Feature: Monte & Coe

Started with a duffle, now we’re here!

The rise of Toronto-based, Canadian-made baggage company Monte & Coe

Photography by Riley Stewart

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“How did you know that it was me?” Andrew Coelho, one third of Monte & Coe, exclaims as I march towards him through a sea of trendy twenty-somethings at a local coffee joint at King and Spadina.

“Your bag!” I explain.

And it’s true. Without ever having met before, I was immediately drawn to the signature heather-grey felt and multi-coloured ribbon detailing hanging from his shoulder—a testament to the branding and marketability of this up-and-coming Toronto-based baggage company.

Shortly after securing a comfortable seat, we’re met by the other two partners, Matt Montemurro and Ron Scarafile, to discuss everything Monte & Coe (part, “Monte”murro, part “Coe”lho.)

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“It all started from my personal desire for a weekend bag,” says Montemurro. “But [in Toronto] I could only find H&M-quality bags, or bags that were too expensive. There wasn’t a good middle ground.” That’s when he discovered a gap in the market for a high quality, Toronto-made weekend bag at a reasonable price point.  Without much of a background in fashion design, but an innate eye for trends, Matt and fellow Western University Business Alum Andrew Coelho decided to create the be-all and end-all of weekenders.

Looking to his uncle’s flourishing furniture business for inspiration, Montemurro was immediately taken by a sample piece of heather grey wool felt that was brought to his attention by his uncle: someone they still look to for mentorship and guidance. A raw, yet highly durable material—something they saw as unique compared to the usual nylon or leather duffles that typically line store shelves. It was decided that this fabric would make a beautiful bag. With just this tiny piece of felt and an idea, the two young entrepreneurs found a local manufacturer to assist with their vision. And with some persuading and finesse, the first Monte & Coe bag was born. That was three years ago today.

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Over time (and with the help of Google), the guys discovered a manufacturer that brought a higher level of skill and quality to the construction of each bag. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing at the start.

“There were some ‘no’s’ and a lot of ‘I don’t know if I can do it’s’ in the beginning,” says Coelho about their Italian-born, Toronto-based manufacturer. However, with some gentle coaxing, they won him over with their business concept and charm.

“We get along great now. He is a wealth of knowledge. He really helps us with the functionality and practicality of each bag, and most importantly he has helped raise the quality standard,” says Coelho. “He’s great at lowering our expectations too. It’s been a great partnership thus far.”

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Since that first bag, the guys have made some tweaks to their designs and are getting a bit more adventurous with their materials. But the overall technique stays the same. Every Monte & Coe bag starts with a sketch. From there, they hold brainstorm meetings to determine what they like and what they don’t like about each design, sometimes bringing in friends or family members for their opinion.

“I would never make a bag I wouldn’t buy myself,” states Montemurro—the other two partners nod in agreement.

Their designs stem mostly from what they see on the streets of Toronto. They look to what other people are wearing and how they are styling themselves to help guide their concepts. The guys then go into local fabric stores to see what catches their eye. “For a muted bag, we try to accentuate with a louder interior, or interesting accent detail,” says Montemurro. “The lining is always a fun—colourful fabric to counteract the more tailored, refined exterior.” This is kind of a sort of metaphor for the three business alums daily lives — 9-to-5 financiers by day, fun-loving social butterflies by night.

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When asked about their “100% Canadian Made” claim and the sustainability aspects of their company model, the guys had this to say: “Canadian Made means made in Canada. The fabrics are from USA or Canada, and our signature wool-felt is Italian, but every bag is meticulously handcrafted right here in Toronto, Ontario.” The manufacturing and design of each bag is focused around two simple raw materials: 100% vegetable tanned leather and wool felt. They use vegetable tanned leather because of the quality and sustainability that it promotes. Not to mention it looks really cool—like that perfect pair of worn-in leather boots you’ve had forever.

“Vegetable tanning is an ancient method that uses tannin, a plant extract, to improve durability and provide colour to leathers. It’s the most eco-friendly tanning process currently available and is 100% chemical free, unlike the modern method of chrome tanning.”

Seems to me like this trio has it pretty right-on so far, in terms of what Torontonians are looking for in a consumer good—quality, sustainability and most importantly something that looks très chic! But what’s next for these up-and-coming designers?

“We actually have a new line of briefcases launching in March and backpacks for the fall of this year,” says Coelho.

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With the launch of this new line, the guys are optimistic about holding their first official launch party—seeing as they only “officially” launched Monte & Coe back in March 2013—in tandem with a brand new video look-book (by video director, Alex Butt.) The look-book will be a fun, darker story, set right here in Toronto. It will usher in a slightly newer look for the brand, and bring some more attention to these three young entrepreneurs. Not that they need it. They’re already well on their way with over 1,000 followers on Instagram (@monteandcoe, check it!), upwards of 400 followers on Facebook and tons of word-of-mouth praise and organic PR.

“When you put your heart and soul into something it pays off,” states Montemurro, “Seeing a perfect stranger walking down the street wearing one of your bags… there’s nothing more rewarding than that.”

As their latest lookbook says, make sure that you: “Carry them with you.”

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Monte & Coe bags are currently available at: Gotstyle and Adrift in Toronto, Slaysh in Ottawa and online at Mizzen + Main or through the Monte & Coe website.