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Nepenthes New York and Mafia Bags

Sep 15, 2023

Nepenthes New York and Mafia Bags have teamed up once more to launch a new line of custom totes, featuring a stencil print of the Nepenthes NY logo and store address. Available in sail cloth and cotton canvas, these bags are durable, sustainable, and backed by a lifetime guarantee.

Nepenthes New York recently had the opportunity to speak with Marcos Mafia to discover what propelled this collaboration.

The collaboration between Mafia Bags and Nepenthes was a natural outcome. Introduced by Mafia Bags' partners in Japan, Marcos discovered a mutual interest with Daiki Suzuki, the designer behind Engineered Garments. “We end up working with people who love to surf,” Marcos comments, referring to Daiki, who is known for surfing year-round at New York’s Rockaway Beach. “There’s some approach to life that is shared among people who love the water. It even affects your business. Like minded people get together.”

Brand Founding

Mafia Bags' story is closely tied to water. Marcos, originally from Argentina, spent his time either by the ocean during summers or along the Río de la Plata - the immense river that divides Argentina and Uruguay - during the rest of the year. Originally a windsurfer, he was one of the first to kitesurf in Argentina. “Nobody knew what kitesurfing was. My parents wouldn’t give me permission, so I had to forge their signature to join the kitesurfing club,” he remembers. Turning pro as a teen, he spent five years touring, winning championships, and garnering sponsors.

Work with sponsors introduced him to the basics of the business. Assisting a wetsuit factory with product development, he learned about making patterns, cutting materials, and different types of sewing. “I was very young, so I had the luxury of being able to ask many questions, and have people find it kind of cute.” he laughs. “I was naturally curious. I wanted to know their market share and where they get the fabric for a wetsuit and how the warranty works. From graphic design to product design to product testing, I learned how things come to life.”

At the age of 22, Marcos created Mafia Bags, centering the brand on three principles: recycled materials, local manufacturing, and lifetime warranty. “I didn't think that other companies were bad because they didn’t use these ideas, " he acknowledges. “It was considered bad business. But I thought, ‘OK, let's do the bad business. We're probably gonna fail but at least we're gonna have a great time.’”

Product Development

“My backpack was the one thing I wore every single day of my life,” says Marcos, explaining his decision to make bags. “You change your shoes, you change your pants. Your daily bag is always the same. I felt that was the right product to work on.”

The choice of material was self-evident. “Sails are what I had in my hand, and my life depended on them,” Marcos states, referring to his time as a professional kitesurfer. “I knew they were extremely tough, waterproof, and they gave me joy.” Sails’ durability also make the material a perfect candidate for recycling.

The company also uses cotton canvas, repurposing fabric warehoused due to minor defects, such as a slightly mismatched dye lot. They also work with The New Denim project, a third-generation Guatemalan textile manufacturer that transforms scrap clothing into thread and new canvas.

Mafia Bags’ accepts sails donations from around the world, providing contributors a free bag made from their donated material, forging a relationship between the ocean and their daily life. The company uses various sail materials, including heavier main sail fabrics like DuPont's "Dacron" or Honeywell's "Pentex.", as well as lightweight nylon, which typically comes from spinnakers. “Because everything has to be cut by hand, too many patterns for one product would make it hyper-expensive. We minimized the amount of patterns to make a useful and visually interesting product,” says Marcos, “The diagonal patterns relate back to the sails, and make our products recognizable.”

The company’ product range includes shoulder pouches, backpacks, and duffel bags, each featuring a design unique to the sail it came from. Marcos, confident in the quality of his products, provides a lifetime guarantee for all of them.

Building Home

BaseMarcos has called San Francisco home since 2014, and the city's influence is evident in Mafia Bags' creations. He fondly describes San Francisco as the "kitchen of the world," where technology and creativity converge. He comments, “San Francisco also has some of the surf and ocean culture that you get in Southern California, but the city life and culture and museums that you might get in like in a place like New York.”

Mafia Bags' production office, nestled in San Francisco's Outer Sunset neighborhood, lies just a stone's throw from Ocean Beach and a mere two blocks from Marcos's residence, continuing the brand’s connection to the ocean. He says, "I try to get into the ocean every day. If there are waves, I’ll surf; if there’s wind, I go kiting; and if there's neither, I simply go swimming."

Despite retaining some design activity and a portion of production in San Francisco, Mafia Bags' growth, including an outpost in Tokyo, required them to expand their production. Marcos explains, "The cost of manufacturing keeps rising, and it's challenging to find factories with the capacity," Marcos reveals. “We found some really great factories in Los Angeles. I go out there at least once a month. It’s a unique opportunity to develop the process in real time, catch parts that need to be fixed, and make adjustments on the go.”

Next Steps

Marcos describes his journey so far as a learning experience, working with designers and artists. “It's such a luxury to learn and to listen to them, to see how they think and which ideas they come up with,” reflects Marcos.

Much like Nepenthes, which applies its unique vision to an array of products spanning from clocks and shoes to stationery, Mafia Bags' vision is boundless. In the spring, they collaborated with Engineered Garments to construct an Atlantic Parka made from recycled sail cloth, with production handled entirely by Mafia Bags. “We like to do experimental things,” Marcos admits. “That was our first whole production run of clothing. The beauty of a very small company is that we can decide where we want to take things - the work is always changing. We started doing light fixtures, and now we’re working on some interior design and art projects. I would say the Mafia is a statement of how we want to produce.”

The partnership between Nepenthes New York and Mafia Bags is a fusion of creativity, weaving together elements from each brand. Marcos's journey from a professional kite surfer to entrepreneur reflects the development of Nepenthes, embracing curiosity, resilience, and a commitment to challenge the status quo.