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Northside Bags Takes Solar Packs to New Places

Nate Elsey Williams was always interested in starting a business, but never knew what that business might be until he had an awful experience at a music festival. During the event, Elsey Williams became dehydrated, disoriented, and ill; plus, he was separated from his friends and his cell phone battery had died. After that awful day, he had discovered his direction: to create a solar hydration backpack that can simultaneously charge electronics and transport water.

Northside Bags, Elsey Williams' start-up, was formed in Duluth, Minnesota, in 2018.

"In college, after having that bad musical festival experience, I just wanted to create something that could prevent that from happening to other people," Elsey Williams said. "I'm not the first person to create a solar bag, but thought it was such a cool idea I wanted to create my own."

Building a Business

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At first, Elsey Williams struggled to make any traction. Then, the pandemic hit and he thought his Northside Bags dreams were destroyed. By chance, at a trade show, he met two guys from a company called Alphamark, Nathan Brinkman, and Dan Larson. Alphamark specialized in creating custom apparel for businesses and organizations.

"They liked me and a year later hired me to their business in Duluth, Minnesota and invested in my backpack business," Elsey Williams said. "So, I took a break from college and went full-time with Alphamark/Northside Bags."

It was during that time when Elsey Williams and his partners jumped back into ideation and product creation. Northside Bags got a fresh start when the Survival Bag launched.

"Learning how they ran their business gave me insight into how I should run mine," he said. "I learned so much under them."

Spending time in Duluth sparked a passion for the outdoors, and the outdoor industry, in Elsey Williams.

"The beautiful scenery and being outside, it was an escape for me," he said. "I didn't have a whole lot of knowledge about starting a business, especially in this industry. But when you are excited about something and think you can have an impact on the world, you just keep going in hopes of figuring it out on the way. I'm in this for the long run and have learned so much in these past couple years already."

Promoting Diversity Outdoors

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"Being one of the few black-owned businesses in the outdoor industry, it is important to show what diversity looks like outside and we highlight that on our social media pages," Elsey Williams said. "We also want to get involved with more BIPOC hiking groups. It allows me to be tapped in with hikers from all over the world and see what they like when it comes to products."

Elsey Williams makes a trip to New York at least once a year to hike with The Hood Hikers group.

"We now have a small base of people who know our brand and buy our products in New York now," he said. "Other hiking groups are starting to take notice, so it's just a work in progress."

Another work in progress is the recently launched Northside Bags ambassador program.

"Northside has ambassadors from all over the United States sharing how they 'get lost' outside," Elsey Williams said. "We want to continue to grow the online community and currently working on doing an outdoor weekend retreat for our ambassadors."

Protecting Nature

Northside Bags is more than just a retail backpack company. Elsey Williams and Northside Bags are striving for positive change by joining the fight to help protect public land. Northside Bags has partnered with Save The Boundary Waters, an organization that protects recreational land in Northern Minnesota from the threat of Sulfide-ore Copper Mining.

Sulfide-ore Copper Mining can damage the land and poison the water, turning it into sulphuric acid. Northside Bags has pledged 15 percent of all sales of the new Save The Boundary Waters Fanny Pack to the Save The Boundary Waters Organization.

"I think these last few years have been a wake-up call to help preserve our planet," Elsey Williams said. "Starting a business like this, you are truly able to create a platform to do good in the world. Starting in Minnesota, knowing the fight the boundary waters areas has had to overcome, it was a no brainer to put these fanny packs towards that great cause."

Northside Bags has a lot going on for the foreseeable future, including building new connections, forming new social media campaigns, and creating new gear.

"We want to continue to work with new hiking groups, putting a spotlight on them and their work," Elsey Williams said. "We also want to work with new organizations highlighting all the great things they are doing, and personally, I am excited to make new products. Northside Bags is still in a start-up stage, so this is an exciting time as there is so much growth to be made."