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Northland adventure-bag brand releases new fanny pack

A portion of crowdsourcing efforts will go to Save the Boundary Waters campaign

A model demonstrates opening a Northside Bags fanny pack.
“I noticed that Duluth Pack was right next to the office, Frost River down the street, Granite Gear up the road. This is a backpack town,” said Northside Bags founder Nate Elsey Williams. The operation launched a kickstarter campaign for the release of their new fanny pack. A portion of the money raised will go to Save the Boundary Waters efforts.
Contributed / Matthew Sperrazza
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DULUTH — Northside Bags aims to raise funds for the August release of its latest product: a fanny pack co-created with the company’s Instagram followers.

Nate Elsey Williams, founder of Northside Bags, poses near the Canal Park pier in Duluth.
Nate Elsey Williams, founder of Northside Bags, poses near the Canal Park pier in Duluth. Northside Bags is releasing a fanny pack with part of the proceeds going to the Save the Boundary Waters campaign.
Contributed / Matt Sperrazza

The Duluth-born, Black-owned company behind a solar-powered survival bag, recently launched a campaign to raise $5,000 by June 23, and 15% of the proceeds will go to Save The Boundary Waters , said founder Nate Elsey Williams.

“My mission is to help diversify the outdoor industry and help protect our public land,” he said.

Northside Bags joined the Boundary Waters business coalition, made up of 350 local and national brands that support protection efforts against copper mining. These include Bent Paddle, At Sara's Table Chester Creek Cafe, Heart Berry, Women's Wilderness Discovery, and more.

Shortly after joining, Elsey Williams reached out with the offer to give back.

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“Everybody loves a fanny pack these days,” said Samantha Chadwick, associate director for Save The Boundary Waters.

Businesses help the cause in various ways, said Chadwick. It means sharing calls to action on social media, in newsletters, or by being a spokesperson at events. It’s typical for operations to give back to fundraising efforts like this, she said.

While Chadwick has not engaged with a Northside Bag yet, she said, she likes that it’s made with multiple uses in mind — cycling, hiking or music festivals.

“Nate is an entrepreneur, it’s great to support small, new businesses.

“We all depend on our outdoors.”

Fanning the flame

Elsey Williams was attending the University of Iowa when COVID hit. After living with his parents for four months, he moved to Duluth for a job.

“I noticed that Duluth Pack was right next to the office, Frost River down the street, Granite Gear up the road. This is a backpack town,” he told the News Tribune in May 2021.

So, he took his experience getting lost and dehydrated at a festival with a dead phone, and created a survival bag. It has a solar-powered panel with a USB port on the back to charge devices, and a 4-liter hydration bag.

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Elsey Williams hooked up with Kia Ronning, of Duluth’s Keeks Kreations, who encouraged him to attend the first Northland Black Business Showcase. From that, he connected with Duluth’s Entrepreneur Fund, which was integral in his business launch.

Northside Bags gear is available at Great Lakes Gear Exchange, Trailfitters, Superior Cannabis Company in Duluth; and WatersEdge Trading Co. in Tofte.

And to launch his next product, he went online.

A model wears a Northside Bags fanny pack in a wooded area.
Northside Bags founder Nate Elsey Williams asked the company's Instagram followers to vote on the the shape, color and type of fanny pack they'd want to see. The Northside Bags fanny pack will be available in Duluth stores and online in August, he said.
Contributed / Matthew Sperrazza

In November, Elsey Williams asked Northside Bags Instagram followers to weigh in on the company’s newest addition. Questions about shapes, colors, types were abound on its IG stories, and about 30 people weighed in, he said.

Northside Bags joins other Black-owned outdoors businesses across the country — bag companies R.E.Load in Philadelphia and Bronx-based allmansright — as well as Black Girls Do Bike , Seirus , Paskho , and the first Black-owned outdoors gear shop in the U.S., SlimPickins Outfitters .

He’s connecting with existing BIPOC operations and outdoors groups, including an excursion with New York City’s Hood Hikers , which, like Northside Bags, is another Black-owned and pandemic-born operation.

“There’s a lot of people in our industry who are starting more businesses. It’s good to see more color out there,” he said.

While his business was Duluth-made, Elsey Williams made the move out east in December. Northern Minnesota will “always be a base,” he said.

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MORE BY MELINDA LAVINE
Whole Foods Co-op's round-up-to-the-nearest dollar donations support area growers, food producers and nonprofits.

Melinda Lavine (she/her) is an award-winning features reporter at the Duluth News Tribune, where she has worked since 2014.

She has been a features-focused, multidisciplinary journalist for 10 years, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving to Duluth in June 2014 to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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