Eliav Meltzer is the founder of Goatloft, a local label creating coveted bags from industrial materials. His knack for crafting accessories has taken him from salvaging offcuts at a sailmakers, to starting his own label, to heading a skilled team making great bags for big brands. We got to chat with Eliav about the process of building Goatloft and what’s coming next.
Goatloft was originally a label. We produced bags out of reclaimed materials. Over the last few years, it has slowly progressed into more of a design development and manufacturing hub. We now do our own internal product as well as developing product for other companies.
What sort of products are you developing for others?
It's a little bit top secret. Generally, we make accessories and bags. If something needs to be carried, we'll design it.
In the near future we will be focusing more on our own product again, and going through an exciting rebrand. So Goatloft will be done.
How do you feel about that end of an era?
It feels good. This feels a little bit more grown-up. The essence of Goatloft will still be there, it will just be the more adult version.
How did Goatloft start?
Goatloft started about 2017. I was working for a sailmaker, and I started collecting all the offcut PVC and other bits they would throw away. Then I started making bags out of the ‘rubbish.’
It turned out people actually really liked the bags, so a year later I decided to quit my job and make these bags full-time. It’s one of those really classic success stories: moving the studio into my mother's garage and finally ending up here.
I really like the reframing that Goatloft does of materials that are usually discarded as waste. In one of the interviews I read, you talked to the fact that, because you're using these industrial materials, they've been product tested time and time again. This means they have all these amazing qualities where they're super durable or windproof or waterproof – whatever that industry needs it to be. I appreciate how your work shifts the perspective of these offcuts from inconvenient excess to valuable resource.
Absolutely. The great thing is that even doing larger commercial jobs now, we can use almost one hundred percent of the new material we’re given. Any offcuts that are left from a job, we’ll save or use for something else. Almost nothing actually ends up in the bin.
What did you do before starting Goatloft?
Well, I studied fashion, then worked for a label for six months, then got made redundant, then ended up packing boxes in a warehouse for a year, then worked on a superyacht for a year, then ended up in industrial textiles in Australia, and finally worked at the sailmakers. I didn’t love all the parts of that progression, but it’s kind of lovely now to think about all the learning. Without those odd jobs I wouldn't have ended up here.
Right. I mean the industrial thing is what lead you to these kinds of fabrics.
Exactly. It’s pretty cool.
Can you describe your ideal working environment?
I think we kind of have it here.
I make the major decisions, but besides that we're all kind of on the same level. We're all on the machines together and we're all in the same mindset. When there’s a job to get done, we get it done. It is a very lovely environment. We also have a small dog in here, who is definitely our mascot.
Dogs are so great. They really can give you that boost of positivity when things are tough.
I actually reckon without him we probably wouldn't be here. The stress levels can get high sometimes, and then you see him and you’re like “Oh! Cute dog! I’ll go for a walk.”
Do you guys have a recent favorite album you've been listening to while you work?
We’ve actually been listening to a lot of jazz. I don’t have a favorite artist yet. We used to listen to a lot of disco and house in here, and although the tempo was good, it kind of stressed us out after a while, so we just like to keep it nice and chill.
How have you found the process of building a team?
Building the team has probably been the hardest part. Trying to cater to everyone’s needs, and then obviously needing to get work done. Managing people took a while to get used to.
It’s all about building the right team. You know, we're looking for another person right now, and that person can have X Y & Z of the skills that we need, but if they're not going to mesh with our small team it's not going to work. It's definitely been a learning curve.
What have you learned along the way, in terms of managing people?
I would say really listen to your gut, as corny as that sounds. Take hiring for example. Maybe someone doesn’t have the exact skillset, but if they have the right energy it’s worth following through. People can learn. We all learn every day here.
I guess that's one of the big things about being your own boss and having your own business. You would always be learning and figuring it out for yourself. There’s no one else making this path for you, which is thrilling – but it must also be terrifying sometimes.
I should be more terrified.
Oh no it’s good you’re not! I guess you've been doing it for a while now.
