A common thread of garment work runs through Katie and Johnson Benjamin's family history. Talant Trade Co., the sibling-team's line of handmade canvas bags, brings that tradition into the 21st century.
"My father used to make patterns in a sewing factory," Johnson said. "And my grandfather owned garment factories in the tiny town of Rienzi, Mississippi."
Johnson, 23, lives and works out of his hometown in Corinth, Mississippi. He decided to take up his own form of garment work last fall, when he realized his landscape maintenance business — which he began at age 15 — wasn't quite scratching his creative itch.
He started working up ideas for a line of vintage, military-inspired canvas bags, and he drew on his engineering degree to sketch out viable construction plans. Talant Trade Co. was born.
"I had a semi-decent understanding of how to do a construction plan. I just had to learn how material and fabric work," he said, admitting that the latter was not as easy as he anticipated. "I said, okay I want to make something. It can't be that hard. But, yes, it was. It's very difficult."
He learned sewing basics from his mother and began culling machinery from his grandfather's defunct factory for production. ("I pretty much bought out an old sewing factory," Johnson said.) He brought in his sister Katie, 26, who works as a designer at Combustion in Memphis, for help with marketing and branding.
"He told me he wanted to sell," Katie said, "and I told him we needed to make it look good. It couldn't just be bags on a table."
Cooper-Young Festival-goers likely saw the pair at their booth this year; Johnson has a long list of crafts fairs around the South where he'll showcase Talant Trade Co.'s line of handmade bags. But Katie has also set up a website for the company — talanttrade.co — and an Etsy shop.
The two have introduced two styles — a cross-body bag for $65 and a drawstring backpack for $40 — and they hope to have six different styles available by mid-spring and be ready for wholesale orders by the summer.
"I came from the world of nylon gym bags and was breaking them a lot," Johnson said. "I wanted something more durable and better-looking. I'm really basing things on function and finding a form for it."
Ironically, Johnson said he had to stop carrying his Talant bags for personal use, because he'd always end up selling the bag off of his back or rather, shoulder.
Each bag is made with 100 percent cotton canvas, leather, and brass, and, occasionally, Johnson adds in some upcycled materials, like surplus vintage army gear. Each Talant tag is recycled from the material used to make blue jean labels.
That resourcefulness is also part of the origin of the name Talant Trade Co.
"It comes from the Greek word 'talanton' — it's a form of weight, a talant of this or a talant of that — and the parable out of Matthew about doing the most with what you've been given," Johnson said. "I wanted to push myself as much as I could."