Even though I grew up in a city, most of my childhood memories are positively rural. I spent most weekends at my grandparents’ village, population 300-something and a lot of cows. We would feed grandma’s chickens, hop from one field to the next picking blackberries, step aside to make room for the passing cattle. This might explain why I was instantly drawn to M. N. Davis & Son’s feed sack-inspired tote bags:
Mariko Davis is the designer and maker behind the brand. In December 2007, her parents gave her some vintage feed sacks in her favorite antique shop in CT. Mariko knew right away she would turn them into a one-of-a-kind tote bag for herself. Fast-forward more than five years, and Mariko now creates her own designs, which are handprinted in Greenpoint, her own neighborhood. The tote bags are sturdier than your usual tote and are a versatile XL size, great for a day out in the park, groceries, or uncharted adventures.
Mariko also creates flawless top-quality zippered pouches and cases, under her Milltown Brand label (coming soon to our shop!).
Mariko tells us more about her plans for her two brands, her move from Japan (where she grew up), and her favorite spots in Greenpoint.
How do M. N. Davis & Son and Milltown Brand work together? How are they different?
M.N.Davis & Son is the official business/company name and I use this only for silkscreened products that are inspired by the vintage feed/seed sack advertisement. I originally started making tote bags using vintage feed and seed sacks, and each one was unique and different. Suitable sacks for making totes are hard to find, so I started making designs that were inspired by those classic sacks, but were also a fun way to advertise my company name in the graphics.
Milltown Brand is focusing on handmade products that you can’t easily find in mass-production. The city where I grew up used to be well known as “the city of cast iron mills” and I still see a few factories up and running in the area producing goods locally. It also connects to the history of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, both former mill towns. This brand is a tribute to hand made industry, and the cities and towns that used to be supported by mills.
Your production is hyper local – Brooklyn printer, manufacturing, and of course your studio is based here. Why is that important to you?
I used to work in a fashion company where create mass produced clothing. It was a great learning experience, but I realized that was not what I believe in. We would work really hard to make great designs and samples, but then the products delivered to the stores would be so much worse quality. With this I realized that I wanted to be in control of the quality of my production, and also to develop close relationships with other local small businesses in order to guarantee that the products that end up in stores are exactly as nice as my original samples. I also wanted to maintain the history of both my home city in Japan and my home here!
What does M. N. Davis & Son have in store for the next few months?
Right now I’m getting ready to move into a studio space, and also getting a new (to me… it’s vintage) industrial sewing machine! My wonderful vintage Singers have been working too hard, and need some extra help for the heavy duty canvas products!
I am excited to have a few more designs for the screen printed totes on the way, that I hope to release sometime in the Spring or Summer. Other than that, I’m just working hard to make enough products for all the buyers!
You moved from Japan 10 years ago. How was the change?
Although I love Japan, I was desperate to get out! Japanese culture is awesome and I love being there, but I wanted to be somewhere more diverse and international. Since I am half-Indonesian, and spent some time there, it felt more natural and it was easy to feel at home here. I love meeting people from different countries and cultures.
Now that I have my own business, I feel like in Japan there would be no opportunity to easily start a small business like this without having tons of money… It is simply so much easier to create your own way of life in NY. If I were still living in Japan, I would have been taking a packed train to Tokyo every morning! (So, rush hour L train here is actually nothing, compared to the Japanese rush hour, really)
What do you miss from Japan?
Hmm…good question! First thing in my head is “family & friends”. I truly miss them. I miss my Indonesian relatives over there, too.
Well, other than that… I miss Japan’s great transportation system. It is really awesome. It makes so much sense. You know what time the train comes, and it’s on time. If the train is delayed, you are informed of the reason why immediately. The ride is so smooth that it makes most of people on the train fall sleep… (The only problem is how INSANELY crowded it is during rush hour!)
The other thing I miss is all the great food. My favorite Japanese foods are Ramen and Sushi. There are many of those restaurants in NY, but it is usually over priced, and not many of them taste authentic, in my opinion. Even convenience stores are better in Japan!
And super clean public bathrooms everywhere! Some of the public bathrooms in shopping malls (and even highway rest area, we found) have washlet (bide) installed…
Since I have been living in NY for 10 years, every time I go back home I feel like I time-traveled to the future. Last time when we were in Japan, we experienced “touch screen” vending machines! ….. Crazy.
You’ve lived in Greenpoint for quite a while. What are some of your favorite spots?
I moved to Greenpoint in 2004, and not much stuff was going on here. Hmm… when we were living on Franklin and Greenpoint, we used to go to the Greenpoint Coffee House a lot. It was such a great cafe. These days I like going to Le Gamin for brunch/lunch. I also LOVE Pure Qi, the massage place (I only got to go there a few times, though, as my “reward” of sewing hard everyday). I highly recommend the spot where the ferry station is, it is a great view and I almost feel like I am on vacation in a different country! I do most of my photo shoots in McGorlick Park, and the streets and old factories around there. I like picking up some last minute supplies at B.E. Yarn on Manahattan Ave., too. They have got all kinds of craft/sewing supplies in that tiny store.
M. N. Davis & Son’s fabulous goods are available at mndavisandson.com.