A Day with Wizard Works in London, UK
We dropped by Wizard Works’ London workshop to spend a day getting to know the growing team, led by founders Harry Major and Veronica Lowe, and learning more about the values and design principles that drive the handmade bikepacking bag brand. Find our interview and a photo tour of their space here…
Interview and photos by Jack Boffy (@jackboffy)
First starting out as a hobby, then becoming a side hustle, and eventually blossoming into today’s rapidly growing business, Wizard Works (@wizard.works) is a London-based bikepacking bag maker known well beyond the UK for its bold colours and signature style. Founders Veronica Lowe and Harry Major are uniquely driven to create a brand that celebrates their inclusive values and manufactures products influenced by their experiences on two wheels.
Based out of South East London, the close-knit team now comprises four full-time employees, and I had the pleasure of visiting them whilst they busily worked away on a recent Friday afternoon—surrounded by machines (complete with their own nicknames), walls plastered thick with bag patterns, and dozens of brightly coloured rolls of fabric. Stem bags, basket bags, handlebar bags were all methodically cut, pinned, and stitched together by hand.
Find my photographic tour of the current Wizard Works space and an interview with Harry and Veronica below.
Let’s start from the top: were you both riding bikes from a young age, or was it something you found a little later?
Ve: I got my first bike and learnt to ride at 7, but I didn’t get my second bike until I moved to London when I was 22. After many years as a commuter cyclist, it was while living in Melbourne that we got the idea to do an extended cycle tour. I had never cycled more than a few kilometres at a time, and Harry had never camped before. Between us, it had the potential to be an absolute disaster, but luckily it was the very opposite of a disaster, and I arrived in Kuala Lumpur one year after setting out from Tokyo, a fully-fledged ‘bike person’. Then, it was the natural progression from road touring to bikepacking to avoid traffic and find the best camping spots.
Harry: Whilst I had done a bit of riding and mountain biking with my dad when I was a kid, it wasn’t until I was at art school that I really got into bikes. Around 2008, I became obsessed with fixed gear bikes, I was always hanging around Brick Lane, and eventually I got a job at Brick Lane Bikes. I began scheming about a cycle tour whilst working there, but it never materialised. As it turned out, I needed another few years and V’s adventure spirit to push me out of my comfort zone and into the wild. She was the driving force behind our big adventure, and that first big trip changed everything. Suddenly, it was less about the bike and more about where a bike could take me, and we haven’t looked back!
What made you want to make the leap from cycling as a hobby to starting Wizard Works and making a business of it?
Harry: In May 2016, at the end of our cycle tour through Asia, we found ourselves in the Okanagan region of British Colombia weeding Carrots on a lovely little organic farm run by a jazz-dancing cowboy. By the autumn, we were in Vancouver, and I remember my friend Geoff telling me, “Harry, you’re going to need an inside winter hobby here.” And he was right! It rained every single day in September, sometimes for 48+ hours straight. People say England is wet, and it is, but this place was something else!
That fateful piece of advice, combined with everything I had been thinking about on our big trip, led me to buy my first little sewing machine and start making bags. Those first bags were absolutely terrible, but I was hooked. I loved working out how to pattern things. It was creative, it was problem solving, it was rewarding. My bag making got steadily better and better. Fast forward two years, we are living in New Zealand and Ve and I are making some bags as a little side hustle, selling from Instagram. From there, realising Wizard Works had legs, we crafted plans and made Wizard Works into a real business back here in London.
Veronica, you were raised in New Zealand, and you’ve lived in many parts of the world. What made you settle down and start Wizard Works in London?
Ve: There were many factors that made London the obvious choice for Wizard Works. We had been travelling for the most part of a decade and were finally aging out of the youth visa schemes. Because we’re from different parts of the world, there isn’t any country we can both live in without at least one of us needing a visa, and the next one was going to be a financial investment, so it had to be somewhere we could see ourselves being for a while.
There was a time when we thought that we were ready for small-town life. We gave it a shot, and, short story, we’re definitely not there yet! So, we’re back in the Big Smoke. We chose London because Harry’s family is here and because London’s awesome. Not the weather, that totally sucks, but for loads of other reasons, London’s got the magic. From a business point of view, eye-watering rent prices aside, London has a cool bike scene and lots of creative people to work with. I don’t like to think we’ve settled down, but we’re definitely settled in. For now, at least.
With their bright colours, your bags are very recognisable and definitely carry your signature style. Is this something you set out to do, or did it develop over time?
Harry: A bit of both, I guess. Our bags aim to blend classic forms with bold colour choices, modern materials, and design cues, which has helped to forge our style. We have always hated that technical products look so technical. Why can’t you have technical items that look cute? The bikepacking world is full of black bags, and we set out to offer something different, something fun.
From the beginning, it was important to give our bags a strong silhouette and that they really hold their shape on the bike, whether full or empty. Now that our range is growing, I think we have learnt some of what our key design elements are—core shapes and pieces that make our range appear consistent. Fundamentally, we’re trying to make bags that appear simple to the eye, though often this requires a lot of complexity to achieve. We will often make a huge number of final samples to test how a new bag should be finished. For example, where the ends of binding can be hidden, and to see if we can strip away or hide lines of topstitching.
You’ve both had lots of experience riding bikes on long trips. Are there ways in which your travels inspired the initial design of your bags?
