CITYWIDE — Mat MacDonell and his younger brother JP started the blog Urban Barrels to share their love of surfing, posting photos of people under wave-like “barrels” found outside the ocean — rock walls, bus stops or curving palm trees.
Now, after a successful Kickstarter campaign this summer, the Santa Monica pair has raised almost $21,000 to create the BagTowel, aptly named “The Kicker.” The BagTowel is a backpack with a cotton beach towel sewn inside and a waterproof pocket made from recycled sailboat sails.
The brothers are self-professed surfing addicts, but also played water polo and swam at Pepperdine University in Malibu. Their aquatic lifestyle has them going from the pool to the beach and back again, JP said.
“We both have grown up around the water, so we were really creating this bag for us initially,” he said. “We wanted to make something high-quality, make it better and have these awesome products that align with our brand.”
The pair found a local Los Angeles manufacturer and chose Kickstarter to take advantage of their growing community; Urban Barrels currently has more than 5,000 Instagram followers. More than 300 backers participated in the crowd-sourced fundraising.
Last January, the BagTowel did an initial launch of 200, selling out in the first month. The MacDonells then set a goal of $14,000 to help purchase quality fabrics and meet manufacturing minimums.
“We spent a good month or two preparing, doing research on successful [Kickstarter campaigns],” Mat said. “We met with other start-ups in the Santa Monica and L.A. area who had successful ones in the past and figured out our strategy.”
Mat said the product was inspired by a flimsy bag JP bought on a trip to Puerto Rico that had a towel — decorated with turtles — already attached. The dual functionality is not necessarily unique, but the MacDonell brothers said it was important to them to use high-quality materials and produce locally.
“Every decision was so critical, the color of fabric or style,” JP said. “Everything seems like a turning point, and that’s scary.”
With fundraising complete, the team is first fulfilling all of the bags promised to Kickstarter supporters, and will most likely start shipping online orders by November. The BagTowel is available for preorder in black or blue fabric with a grey towel for $55. Urban Barrels also sells hats, and Mat said they plan to keep expanding their offerings.
“I’d never been to a fabric store,” Mat said. “It was overwhelming, definitely. We had no idea about starting a business, but it’s been awesome so far.”
While the brothers made the bag to ease their days in and out of the water, Mat said once people started sharing photos on social media, he saw the BagTowel at unexpected places like Coachella and other music festivals.
“People take them to places we never thought to take them,” Mat said. “We made them for our lifestyle, but seeing people buy it and use it in new ways, that’s one of the most exciting things, other people and the adventures they have.”
Since moving to Santa Monica in 2010, the brothers said the community has inspired them, and they are hoping to introduce the BagTowel to some local retailers soon.
“The start-up energy is so contagious,” Mat said. “We’ve gotten so much support, from the consumers but also other brands helping us navigate the challenges. There’s no better place for us.”
For more information, visithttp://urbanbarrels.com.