Leaders of the Pack

By Anne Vickman | Boston Magazine |


WHEN AVID HIKER George Keeler couldn’t find a waterproof backpack with a bit more urban zing than the ubiquitous North Face carryall, he took matters into his own hands — literally. Then a sophomore at Lehigh University, the Wayland native borrowed a neighbor’s sewing machine, learned how to use it, and cranked out a prototype for his canvas and leather “Hillside” pack.

But that was just the beginning. With the help of a $5,000 grant from his college’s entrepreneurship program, Keeler started his leather-goods line George Guest, and, after graduating in 2009, brought childhood pal Alex Schultz onboard as business director. Together the pair tweaked Keeler’s bag design a dozen times.

Why so many iterations? The devil’s in the details, Schultz says, and “all of our products have that highly engineered twist to them.”

To wit: Smart backpack features include well-placed pockets and loops for sunglasses, not to mention a roll-top closure — secured by a unique string mechanism — that Keeler and Schultz are patenting. Beyond bags, the two offer belts and bracelets with exposed stitching, and are also planning to add a duffel and a convertible briefcase to the line later this year.

The George Guest aesthetic is classic New England: understated, handsome, and practical. “Everything we make, we love to wear and use,” Keeler says. “We wouldn’t design something we didn’t have a passion for.”

 

Designer Q+A

Dream splurge?
George Keeler: A surfing trip to Costa Rica.
Alex Schultz: A JohnnyLove winter coat from Louis.
 
Fave local designer?
G.K.: Eric Heins of Corter Leather.
A.S.: Gary Drinkwater.

Date spot?
G.K.: “Twin Donuts [laughs]. Just Newbury Street and the Back Bay — I love walking around outside.”
A.S.: Lucca, for the drinks and mussels.

Describe your style.
G.K.” “I’m a simple, classic New England dresser: jeans and button-downs, with a lot of earth tones.”
A.S.: “I like to think I’m versatile. It’s getting cold, so I might go into the mountain-man look — grow the beard out and get some beanies.”

Craft beer of choice?
G.K.: Cape Ann Brewing Company Fisherman’s IPA.  
A.S.:  Pretty Things.

Available at Backwater Trading Company, Uncle Pete’s, Drinkwater’s, and at georgeguestusa.com.

Photo by Jessica Scranton