Newly relocated to Pittsburgh, Moop offers made-to-order shoulderware that embraces simplicity. | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Newly relocated to Pittsburgh, Moop offers made-to-order shoulderware that embraces simplicity.

Want the latest and greatest in whiz-bang status shoulderwear, dripping with logos and completely of the moment? Then skip right past Moop.

The husband-and-wife team of Wendy Downs and Jeremy Boyle hand-makes each of its minimalist-chic bags, which is why it takes two weeks after you order one to get it. 

"Our backgrounds are in making things," says Boyle, who left a tenure-track teaching position at the University of Massachusetts when his photographer-wife's accidental business exploded. "The idea of process is really important. So much of everything is so disconnected from the idea of a person making a thing. What does it mean to be handmade?"

"We didn't have a business or an idea of a business," Downs says. "It was almost instantaneous." She'd used a sewing machine only as a tool for photography, whipping up props for shoots. But Boyle's sister saw a bag she'd made, loved it, suggested they put it on Etsy, a Web site for selling handmade crafts, and Moop was born, two-and-a-half years ago. They maintain an Etsy page, and blog and sell bags at

The pair just moved to Pittsburgh; Boyle grew up here, and before leaving town had garnered attention for his art installations (he worked with sound). They set up shop in a bright, airy storefront in the West End. A summer morning found them behind sewing machines and covered in fabric scraps -- like most mornings, and afternoons, and evenings, every day.

The bags -- from bookbags for kids to clutches to messenger bags -- are sturdy and elegant, full of useful little touches like D-rings to keep keys from getting lost in a giant market bag. They're in solid colors, made from cotton twill and canvas. The bags are mostly washable and meant to be durable. 

The bookbag, for instance, was designed specifically for Downs' daughter, and has seen her through a few years in school and all the abuse bookbags take. A hip pouch -- which the Web site insists isn't nerdy despite being a fanny-pack -- is actually pretty chic, in a design-geek kind of way.

"Bags are made to order. We get an order and cut the fabric," says Boyle. "After making that decision, they still have to wait two weeks. People enjoy it -- the wait makes you aware of the process."

"People are selective," says Downs. "They'll e-mail us, 'I'm saving my pennies and I can't wait to buy your bag!' People ask us very selective questions. It is a thought-over decision."

And for as tough and timeless as the pieces are, they don't really even take that many pennies. The most expensive items -- the roomy messenger bag or the take-it-all market bag -- cost about $100, while the smaller clutches and hip pouch are around $30. 

Still, in a get-it-now impulse-buying culture where even online purchases screech into your mailbox the next day, Moop's slow model seems anachronistic. And spending a hundred bucks on a tote you could find for a fraction of the cost at a big-box store seems to fly right into the face of the current economic situation.

But the people behind the bags, who host their first open-studio event this Saturday, say careful-spending philosophies might send customers their way, too.

 "When there is less, people that are buying ... have to think more about how they spend: Where does it go? What does it mean?" says Boyle. "It could really make a shift in the way people go about buying things -- slow it down! It's not impulse."


Moop Open Studio 6-9 p.m. Sat., Aug. 29. 406 S. Main St., West End.

click to enlarge A bag in hand: Moop's tote
A bag in hand: Moop's tote

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