ode boutique

Artist Interview

Alice Saunders of Forestbound

April 7, 2015


Alice Saunders

We love to think that clothes and accessories tell a story about a person: how she feels that day, where she's going, who she wants to be. But Alice Saunders, founder of Forestbound, takes it a step further: her bags have history. Part archeologist, part artist, Alice uncovers old textiles, and she creates from them one-of-a-kind, handmade tote bags. Come shop Alice Saunders' Forestbound collection and meet the designer/historian herself at Ode on Friday, April 10th, 6-8pm. 

Tell us about your work…Tell us where/how did it begin? Where has it taken you?
Forestbound started officially in the winter of 2007, but unofficially I had been making small accessories and selling them at the Punk Rock Flea Market here in Boston since the early 2000's. In 2007 I was in my last year of college and was working on organic farms and doing landscape work. Since farm & garden work slows down so much in the winter in New England I wanted to find a way to make a little extra money, and figured it might be a good time to try and start selling on the internet. So, I opened up an Etsy shop and that's when Forestbound was born. I started out making some jewelry and small prints which sold well, but once I began making bags with reclaimed WWII textiles that's when everything just took off. 

I didn't go into this thinking that Forestbound was going to be my full time gig. I still did farm & garden work for the first few years that I was running Forestbound, but it eventually became too much and I decided to focus on Forestbound full time. 8 years later I am still kind of in awe of what my little business has become - I've been able to work with some incredible companies that I respect like Levi's & Patagonia, I'm still not able to fill the demand for Forestbound bags, and I'm able to employ someone. I know that I could grow my business much more than I already have, but that's not really the direction that I want to go with Forestbound. I want to keep things relatively small, and always be able to put a lot of time and emotional energy into sourcing out beautiful, historic fabrics and making one of a kind bags. I never want to have to compromise that aspect of my business just because the demand is there and I feel like I should be growing and changing, because that's what all businesses are 'supposed' to do.

So it's taken me to a place where I am incredibly proud of what I've built, and I love that there are thousands of people around the world that get really excited to own and use something that I've poured my heart into. I've also been able to do a good amount of fundraising via Forestbound, and that piece of it is really important to me. Owning and running a business that has a very large audience is wonderful for many reasons, but being able to raise awareness and money for organizations like the Association for Frontemporal Degeneration (http://www.theaftd.org/) has been such a rewarding part of Forestbound for me and has kept me going when times get really hard and stressful. 

What’s your favorite forest?
The one surrounding the house where I grew up in New Hampshire. As a kid I spent 90% of my time outside exploring the woods and the small pond on our property. I wore overalls almost every day and my mom would constantly find frogs and salamanders tucked away in my pockets. I learned a lot about myself in those woods and a big part of my heart still lives there. Some of my best memories come from those woods too - building ramshackle forts with my neighbors out of wood we stole from our parent's garages, learning all about what native plants first start to come up and bloom again after the cold, snowy winter, and taking long walks with my dad around the exterior of our the property just taking it all, appreciating the view of the mountains.

What’s in your bag?
It's funny - I never carry one of my own bags. I've never really understood why, but I think it makes me feel like I'm talking about myself. So I usually end up carrying a simple white cotton tote bag (my daily is from Moon Juice, my favorite juice shop in LA) that ends up being a big, unorganized jumble of stuff due to the lack of interior pockets. But I always have this Poppy and Someday lip stain, the keys to my studio/house/and truck (1988 Toyota Land Cruiser), punch cards to my most frequented local coffee shops (Ula Cafe in Jamaica Plain & Bloc 11 in Somerville), and a bunch of loose change. 

You’re training for a marathon. What’s on your running playlist?
My playlist is almost all top 40 hits. I won't even try to pretend that I listen to 'cool' music when I'm running - it's mostly all Kesha, Pitbull and Katy Perry. 

