An Interview with Alice Saunders of Forestbound
Story by Ashley Herrin
Photographs by Jenn Bakos & Ashley Herrin
Alice Saunders is a Boston-based designer who's passion and interest in history drove the creation of Forestbound, a unique and one-of-a-kind local company that utilizes salvaged textiles to create stunning hand-made bags. She is a 'hunter' of fabrics, worn and torn - constantly perusing local flea markets and antique stores in search of the perfect material for her next creation.
Alice graduated from Northeastern in 2007. There, she studied History, and was especially intrigued by Military History. After graduation, she stayed in the city where she pursued farming and gardening work during the summer months, and picked up sewing projects during the winter. Having taught herself to sew at an early age, she found herself using her hands and creating pieces more and more. Shortly after, she launched an Etsy site to sell some of her hand-made creations. Within two years, Alice found herself inundated with sewing, so much so that she was able to quit her other part time jobs to focus on her small start-up. And thus, Forestbound was born. In referencing how Forestbound came to be, Alice divulged, "It was pretty incredible and it still seems somewhat unreal because I didn't go into this with the idea that 'I'm going to start a small business, this is what I'm going to do.' It just sort of happened, and it was very kind of natural, which was nice in terms of overhead. I didn't have a lot of money invested or need a lot up front...it just sort of became it's own beast."
We visited Alice and the Forestbound studio one Saturday in April. Her studio itself is a work of art - history is captured in the textiles and duffel bags that adorn the white, concrete walls. Sunlight spills onto the hardwood floors that are scattered with hand-made bags that use decades-old material, rich with a story to tell. Her adorable rescue dog, Maisey, watches over the studio while we move about, admiring everything with a delicate awe as if it was a neatly curated museum. And in a way, it is a museum.
History plays as much a part of Forestbound as the bags do themselves. Beyond the materials that Alice uses, all the hand tools and sewing machines have a story to tell. Collected over the years at antique stores and flea markets and restored to a working state, the tools are found items that are beautifully worn and gently used. The sewing machines - or "workhorses" as she refers to them as, are from the mid-70's and were purchased from a father/son duo based in Fall River, MA who own a warehouse full of sewing machines that date back to the times when textile manufacturing was a great source of income for New England.
The bags that Alice produces are unique and one-of-a-kind. Something so important to the Forestbound brand, and also a reason why she prefers to keep her business on the smaller side. The character that is found in each bag is not conducive to producing for wholesale, but something she is comfortable with embracing. Materials are typically sourced from flea markets, estate sales, barn sales and military shows in the New England area...the North Shore and Portsmouth area are typically areas where she finds great materials because of ties to the military base and naval history. Military tents, boyscout bags and even painters drop cloths can all be turned into beautiful Forestbound bags.
However, Alice gravitates towards duffel bags in particular. "Duffel bags are also my favorite because a lot of guys when they were in the war, would draw and paint on them - so, that's my favorite part. You see this piece of history that's not just what is written in the text books, it's someones' personal experience because they sat there and drew on it and painted these really personal pictures...so it really sort of makes you think about the person who owned this duffel bag and what they went through..and that's kind of what I am hoping to do with my work too, is to have people remember that piece of history."
When asked about the driving force behind using salvaged material; "...it's definitely more about the history, but I also prefer using materials that are already out there. That has always made sense to me. Even when I wasn't doing Forestbound officially, I would always use fabrics that I would find at the thrift store. That just always seemed to make sense. There's already so much stuff in the world that exists and that I can use, and that would also be unique and one-of-a-kind...I would always much rather do that. It's much more unique." Alice's preference for "unique" shines bright in her presence. Her affinity for thrifting and vintage takes over a large presence in her day-to-day life beyond Forestbound. Her wardrobe is packed with second-hand finds while her vehicle of choice is an old Toyota Highlander. On weekends when she's not visiting New Hampshire, you can find her at the flea market on Sunday mornings with her beloved pup and then the beach in Plum Island to soak up some sun.
Alice is an incredible maker, entrepreneur, dreamer and doer who may be newer to the New England landscape, but we are excited that Forestbound will be a local brand that's going to stick around for a while...until at least the supply of salvaged materials rich with history starts dry up - but let's be honest, that won't happen any time soon.