A true need led Mary Nguyen and Emmanuel Fremin to create the ingenious Artstrong: a line of bags for the effective and efficient packaging of travelling art. Made from reusable and recyclable aluminum building materials, Artstrong bags are modern and exceptionally resourceful. The pair sat down with Musée to tell of their product’s conception.
How did Artstrong begin?
EF It started with an art fair about a year ago in which three pieces were damaged. Those pieces were packaged with bubble wrap and when we unwrapped them the frames were broken, the pictures were scratched, and somehow the scotch tape was on the plexiglass of the photographs. We had to re-do it and take it through insurance with a five hundred dollar deductible – it was a nightmare! We thought there was probably a better alternative to wrap the pieces, a way that would cover and protect the pieces, while being reusable at the same time like a computer bag. We came up with the idea to have pieces wrapped up in an aluminum bag according to size, making it very easy to pack them up after the fair.
MN Emmanuel and I were doing a lot of art fairs all over the country with a few assistants. We would have anywhere between twenty to thirty pieces of work at one time and it would take us close to seven hours to pack and unpack them. It was an absolute nightmare – I’m Asian so we love efficiency. I would literally try to talk my way out of packing time. I don’t remember the specific art fair but I remember asking, “How could we make this easier on ourselves?” We went online and searched for a company that made bags but found nothing; I couldn’t believe it! We didn’t want a box, bubble wrap or tape; we just wanted something that was safe, easy, fun, and super chic. During the fair that all of our pieces were damaged we decided that was the end because we couldn’t continue like that.
Where did the idea of the packaging itself come from?
MN The design of the actual bag came from a very small bag made of metallic aluminum that I had seen before, we were really inspired by the VIP bags that Art Basel gives out as little gifts. We wanted to design something that was really eye catching, yet super functional, so we sourced-out building material and that’s where the idea started.
Was it made with the same material?
MN No It was not the same material, theirs was a laminated version that is almost as flat as paper. We just used it as inspiration.
EF Aluminum is everywhere. We make 40-ounce aluminum boxes made of aluminum dura-flex. We thought that it was something people would want to use almost like the Mac computer, that’s aluminum.
MN We wanted to keep everything congruent with our theme: clean, modern, and fun. For us, the aesthetic of a clean design is something that, as a young couple, we love and are really drawn to.
EF Less is more. We want something clean that people can use but with a protected inside so there is no need for bubble wrap. The inside is like a wall, while the outside is still protected. You have the best of both worlds.
MN It was very important for us to use recyclable material. Along with the aluminum and the industrial building material inside, there is recycled foam, as well as a layer of 100% acid-free brush cotton. The design for our first model is beautiful yet so simple. It really has been an amazing ride with the evolution that our bags have taken. That’s what we’re about: always evolving.
EF We can custom-make any size. What’s important is that there isn’t any waste. People don’t think about where the bubble wrap goes when it’s removed – the garbage. If you go to the beach you see pieces of bubble wrap and plastic everywhere. With one product already made for you, we don’t waste, and people want to keep these bags.
How long does it take to make them?
EF The bags are made in California. It was a little bit hectic in the beginning because we were so behind with orders since we weren’t expecting people to buy so many bags at once. Now people can make an order and have it delivered within a few days.
MN The structure of the bag appears very simple, but they are actually hard to make. It took eight months to get one sample done. The functionality and efficiency needed in a factory calls for four people per bag. Some of the bags are so huge they had to redesign tables and new machines to hand feed it.