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Custom orders are in the bag

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When Wm. J. Mills & Co. made its first canvas tote bag in 1951, it was as a custom order. Not long afterward, the company included canvas tote bags as a part of its product line, using scrap material and displaying them on the showroom floor. The bags gained popularity, but it wasn’t until 2007 that the line expanded to be more than fill-in work—by a bit of a fluke.

Wm. J. Mills had donated some bags for a silent auction in 2007. At the auction’s close, the bags had sold for three times what they normally retailed for. “We saw that and said: ‘Wait a second,’” says Bob Mills. “We have something here.” The hand-crafted canvas bags are both sturdy and fashionable (they’ve even been featured in Vogue magazine) and are crafted using the same rugged fabric and stitching used for the company’s weather-resistant marine products and awnings, with “double-needle” stitching to create rolled and finished seams.

Sigrid Tornquist is a freelance author and editor based in St. Paul, Minn. She is also the associate editor of InTents magazine, a publication of the Industrial Fabrics Association International.

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