I think it’s reached a certain point where there’s only one way forward, and that’s to keep going.
You’ve done a lot of cool collaborations. How do you deal with a clash in creative ideas?
With a lot of the collaborations I’ve done, it’s been a bigger brand or company coming to me to have the creative part done, so there’s not so much back and forth in terms of the creative ideas.
Sometimes there’s a little back and forth, but that’s mainly to do with design aspects and how we put a product together. Maybe a client has an idea of a design feature done a certain way and we have to come back and say, this other way is how it will actually work for us to be able to make this. It can take a little work to find the best solution to be able to make something.
Right. Maybe that’s sort of you holding your ground as a craftsperson. A brand may have an idea of how something is going to look, and you have to be the one to say “Hey look, because this and this fits together this way, this is how it will work.”
I think it also just has a lot to do with capabilities. Each specific thing – knit fabrics or leather or PVC – sort of requires its own factory. We wouldn’t be manufacturing dresses in here because the machinery is not set up for it. Someone can think we’ve got all these machines so we can just sew anything, but actually we know that to do other specific things you need a whole other specific factory.
That makes sense. I feel like a lot of my favorite businesses have just decided to do one or two things really well.
At the moment we’re trying to pull back and think about what we do really well. It’s tricky because you know you need to make money, you need to have work, so you can’t always pick and choose, but we’re trying to be more thoughtful about taking work that works better with the way we’re set up. It’s an interesting push and pull.
What's something that has surprised you in the process of building Goatloft?
I’ve been surprised by how many companies and suppliers are keen to come on board. There’s a lot of companies in New Zealand that produce waste, and no one really wants to just throw something into the landfill.
For example, there’s this company in Hamilton who manufacture ambulances and other specialized vehicles and they’ve given us all this fabric that is on each of the chassis when they arrive from overseas. They get about a hundred of these things coming each week, and recently I went down to pick up a van load. The woman there told me that what I could fit in my van was four days worth of the fabric. They're trying to find others to use this waste, through the New Zealand Sustainable Business Network, because they’re just producing so much of it.
Then there's other other companies who will give us their end of line fabrics. They’ll be beautiful linens and wools which are lovely for making bags. There are a lot of people out there who want to help.
I think it must be relieving to see a beautiful thing made from something you would’ve otherwise put in the landfill.
What do you do when something fails?
We're actually getting really good at productively failing.
What does that mean?
We’re picking up on failures before they become massive failures. We can look now and see that because we did the first thing, it's gonna make that second part fail. We can see these little faults more quickly than we used to.
Sometimes you fail financially, and that’s rough. I bought this clicker press on Trade Me last year and when the truck driver got here we couldn’t actually get it into our workshop, so in the end we just had to get it delivered to the scrapyard. I got $400 for the scraps after however many thousand I paid for the machine. It sucked because the clicker press would’ve been really cool to have, and it was a lot of money too.
Oh yeah, that would’ve sucked. These failures really do happen though, and I guess it’s about getting into more of a mindset where it's not the end of the world for that to happen. It’s not great but...
You can’t be perfect. Any business at any scale is going to have issues – you just don’t want to make the same mistake twice.
What's something you're proud of?
Well, that takes me back to the team. I'm really proud of everybody. This is the kind of workplace I always wanted. I never really enjoyed my workplaces before, so it’s nice to have a workplace where you’re actually happy to go to work. That’s what I’m most proud of.
Do you have any routines that are important to you?
Walking the dog is pretty important. I don’t work past five. I try not to work on the weekend, but that’s kind of gone out the window recently.
What do you do when you hit a creative block?
We have quite a very talented team, so we work through a lot of blocks together. When it’s just me doing something, I find you actually just have to give up and revisit it later.
Why bags? Were you making bags back in fashion school too?
No, I was actually doing menswear in fashion school. I started making bags when I moved to Australia and I got a little bit hooked on it. Although I have made quite a lot of clothing over the past 10 years, I keep coming back to accessories. I don’t know exactly what it is, it just clicked.
Thank you Eliav.
Check out Goatloft's website