Zo messenger bag flyer with price list
Bicycling From the archives

Shopping from 1997: Zo Messenger Bags

Now regretting that I waited twelve years to mail in my order for a Zo Gravey Dog messenger bag in black cordura (another synthetic exception). I used to own a small red Zo bag but it lacked the sway strap which kept it from lurching from side to side during vigorous pedaling. I could never locate a replacement strap so I ended up passing the bag along to a friend.

According to the Messenger Bag manufacturers list, Zo Bags are still available by mail order from San Francisco. However, the Zo link leads you to a handwritten note suggesting that bags will only be available for sale, from time to time, via ebay. At the moment, I know that there are many great contemporary messenger bag companies (Lemolo, Bailey Works, Re-Load Baggage, Zugster, for starters). I also know that there is a bit of a Zo backlash because of availability issues (and after-market boutique status?). Nevertheless, I remain fascinated by the 1997 iteration of Zo bags when the entire product line, plus accessories, could be perused on a single sheet of paper (with lots of buffering white space). Navigating the Re-Load site, for example, w/its “music series” dj bags and complex size/style/sale options, makes me long for the visual simplicity, and direct address (see handwritten note), of my 1997 Zo promotional mimeograph.

16 thoughts on “Shopping from 1997: Zo Messenger Bags”

  1. In 1997 I left my red Aero Messenger Zo bag in the Albion bar in San Francisco.

    It contained 30 or so cd’s, a bag of weed, half an El Farolito burrito, and some other, very important personal items.

    I am still offering a $1000 reward for its return.

  2. i’ve had a dozen bags from a variety of makers through the years and nothing has come close to my huge black zo. 15 years of serious use and its still in good shape and used daily. sometimes simple really is best!

    i had a small one years back and sadly sold it. i agree with you they didn’t stay put very well…

  3. A23–

    Sorry to hear about your loss. I’ll hold the ransom money if anyone wants to negotiate the return of the bag to you.

    In general–if you have photographs of your Zo (or other beloved) messenger bags, send them along to me. I’d like to put together an archival gallery of vintage messenger bag models.

    I own a few bags from the Glove Canvas Co in NYC. I purchased the bags from the shop in Little Italy, w/cash, while they were being sewn up around me (on the floor, I think). I still regret not going back to buy their huge red rucksack model.

    The next time I visited the Globe shop they had shut down and there were all sorts of “past due” billing notices tacked to the door. Good things disappear fast in this world.

  4. Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing the note and price list. I’ve happily had my Zo bag on my back for the last 6 or 7 years and, without fail, it held its contents safely and soundly through rain, sleet, snow, jail and loads of cycling. He’s a very special person to have been making these bags for 20+ years now using the methods that he’s chosen.

    Your point about the simple price list compared to the websites of today being a breath of fresh air – it’s so true. If I’m not mistaken, Zo still repairs his bags by hand and all it takes is a phone call and some arranging of time. Talk about caring service.

    Fan from San Francisco,

  5. zo is the OG maker, but it sucks he lets his bipolar attitude and jaded outlook get in the way of making a quality product. his ebay listings bitch about timbuktu, etc “stealing” his ideas, but he never made the moves he needed to.

    as for SF’s bagmaking today, freight baggage is running people over.

  6. Lemolo and Zugster strike me as fine modern updates of the original Zo bag (both product lines link right back to the immediate creative vision of a single owner/operator/sewer). I like where both companies are going with their expanded product lines (Zugster is working on a rando handlebar bag and Lemolo makes a wondeful “basket bag” for use with a Wald wire basket). Lemolo, however, might be the only outfit that could squeeze its retail price list onto a single sheet of paper (the new austerity business model).

  7. Hi Leslie,

    This is off topic, but have you come across Willis & Geiger? I saw a pair of cool moccasins, looked them up and read on Wikipedia that they were sort of THE outfitters for early 20th century expeditions.

    I’ll be this is all old hat to you!

  8. I have a couple of Zo Bags. And while they do occasionally show up on ebay, used ones usually sell for around $350, and new ones Erik puts up start at around $430.

    Freight Baggage, as mentioned, is another good choice. Courierware (http://www.courierbags.com/) might also appeal to you because their bags have an “old school,” minimalist, classic design that hasn’t changed a lot, like Zo Bags.

    You’re fortunate to have a Globe Canvas/Demartini bag from when Frank Demartini was still making them (he passed away in 2000), since he is considered the “father” of the messenger bag. The company is still around as it was purchased by one of associates, but it’s not quite the same.

  9. Odoacer–

    If you have photos of your vintage Zo bags, please forward them along. I’d love to post them on the blog.

    I do cherish my Globe canvas messenger bags. At one point, Urban Outfitters was blowing out bags branded Demartini/Globe canvas for 15.00/each. I bought up a batch and distributed them to my friends.

    I’m wondering if anyone owns a current version of the Demartini/Globe bag.

  10. I’m pretty sure DeMartini was bought by Manhattan Portage at one point. Right after or around 2000.
    Pac bags are by far the best for working messengers. Freight Baggage is the best newcomer, and the link to Erik is fewer than six degrees of separation.

  11. Almost 2 years since you posted this. Great to see a price sheet! I am in the process of putting my 1990 (or earlier) Gravey Dog-sized bag up on eBay. I got it in 1990, 2nd hand, when I started running tags in SF. It survived 10 years of tags on both coasts; until I stopped delivering in 2000. The bag has been a world traveler, and survived 2 kids. It’s been carrying skateboard gear & groceries the last 10 years. Hate to let it go, but it needs a home. Thanks for your post. Eric made (makes) some of the best usable art EVER!

  12. Long shot here…
    I have a late ’80s ZO bag maybe ’88? I believe its a medium size and it is rasta stripe in color. I has little wear for it’s age. I would like to sell it to someone that will appreciate it’s history and craftsmanship, otherwise it’s headed for eBay. Let me know and I will provide photos. singletrackrod@gmail.com

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