When we got married, my husband and I decided to give each other a gift. I shopped around EVERY-where, and finally settled on a pocket watch that I engraved for him with our wedding date. I felt like it was a bit cliché, but still something that he might keep and occasionally use throughout our life together. I had no idea what he was going to get me. When I walked into side room after the ceremony, there, sitting in the corner with a bow on it, was a bike. A brand new, blue beach cruiser bike with white wall tires and the hugest, most comfortable seat I’ve ever seen. I was blown away. I shouldn’t have been super surprised, he’s always been an “over the top” gift giver.
When we got back from our honeymoon, I was able to start riding the bike. I loved it. It was comfortable, and fun, and something that I had never owned before. We took bike rides on the bike path near our little country cottage, and used it to ride into town for dinner when we had the money to go out on dates. The only thing that it was missing was a basket to hold my things in. A year went by, and one day we were driving up to the river to go floating down on a lazy saturday afternoon. We parked off the road, and looked for the trail to lead us down to the swimming spot, and I saw an old fridge laying in the ditch. Someone had, sadly, just thrown it off their truck in hopes of avoiding dump fees. Next to the fridge, was a wire basket that had tumbled out when the fridge had fallen. I grabbed it, and headed back up to the hubs, who was waiting for our friends to meet us, and tucked it in the back of his car. He gave me “a look”, and I smiled as I told him it was going to be the perfect bike basket, and he was going to need to figure out how to attach it to the front of the bike. Some white spray paint, pliers, and a few zip ties later, I had a brand new wire basket on the front on my beach cruiser bike. And all was well.
Now, obviously, I’m not the first person to repurpose something in order to fulfill a need, but I was pretty happy with my basket. I certainly didn’t do anything nearly as intricate as Heather and Casey have done with their business. These gals have stepped it up a few notches with their amazing bike accessories, and repurposing of military goods. Check out Heather and Casey of Reclamation Dept!
Please introduce yourself.
We, Heather and Casey Filbey, are sisters living and working in Long Beach CA, which also happens to be where we grew up. We run our small business, Reclamation Dept, here in LB out of a 2-car garage that we’ve converted into a workspace. We both really love sewing and general craftiness as well as soul music, history, comedy, camping and bike rides!
What do you make or do?
The focus of Reclamation Dept is to restore and repurpose vintage military gear to be used as bicycle or motorcycle panniers, handlebar bags, shoulder bags, hip bags, backpacks and wheelchair bags. We recently started embellishing army jackets and shirts as well. While these Reclamation Dept projects keep us mighty busy these days, we also enjoy a variety of other mediums, such as crochet, lamp making, jewelry making and song writing.
Where can we find your creations?
We have a website! www.reclamationdept.com links to our etsy shop under the shop tab. We also have shops on 11main.com www.11main.com/reclamationdept, and Scoutmob.com https://scoutmob.com/a/reclamation-department
Here in Long Beach you can find our bags at the Bicycle Stand on Broadway and Temple and at MADE on Pine ave..
How long have you been creating and is it your full-time job?
Arts and crafts have pretty much always been our favorite thing. We use to draw pictures and make lanyards when we were in elementary school and go door-to-door in our neighborhood trying to sell our creations like Girl Scout cookies! I (Casey) remember one day I was getting ready for kindergarten when Heather presented me with a dress she’d made out of an old snoopy pillowcase. She cut out neck and sleeve holes and stapled giant gold sequins around the bottom. I reluctantly agreed to wear her ”beautiful” creation to keep from hurting her feelings. When our mom saw me waiting by the front door wearing a pillowcase dress she laughed and thankfully, made me go change.
When we were a little older our grandmothers taught us to sew and crochet and we would make clothes for our dolls. Then we went through the classic 90s macramé hemp jewelry phase in high school. I (Heather) would sell anklets, necklaces and belly-chains on the beach and at music festivals. I was even arrested once in Huntington Beach when I was 16 for selling hemp jewelry on the pier without a sellers permit.
Reclamation Dept is several full time jobs! We source all of our materials personally, and then manufacture each item in our workspace. When you add on vending at shows, marketing the brand, doing quality control and customer service, it keeps us both engaged at all times. We are both also enrolled in the fashion program at Long Beach City College.
When you’re not making things, what do you do?
For fun we love to catch live music at Alex’s bar or 4th St Vine, or an art show at The Attic on Broadway. Long Beach has such a wonderful and vibrant community! You never have to go very far to find something really fun to do. We are also fortunate to have a great and supportive family that we spend a lot of time with. I (Casey) am also a musician. I have an un-released album recorded with my group “Casey and the Tall Boys” and have most recently been a singing member of the Eugene Owens 60’s soul review. While music is a major driving force in me, Reclamation Department is my main focus these days.
Did someone in your family, a friend or teacher introduce you to your creative side or have they helped you along the way?
Our maternal Grandmother and our paternal Great-Grandmother were both incredibly talented seamstresses, and we were very fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from them. We regularly use the tools and sewing machines that they handed down to us before they passed away.
Also our dear friends Mychele Woolley-Fly and Ben Pitts have helped us greatly along the way. They were the original founders of Reclamation Dept. We took over the business in the spring of 2013 when they decided to travel and pursue new creative ventures. Ben built our beautiful vending cart from a vintage bicycle attached to a canopied box-train made from antique wood from the old Long Beach Pike. Mychele came up with some wonderful bike bag designs that we still use regularly.
Where do you find inspiration?
We have found that our most exciting new ideas have sparked from doing craft fairs like Patchwork and Renegade, where we are able to interact with shoppers and other creative people. These pop-up events are such a great way to test new products in the market, get feedback and make connections. It’s always so inspiring to see what other venders are putting out at these shows as well! It’s hard not spending all the money you make!
What’s on the horizon for you and what you do?
Wholesale is a big one for us this year. So far we’ve only pursued local accounts that we can easily manage but we’re ready to start branching out a bit! We’d also like to start exploring pop-up events further away from home.
If money wasn’t an issue how would your life change with regards to your art?
We would start with buying a van that doesn’t break down on our way to shows! Our 67’ Dodge Tradesman (Vanna White) is our darling and we love her dearly, but she needs work and she’s fuel-thirsty. We broke down 3 blocks away from the Santa Ana Patchwork show last November, and had to be towed to and from the event with the back packed to the gills with our cart and product! Having a reliable, fuel-efficient van would give us the opportunity to travel to new cities to promote our brand and make new friends along the way!
We have aspirations to move into a small warehouse in the future and upgrade all of our equipment. We would love to hire a small team of regular employees and collaborate with talented people to help us with various tasks like photography, videography, lookbook design and building store displays. We view running a small business as an opportunity to grow and support our local community.
What would be your perfect day off?
The perfect day off would be loading the van with our bikes, guitars, camping gear and friends, and hauling off to the woods for a nature adventure!
What inspiring advice would you give to other creatives be they established or just starting out?
- Trust your own style. Make what you love, not just what you think will sell.
- Reach out to people who are further along in the game and ask for their advice.
- Read blogs! There is so much helpful information out there, from craft-show checklists to tax preparation for small businesses.
- Don’t sell yourself short. Price your products sustainably.
- Seek business advice from an expert. The Long Beach Small Business Development Center offers meetings with experienced business advisors for free.