Ve: It’s not that our bags were inspired by our travels, but more made for our travels. Harry started by making bags for us, so they were made to work for the type of riding and trips we did with an aesthetic we liked and couldn’t find in other bags. We tweaked the designs as we used them and what we found worked or didn’t work, what could look cuter or perform better. I’m by no means an ultra-lightweight packer, but I do want whatever gear I take to be utilised to its full potential. Returning from a trip, I like to analyse what stuff I took but didn’t need or vice versa, so next time I can pack better (Sagittarius sun, Virgo moon). Bag scrutiny is much the same.
Each year, you produce a new high-visibility ‘Wiz Viz’ line for the winter months. What encouraged you to start this?
Harry: Wiz Viz came about because we’d been asked to make a super cool space-themed framebag for Dear Susan at the beginning of 2020. We ended up with this reflective fabric that we thought was wicked, and we started talking about how it would be awesome to produce a safety-inspired collection that looked cool and exciting, making safety sexy!
We’re still a small business, and it’s challenging for us to change our core fabric colours as we must buy our materials in large quantities to get the shades we want. Wiz Viz lets us produce a seasonal range that can change every year, which is a lot of fun for our whole team. We get to play with new materials and designs, and the production team gets to make something a bit different.
You’re soon relocating to a new workshop in a different part of London. What’s behind the move?
Ve: The main reason for the move is that we need a bigger space. We’re pretty much bursting at the seams in our current studio. As we’ve grown, we’ve moved to ordering materials in larger quantities. Most of our suppliers are in Europe, so Brexit played a forceful hand in this as well; we started having to order more to justify the new freight costs and longer shipping times. We also moved to ordering custom dyed fabric so we can have Cordura without a fluorocarbon coating for a fabric that’s kinder to the environment, but again, to unlock this, we had to put in quite a large (for us) minimum order per colour.
Currently, we have fabric rolls stashed wherever we can fit them. It isn’t ideal, and it’s not great for team morale when you realise the roll of fabric you need to get is wedged in eight rolls deep. There are a lot of other space issues as well. We’d like some more machines, we’d like to release more bags, we’d like another person on the production floor, but right now there’s just nowhere to put them!
It took us quite a while to find our new space as we had a long list of criteria, and really, there just aren’t that many studios of this size in London. In the end, we managed to strike gold. Our current studio has been very good to us, and we’re going to miss Peckham, but this is a super exciting step in the Wizard Works story. We’re also really bloody stoked for proper heating!
It’s not so common to see a couple running a business together. Do you each have separate parts of the operation that you look after, or do you each do a bit of everything?
Ve: We started out doing everything, but as Wizard Works has grown, our roles have diverged. Harry is more product and design, and I’m more marketing and customer service. But because we’re very small, we’re both still involved to some degree with every aspect of the business. It’s hard not to be. Your relationship takes on a different dimension when you work together; I’ve learnt more about Harry in the last two years than in our first eight years together, about how we each process information and tackle problems, which was both unexpected and fascinating. Being life and business partners is difficult sometimes, but mainly it’s just super fun. Regular high fives are crucial.
You’ve recently grown Wizard Works to the point you’ve taken on more staff. How have you found that process of moving from doing everything yourself to becoming an employer?
Harry: Ve and I have both worked a lot of minimum wage jobs and know what it’s like to feel disposable to a business. We knew from the beginning that we wanted Wizard Works to be more than just the two of us because we wanted to offer people really good jobs and a really positive lifestyle. We knew that by being an employer, we could enact our beliefs and morals on our little wizard world, where we work to create the best environment, pay, and conditions for our staff. Tasha and Meg are our business’ two best assets, and more than that, they’re a vital part of our wizard family.
When we started hiring for machinists, we were surprised at how many people applied to work with us, and we learnt from them that there simply aren’t enough good machinist jobs in the UK. After a wave of pandemic-related closures and redundancies, we now feel we have a responsibility to help keep these skills alive, even if only in a small way. We are committed to offering more good jobs and training new machinists because ultimately, we truly believe in local manufacturing.
You’ve partnered with Stayer Cycles to provide bags for the Ultra Distance Scholarship that they’re hosting. Tell us more about the ethos and aims behind this.
Harry: The scholarship sets out to help address how cis, white, and male ultra-racing is by facilitating three BIPOC cyclists to take part in their first ultra-race through a combination of gear, mentoring, and coaching. I think what makes the scholarship so important is that although it directly impacts the lives of those who win, it also helps to promote ultra-racing to new, previously underrepresented audiences, and this should help grow BIPOC representation in the sport. Because representation really does matter. We’re so happy to be able to support the Ultra Distance Scholarship again this year, and we look forward to seeing it continue to grow over the coming years.
Lastly, what’s your dream trip to take by bike together?
Ve: So many dream trips! But a few years cycling around South America should do it.
Harry: South America was the original plan for our 2015 cycle tour, but a combination of things made us change our plan and head to Japan. Our half-formed South American trip is still in the back of our minds. This Summer, we’re (hopefully) ticking off a dream trip by going to the North of Spain, which has been on the cards for ages!
Ve: I also really want to go to Central Asia.
Harry: I can’t wait to go back to Tasmania.
Ve: Oh gosh, me too!
You can visit Wizard.works to learn more about the brand and shop their selection of UK-made bikepacking bags.
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