Formally launched in 2023 and based out of a bedroom workshop in Salt Lake City, Utah, Kawa Designs is a one-man product design studio headed by maker River Murdock. The foundation of what would become Kawa was laid when River began making bags about a decade ago as a high-school student in Moab, Utah, where he grew up canyoneering, backpacking, and bikepacking out in the desert. Living in the ideal testing ground for outdoor gear, River enjoyed the challenge of building gear that could withstand use in the region’s rugged and rocky terrain.
As luck would have it, his close friends owned the gear company Nunatak and would let him use their industrial sewing machines to learn the ropes and hone his craft. After making his first canyoneering backpack from scrap materials found around the Nunatak shop, River was hooked, and the seed was planted. River went on to study land management and later spent a few seasons working for the US Forest Service, where he lived in the Bob Marshall and Teton Wildernesses, which provided further development inspiration and opportunities for long-term field testing.
Last year, River made the leap to pursue his passion full-time as Kawa Designs. Kawa means “river” in Japanese, as taught to him by his partner. The pair took a four-month tour across Korea and Japan a while back, pedaling up and down the islands’ many mountainous river valleys, and the brand name was solidified.
Kawa Designs Products
Everything River sells today as Kawa Designs is the end result of years spent envisioning and prototyping bags for various trips. Whether it’s a lightweight, waterproof pannier or a small bag to haul the bare necessities, everything is built to solve a specific problem. Environmental consciousness is a core principle embedded in the Kawa philosophy, and River prioritizes natural/recycled materials and makes everything with durability and repairability in mind.
The current Kawa lineup includes sling bags, panniers, rack bags, stem buckets, frame bags, banana hammocks, and more. Stock and custom sizes, colors, and fabrics are available for many products. The bag that first caught my eye was the Micro Sling, a small shoulder bag that looks ideal for hauling ride and day-to-day essentials. River also recently collaborated with the crew at Hitch Bicycle Club in South Korea, who hosted him for a few days and loved his self-made bags so much that they asked him to sew up a limited collection for the shop.
Looking toward the future, River says he’s excited to see where the small business journey will take him and hopeful about seeing Kawa grow in 2024.
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