Ellie Lum is the founder, pattern designer, and head educator at Klum House. With over twenty years of professional bag making experience, she draws on her roots in the industrial sewing industry to make heavy-duty bag making fun and accessible to home stitchers. We covered their story when we wrote about the matte labels they printed up for a DIY dopp kit for sale on their web store.
Over the years, she has taught hundreds of makers to sew over the years and is passionate about inviting makers to work with their hands, build new skills, and get lost in the flow of making.
"It's the mistakes along the way that are just as much a part of making the thing as doing it right. If you can interact with a tool and build a relationship with it, your potential to create ultimately your vision is unlocked. And that's really powerful."
For Ellie, it's more than just bags, it’s about helping makers build confidence and establish a sense of efficacy in the world. Ellie's goal is for makers to discover that they are capable of so much more than they ever thought possible. Listen in as she shares how she started the business and how she is evolving her products and classes to meet the needs of her customers.
Highlights from the episode
Stickers on the Mic: How did you get Klum House started? What led you to want to create a DIY bag brand?
Klum House: We used to run brands--where we handcrafted everything--in the cycling industry. I used to run a brand called R.E.Load Bags, which is custom messenger bags, when I lived in Philadelphia. I started that company in 1998 with Roland Burns.
(Editor's note: R.E.Load is still making bags, and Ellie continues to develop products for the brand.)
We were both bike messengers at the time in Philly, and we were making bags for our friends and the messenger community. Most of the stuff we did was custom made-to-order, super-durable bags for riding your bike all day and working all day.
Klum House was launched by me and Dustin, my husband who used to run a brand called Cadence Collection, which is a lifestyle cycling clothing brand that he founded in the early 2000s. We had some leftover stock from when we used to manufacturer, and we decided to just put our minds together and design stuff together and use some of those raw goods that were sitting around our studios.
The main thing that inspired me to start Klum House was really loving teaching people how to sell and build skills. I ran the small batch factory for R.E.Load. I taught a lot of people how to do industrial sewing in order to make our bags, and I really loved that.
So when I was looking to change careers, I naturally wanted to be a teacher. I was able to take all of my experience with these durable rugged materials and marry that with my wanting to be a teacher. I ended up going to school for adult education and learning theory and took those two experiences and made Klum House what it is now.
Stickers on the Mic: With the way you package up each design and each kit, you have different revenue streams, which means a customer can say "I just want the PDF and it will cost me $16, or I want the class and the materials." Now you can serve different price points, and you create different experiences for the customer. How did that come about?
Klum House: Yeah, that really comes in those four different ways or five different ways. Everyone who comes in, depending on what skill level people are coming in at. Since our main thing is education, we're trying to set them up for success and sometimes a maker might come in and not have a ton of experience, but want to really make that bag so they are better off really with that full kit and that full class so they get that major support to do that. We like to make sure that we design stuff that can hit people at different skill levels, too. I really like projects where people can have a quick win, because most of the stuff is made by adults. We're all super busy, so it's nice to make a project in a couple hours sometimes.
Stickers on the Mic: You're also selling tools and supplies, because any sort of project requires a specialized piece of equipment. So talk a little bit about some of these these products.
Klum House: We really believe in the right tool for the right job, and we also really like showing people how to use new tools. That's one of the, as you know, one of the fun things about crafting is getting to get all the cool tools to do it. So we try to make sure that people are set up for success and tell them which tools they really need and which ones are like hey, this would be nice to have. But you don't actually have to buy it because we definitely want to make sure it's not super cost prohibitive. You don't need to buy every single thing, you can make it work with just a few tools.
Stickers on the Mic: How have the classes and education side of the business been working?
Klum House: Well, it's funny because we used to do in person classes. But as you know, with the pandemic, we've had to cancel them all. So we've had to really focus on our online classes, and I get a lot of people really engaging by showing us what they make on social. That it's a human being and they'll be working with, and then they'll place an order and there's a little spot to leave comments on the order where they're like, hey, "I took this class of yours. It was the most thorough class I've ever taken. I love how you explain everything".
