I was knocking around on Ghurka’s website over the weekend and saw that they had an impressive collection of vintage bags. All stuff from the early years, when Marley Hodgson was still running the company.
For those unfamiliar, Ghurka is an American bag company that started in the 1970s after a Connecticut man named Marley Hodgson attended an antiques auction. Hodgson had a particular fondness for history and leather goods, and on that day, he had his eyes set on some campaign gear made for Ghurka regimental officers stationed in India during the early-1900s. He lost the auction, unfortunately, but later came upon a bigger prize: an idea to start a line of American-made bags inspired by those Ghurka designs.
The original stuff was all very tough and beautiful. They had a kind of old, foreign correspondent feel, were suitably casual for an American lifestyle, and were exceptionally well made. Hodgson liked to describe his customers as people with a “quiet confidence and adventurous spirit,” and you can kind of see that sensibility run through his work. Perhaps more importantly, his bags all aged beautifully, as you can see here.
In 2004, however, Hodgson sold his company and then went off to create Smith Fork Ranch. Whereas Ghurka under his tenure always manufactured everything in Connecticut and New York, the new owners shifted part of the production to Spain, Italy, and China (though some of it was retained here). Truth be told, I found many of their products during this period to be a bit underwhelming, especially for the price. It seemed without Marley Hodgson’s leadership, Ghurka was just becoming another luxury-end fashion brand.
In 2011, however, the company was sold again - this time to Brightwork Brand Holdings. The company’s new CEO has made it a goal to bring Ghurka’s overseas production back home to the US. I’ve been told that this will take time, as there’s a shortage of skilled labor here (I assume in the quantities Ghurka needs). However, since the acquisition, 100% of their business bags are now made in Connecticut, and 50% of the travel goods are made in either Connecticut or New York. The balance is then split up between Italy, Spain, Latin America, and China.
I actually don’t think having production done in China is necessarily a bad thing, as I don’t believe you can easily reduce a product’s quality down to its country of origin. I’ve seen some remarkable Chinese-made luxury goods in Beijing, and I’m sure good bags can be made there. The issue of shifting production to China, at least for me, is always whether or not it signals the company’s flagging commitment to quality. With the new owners’ efforts to bring production back to the US, however, who knows - maybe this means a return to the glory days. It might be worth stopping by one of their stores to take a look.
Either way, the vintage pieces on their site look amazing. They have such a casual and romantic sensibility about them, and I imagine they’d look great with a Barbour jacket, Shetland sweater, and pair of chinos. Kind of reminds me of something I need to look for on eBay.
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- abitofcolor said: Glad to read there are new owners. As a long-time owner/collector of Ghurka bags I was saddened by the terrible decline in quality in 2003. In the 80’s it was a highlighted brand in the best menswear shops across the country.
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