Besides a bag, what’s the best accessory?
Denim jacket, hands down. I have kind of an unhealthy obsession with vintage denim jackets, but in my eyes you can never have enough. They are almost always the missing puzzle piece in an outfit .. and with so many cuts, washes, and customization options (like patches and pins) it's hard to get sick of wearing them .. which is good because I wear one almost every day.

You’re planning an escape…what’s the plan? 
Jump in my truck with Maisey and meet my best friends Amy & Francesca at Amy's family's house in Southwestern New Hampshire. Spend the weekend there canoeing, picking flowers from the garden, following Amy to the best local swim spots, eating ice cream, and just laying in the grass with my friends. Summer weekends here are unlike any other, and I wait all year for them! Maisey does too - it's her favorite place to run free, sniff for wild animals, and fetch sticks in the lake. 

Talk to us about canvas.
I mean, there's really no other material like it. I work with canvas that's 40 - 100+ years old and I am constantly in awe of how durable and beautiful this textile is. Some of my favorite Forestbound moments involve finding World War 1 canvas and kind of losing my mind at how something that's 100+ years old and seen A LOT of action can still be in such good shape. Plus the way that canvas wears in just tells so much about the person that's been using it - you don't get that with a lot of the synthetic textiles that they use these days like nylon or polyester. Canvas just seems to be able to tell a story like no other textile (other than denim). 

What ignites you?
Walking into an old barn or a basement where someone had their workshop many years ago and uncovering the textiles that they used - aprons, duffle bags, and even old rags. Nothing gets my heart pumping like seeing a little piece of canvas poking out from under a pile of 'junk' and tugging on it until it emerges and I can see what it is. Even if it's too far gone to use in my work for Forestbound, I just absolutely love getting a little peek into the life of the person who used to work at that particular work bench, or in that garage - all the paint splatters and worn in parts of their aprons, or the old tshirts they turned into rags. 

What calms you?
Taking a long walk at dusk with my dog at the arboretum close to where I live when it's spring and all the flowers & trees are starting to bloom. 

What’s your spirit color?
Blue, for sure. There's nothing like the faded blue of broken in denim, and that's definitely my spirit textile. But my dad had the most incredible blue eyes - so that's mainly why I feel such a deep connection to the color. 



Would you rather be able to speak to animals or be fluent in all other languages?
Tough question! But I have to go with speak to animals. My rescue pup Maisey is my best friend, and a huge part of my life revolves around her and making sure that she's happy, healthy, and well exercised. If only we could talk to each other! I think about this all the time - when we're out running on trails or when we're having some quality time in on the couch watching a movie - just wish I could know what she's thinking about. 

Tell us about the elephants!
I had loved elephants since I was a kid and decided to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary in Arkansas after I graduated from high school. I felt an immediate connection to the animals and knew that I wanted to spend more time around them, but in an environment that was a bit more true to their spirit. So I spent a few months on another elephant sanctuary in Malaysia where they cared for orphaned, abandoned, or displaced elephants and it was a life changing experience. There's nothing like developing a connection with an animal that's so incredibly huge and intelligent, and I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to do that at such an influential time in my life (I was 19 and a little lost in life). And so a few years after this experience is when Forestbound started, and well things just got crazy and taking long trips just wasn't something in the cards for me at the time, but I knew that I wanted to spend more time with elephants eventually. And then in 2014, after a really rough year, I decided it was finally time and I made the arrangements to spend a month on a sanctuary in Sri Lanka. Being around elephants in the jungle again was just what I needed, and even though leaving Forestbound & my pup Maisey for a month was tough - it was so worth it. 

Is there an image that inspires you? And why?
One from my friend Amy's 30th birthday party at her family's house in New Hampshire. This photo is endlessly inspiring to me because it just reminds me of all the wonderful things that can come out of working so hard - making connections and building friendships with people you meet through this crazy world of blogs and the internet, carving out time to spend with dear friends and how important that is, and just the wonder of New England in the summertime. I can work my butt off all winter long if I just look at this photo and know that warm summer nights of dinner outside with friends are on the horizon …