So we really get this feedback from our students, and it's super fun and important to have that dialogue. Yeah, it'll be bundled or with slab town that's a role type backpack. It's an advanced pattern. So we bundle the class purchase with the full kit and make sure that people feel comfortable that they're about to do this crazy project that we really got them and support them. But some of the other kits and stuff like that, you don't need the class, necessarily. So it's more like - hey, here's a different price point, add it on, if you feel like you need it.
Stickers on the Mic: You seem to have a pretty bright, spacious studio, what went into building your current space?
Klum House: Yeah, the studio. I mean, I've built so many sewing studios in my life since I've been professionally making bags. Since the late 90s, I swear I've built probably like 40 sewing studios. This one was particularly fun to build because of the in person classes and we have a big mural on the wall that says "I believe in you". I think it's really important to encourage people because some of these bags look really hard to make, but they're actually not that hard to make, especially if you have the right support with instructions and tools and supplies and stuff. So we really made the studio to try and make it almost like they're stepping into my personal bag studio while displaying all the tools and all of it. We all love walking into the workshop and the possibility of what can happen in a workshop space.
Stickers on the Mic: What about in this online environment?
Klum House: So one of the things we're talking about right now is making sure we have an online class for every single bag design that we sell. So we're trying to figure out how to remotely film that with our producer kind of zooming in, you know, so that's definitely a work in progress. I'm offering the class bundled with the full kit for the Slab town was really important, I think, for us, and in general. I'm just starting to do way more Instagram live streams and just going live and talking about tools and talking about these different parts of the materials and really just education and small amounts like that and being able to interact with people still through the live stream which has been really fun. We are looking at an online bag design course, actually. Which I'm pretty excited about really getting people this higher level of, you know, how do you make a bag that you have in your mind that is something you want to make from scratch versus just following a pattern or a kit.
Stickers on the Mic: When I looked at the site and I was looking at the sewing machines, I thought about how we have a sewing machine in our house, and it rarely gets used, in part because it's an intimidating machine to some. How do you get people to overcome that fear because even I would love to sit down and get after it, but it's also sort of a barrier to some people. They might even have the knowledge with all the tools, but it takes pushing through to just make something. I feel like that's the biggest barrier for anyone is just doing it.
Klum House: Yeah. So I have two ways to answer that, and really great question, by the way. The first one is, it really does make sense to slow down and take an intro course and just learn how the machine operates. We actually have a free sewing one on one course on our site that's online and it's totally free. And it shows you exactly how to use a sewing machine and how it works and stuff. And then the second thing I want to say about that question is the mind state that I think is important for that is essentially when you're making something, and in this case sewing, the Sewing machine itself is a tool that helps you unlock your creative potential like any tool that you use right so you can choose hey, I'm a woodworker and the saw unlocks my creative potential. It allows me to create something that I really enjoy creating or making but this tool is an access point to that. So that's really important to know that, you're in conversation with that tool and it becomes a part of your making process.
So if you're how most creative people are, that's an expression a way they express themselves. And anyone that does a craft, uses their tools and materials as part of that process of expressing yourself. So to me, I feel like it's really important to remember that if you can interact with this tool and build a relationship with it, your potential to create and ultimately your vision is unlocked. And so that's really powerful.
We get a lot of makers and woodworkers in our classes, too, and they're used to navigating, you know, a 16th of an inch or something you know and and sewing. It's more like we don't care about a 16th of an inch. Get within a quarter inch and half an inch, because fabric stretches as much as you want it to, and that's part of the skill of learning how to use it. There's a lot of room for error there, but also in going back to what we're talking about, we're really, of course, looking to always perfect our skill building right, but we're also looking for a flow state. We're looking for that enjoyment of the process, the reason that we even do it to, you know, so there is that letting go, in those moments where you say I do know how to cut this angle perfectly or whatever, but also as you craft and make stuff the more you realize that it's the mistakes along the way that are just as much a part of making the thing as doing it right.
It's the navigation of the mistakes I think, with a certain amount of knowledge, that makes you essentially a better maker. That's part of the definition of being better, how you navigate your mistakes. Not do you stop ever making mistakes; the goal is not to make less mistakes. It's to know how to deal with your mistakes.