the first place was purely because I was interested in making them. I felt like I wanted to make bags and I had a connection with the creative environment so I decided to go to Tokyo. There are some people who have always wanted to make bags and therefore attend a professional apparel school but I may have pushed my way forward by being true to myself.”
Even though she had never studied apparel or design, Ms. Noguchi had the experience of being a professional messenger and had made bags for professional messengers. In other words, she had a thorough knowledge of the vital points in simplifying messenger bag specifications to make them easy to use for the general public. Ms. Noguchi, who had become independent from the bag maker, constructed her first atelier in Sendagi in Tokyo. Cosset-Bags started in a rented room above Ueda Antiques that was run in a small old Japanese-style house at the end of an alley.
“I became friends with Mr. Ueda when we worked together as messengers in Kyoto. I fell into this atelier with my industrial sewing machine. I wonder that the floor did not give way under the weight! A colleague from the bag maker where I worked gave me her own personal machine so I really was fated to end up there.”
Ms. Noguchi is humble but there are many small workshops for shoes, leather accessories and miscellaneous goods, etc. in the Yanesen area which includes Sendagi and it is an area on which the attention of the young is focused. It didn’t take long for people with high sensitivity who were thinking about incorporating bicycles into their lifestyle to ‘discover’ Cosset-Bags. Originality, fate and timing aligned perfectly and Cosset-Bags was soon on track. One year later, Ms. Noguchi moved back to Kyoto, her second home where she had studied, to set up the headquarters where she still works today.
Ms. Noguchi now lives in Kyoto with her husband, who works for a bicycle manufacturer, and her daughter, Towa (1) and continues to make bags. Meanwhile, her style of receiving customers and taking orders remains the same.
“Customers make an appointment and come to the atelier. As production is based on orders by reservation, even I think it is a bit ‘from above’ but I want customers to enjoy the wait before they receive their order. Delivery of a bag usually takes one month. This is because I want the customer to receive their bag during the same season in which they ordered it. But, at the moment, I spend the majority of my day looking after this one (Towa) so I may have to ask customers to wait a little longer.”
Kyoto is a city which has its own blossoming bicycle culture as bike messengers have been around for a long time, there are mountains nearby so many people enjoy mountain-biking and there is early adoption of bicycle services for the general public such as the Kyoto Cycling Tour Project (KCTP) and vélo-taxis. Ms. Noguchi has been settled there for 5 years and today she is working the machine and making bags. Cosset-Bags will have an even bigger presence as bags that are closely related to cycling life. And we feel a curious connection in the fact that indirect orders are possible from OVE despite the fact that orders are usually made directly with Ms. Noguchi herself. If you are looking for a unique bike bag of your own, how about taking a look at Ms. Noguchi’s bags at OVE?
Chie Noguchi Profile
Born in 1980, 34 years old. Moved to Kyoto to attend university in 1999. Began to do triathlons at university. Worked as a messenger in Kyoto city center from her time at university until 2007 and then moved to Tokyo and began to make bags. Started up Cosset-Bags in 2009 in Sendagi in Tokyo. Moved to Kyoto in 2010 and got married. Her daughter arrived in 2013. Her hobby is going out on her bike and enjoying nature, bird watching and collecting feathers.