Amber M. Jensen and Hilary Nylander had a lot in common: they were both hikers; they both had a deep love for woven materials and textiles; they both appreciated design with a level of comfort. When the two met in Marshall, it felt a little like fate. Soon, the pair began meeting once a week to brainstorm things they might create together, which led to opening their business, ha!, and Amber’s newest creation: a durable and stylish backpack  that looks equally at home on a man or a woman, on a city street or a mountain trail.

“These packs are so tactile in nature — they’ll stand the test of time,” Hilary says. “They also have this really deeply cozy and comforting feel about them that I think just makes them really special. We hear very often from our customers that they’re their most trusted companions.”

Made entirely by hand out of merino wool felt, waxed canvas, and tanned leather, the Classic Patchwork Pack was inspired by regional textile traditions with an eye toward the colors, shapes, and textures of the beautiful mountains surrounding Marshall.

“I see my backpacks as a wearable form of art,” Amber says. “I approach it like a sculpture that needs to function perfectly.”

Our State sat down with Amber and Hilary to learn more about the inspiration behind their stylish backpacks.

OS: How did you become “makers”?

HN: My background is very much in creative direction and brand design for other companies — everything from a floral and exterior decor company to a really cool chocolate company. But when I moved here, I really made the dedicated decision to create something for myself. And when I met Amber and saw her work, I was like, holy cow, here’s another person who loves the idea of a sense of place and is imbuing that into every bit of work that she does. This is the foundation — there’s something here that can be built upon and become really exciting.

AJ: I have always loved textiles. My mom’s an interior designer, so I grew up around cloth and always knew I wanted to work with it. I went to art school in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and studied drawing and painting, but didn’t really have an opportunity to work with textiles. After school, I moved home and started working with my mom and just learning everything I could from her about sewing and design. Then, I moved back to Minneapolis and started my own backpack company.


OS: Why design backpacks?

AJ: I’m an avid cyclist — I ride my bike a lot to work, and I loved the idea of carrying everything with me. For a long time, I was making wax-canvas and leather bags. It wasn’t until I discovered merino wool that I realized that was the ticket for me to start designing and bringing out more of my artistic side in my work.


OS: What excited you about merino wool?

AJ: I think there’s a lot of potential in merino wool. It’s not only water resistant and durable and lightweight and natural, but it has also provided this amazing platform for design and creativity. When I found that material and began working with it, it felt like I unlocked something really exciting, like I could spend hours and hours in the studio designing. Not only is it a beautiful texture and comforting to hold in your hands, but it also takes to dye like nothing else. You can get very, very vivid, bright color with it. I started integrating it into these wax-canvas bags, and the combination of the canvas, the leather, the merino wool — it harmonizes.


OS: How do your natural surroundings inform the design of these bags?

AJ: I’m an avid hiker, and when I moved to Marshall six years ago, I was looking for the right pack that I could carry with me. But also, I really just wanted to meld those worlds — how I felt about this place and my background in art and design. That’s what this patchwork backpack come out of it.

HN: The less of an impact we make on the earth with our waste and leftover goods, the better. If there is anything the two of us love about living here in this region, it’s hiking in this beautiful area and loving and looking at our surroundings.


OS: What do you love most about what you do?

AJ: A backpack is not just a piece of art, it’s a story that is going to be extended. It’s going on to someone else, and it’s going to live this whole other life that I have no connection to. It’s really exciting and satisfying to get pictures and emails and little stories of where people have taken them. They’re going to all corners of the world and people are using them in all kinds of ways. I couldn’t be more fulfilled.


Join Our State, Mast General Store, and Visit Winston-Salem as we celebrate the 2019 winners of the Made in NC Awards

Saturday, November 23, 2019

12–3 p.m.

Mast General Store
516 Trade Street NW
Winston-Salem, NC 27101

For more information on the Made in NC Awards Celebration, click here.

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Katie Schanze is the assistant editor and digital editor of Our State.