Bagsy: The Anonymous Rhondda Artist Who Turned Shopping Bag Art Into A Successful Business
You might think Valleys-themed merchandise is just local rugby club shirts and bobble beanies, but thanks to an incognito artist from Rhondda, wearing a piece of home has become a little more diverse than just put on the kits of our favorite sports teams.
For Rhondda’s Bagsy, who began secretly dropping her sketches of recognizable local faces and places into shopping carts during her weekly shopping in hopes they would be shared on social media, the sketches and biases on the Valley theme on famous logos have immortalized many of the images and colloquialisms you couldn’t buy elsewhere.
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Five years later, Bagsy, not particularly hoping to be an anonymous designer, or even trying to be Rhondda’s answer to that famous rebel artist from Bristol, is still the Valley’s best-kept secret. Or worse, if you know, you know.
But her designs have evolved from bags for life to t-shirts, hoodies and tote bags – and starting this month, these bags will be designed and made exclusively in Rhondda at a new studio in sewing on the site of the former Polikoffs/Burberry factory. .
Keeping it local is a big thing for Bagsy, right down to the color of its products – they’re only available in “Rhondda Grey” aside from the odd special – and the support it’s received from customers near and far. fueled his passion for his work. .
I visited his studio, which grew from a relative’s garage to a local workshop space in the middle of the Rhondda to find out where the creativity and inspiration behind the hyper-local designs comes from with a lot of heart .
“I really wanted to get back into drawing because I hadn’t done it since my master’s degree, I had done more projects online,” he said, explaining how the carry bag portraits got started. “I was like ‘do I have something here so I don’t have to go out and get a tampon’ and it happened that my wife and I were getting rid of a bunch of bags in recycling and I thought ‘I’ll just use them.
“And I could never find a way to do art on the Rhondda, it was always something else, and there was a lot of negativity around MTV The Valleys, and there was no positivity to About the Valleys, so I just thought I’d try to get some positivity.
“I think the anonymity comes from the fact that I’m sort of a parody of Banksy, in that there’s someone walking around and drawing on bags anonymously. That’s probably the secret the least well kept of Rhondda and I often forget four or five years later, that I have I’m even anonymous I half expected people to call me in the first two days, but nobody never cared, I think they like that they’re part of the joke.
He says his followers are so attached to Bagsy’s anonymity that even though they’ve chatted over the years, the idea of getting together for coffee isn’t on the table for those who like mystery. .
It’s almost as if the Rhonddas, or the people of the valleys who love Bagsy, have embraced fun and creativity because it’s something special that belongs only to them. The way he captures identity cannot be underestimated and that identity has been broadcast far and wide, with customers taking their ‘Rhondda Athletic’, ‘Twp Mun’ t-shirts and more to places like Antarctica. , Alaska, Ghana and the peaks of the Welsh Mountains, of course.
Can he believe how far his Bagsy business has come (and traveled)? Not bad for someone who was laid off from two jobs at zero hours and had to use the same screen printing screen for countless different designs in the beginning because he couldn’t fund more.
“I wouldn’t have believed it at first,” he admits. But he added that his designs took off thanks to a mix of two things: sheer determination and support.
“I also have the support of an audience who must be the most patient people in the world, they have been there from the start and throughout my journey of building a business and everything that goes with it. Fail sometimes and make up for it.
“It was interesting, starting from the designs to then creating a sustainable business for the Rhondda, no one was really doing valley stuff, now we see so many local businesses embracing all aspects of handmade products, products like mine to gifts, homemade candles or food products – truly encompassing what the Valleys has to offer.”
Concretely, Bagsy’s has a lot to thank his other half, for having pushed him to follow his passion for art and design, which he studied at university, because after being fired, it was she who says, “You can either just mope and feel sorry for yourself, go unemployed, or do whatever you want in life.”
From there he printed actual tote bags with his designs, learned how to make his own hand screen printing equipment from YouTube and with only a month’s worth of money, gave himself this limit of four weeks to make or break if he would go ahead with the Bagasy business we know now.
“I did my own press with my wife’s great-uncle, who was a design teacher, and did the exposure unit,” he said. “If you can create a screen, you can print anything.
“I remember I put my first bags on eBay, because I didn’t have a website then, and they blocked my account! I posted that I only had 15 bags and I sent everyone to eBay and the traffic shut down my account so I thought ‘there’s a need for this’.
“Then at the start of 2020 people had started asking me for T-shirts. I thought if I was going to make them I would make them completely unique and I said I was only going to make them. in ‘Rhondda Grey’. Kind of like Henry Ford, you can have any color as long as it’s black,” Bagsy laughed – he has a good laugh, even though his online videos seem pretty understated.
And as the pandemic of the past two years put an end to bag drops, orders started pouring in and time allowed his business and marketing skills to develop.
“Not as much obviously, during the pandemic, but the bags originally went all over the world, like every country you can think of, I probably have a picture someone sent me from there- down,” he revealed. “And now the T-shirts are starting to pick up. We’ll be sending to America, Australia and New Zealand and I’ve also sent them to Europe. On Christmas Day, a guy sent me a picture, and I J first thought it was Photoshop until I read the caption which was “Hello from Antarctica. That was cool.”
For such a specific collection of designs influenced by the valleys, Bagsy reveals that around a third of its sales come from the region, another third from Wales and the rest from around the world – responding firmly to its critics who thought that its business would soon run out of customers.
“When I started to think of it more as a business, the first response was, ‘there aren’t enough people in the Valleys, they won’t buy this and you’ll lose interest after a while. There aren’t enough people for you to keep the business going.
“But they haven’t realized how many ex-pats we actually have all over the world. A lot of people would say a lot of the phrases are sort of a Welsh general or a South Wales general as well, and can be branched across such as South Wales and even North and West Wales.
“One of my dreams when I started as a business was, you know, when you’re on holiday and someone has a beach towel with the Welsh flag on it. I wanted it to be a bit like that.
“And then, when people were first allowed to go on holiday, I got a message that said, ‘I went to Tenerife and was wearing my Bagsy when someone came up to me because he also came from the valleys. They could identify them as Valleys because of the T-shirt. It’s enough for me.
The feeling of increased ‘hiraeth’ throughout the pandemic has helped reconnect many Bagsy customers to their birthplace and he loves customer feedback, including one whose 100-year-old mother with dementia s exhilarated when she saw the mining of Llwynypia family statue sporting a shopping bag, so what does he think of remaining the hidden creator behind an increasingly popular brand?
“I’ve had the luxury of being able to develop things creatively. But at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s all about me, I have nothing to do with my face. A lot of my Les t shirts don’t even have my logo on them,” he explained.
“I think it comes down to being anonymous. A lot of my friends say ‘the project is really big now, you have to be famous.’ But I still walk the streets and I just live here, I can enjoy the valleys without feeling different from others.
“So I feel like that part connects me to the Valleys because I’m like the guy down the street sitting quietly printing bags and t-shirts and hoodies for a really good price!”
Learn more about Bagsy here.
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