If you grew up anywhere in South Asia, then you pretty much know that them Gurkhas are a bunch of tough nuts, who have played a very vital role in several wars including the second world war where they fought on behalf of the British. India’s only Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw once famously stated, “If a man is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Ghurka.” Gurkhas are professional soldiers and as a kid I came across many of these tough-nuts from Himalayan nation of Nepal. They worked as watchmen and professional guards in my hometown of Delhi. Over the years, Gurkhas have remained somewhere in my subconscious.
A few days after moving to San Francisco, I perchance walked by a Ghurka store – except it was selling ultra-expensive bags and briefcases. It was amusing for me to think of Gurkhas as a fashion brand and later that store closed and I forgot all about it. I never bothered to look-up the history of the brand and why they chose that name.Fast forward to now, style blogger and Americana enthusiast Michael Williams shared a video about Ghurka’s legacy that puts everything in context.
The 37-year-old brand which is based in New York was started by Marley Hodgson in 1975 and its products were made in Norwalk, Connecticut. The company was sold to a private equity firm and the production shifted overseas which saw a decline in quality of the brand. It was a brand that had frittered away its heritage. In 2011, the company was acquired by rich businessman, John Reuter who is now the chief executive and the company has started to make a comeback by focusing on quality and pushing its Made-In-America credentials. The main argument for the brand: buy once and pass it down to next generation. I am a big believer in this anti-fast-fashion ethos, that focuses on quality and longevity. As someone said, buying a few great things is better than buying a lot of crap.
When I was in New York earlier this month, while on way to have coffee with a friend, I walked by the the Ghurka store (right next to Apple’s iconic store on Fifth Avenue) perchance and took that opportunity to pop into the store and take a closer look at their products.
The quality of leather, attention to detail and the production ethos were top notch. Of course, the sticker shock was too much for me to pull the trigger on a Weekender, but it is on my wish list. While I don’t need a briefcase or a messenger bag, I was impressed by Ghurka Satchel No. 17. While it is available in many leathers, one I like was made from the sturdy Khaki Twill and leather, which makes it a welterweight workhorse.
My rule of thumb when buying a briefcase/messenger bag: it has to weigh a fourth of what you are likely to put into this bag: laptop, iPad, iPhone, chargers, camera, notebooks and other sundries. That’s roughly 12 pounds. So I try and keep the bag weight between 3-and-5 pounds. Satchel No 17 meets the requirement. Plus it is built like a tank. When I handled it, the grip was great, the strap felt comfortable when worn as cross body. It would be ideal for those of us who are on either side of 40 and are actually done carrying around Jack Spade messenger bags.
I was quite underwhelmed by their messenger bags and all the new technology oriented products. They don’t have the appeal of their classic, old fashioned bags. Ghurka also makes tote bags, which are very fashionable these days, but frankly they are way too overpriced and you could do better buying less expensive and tougher products from the likes of Filson, which probably makes the best tote money can buy. I have one — about 10 years old and looks brand new. As for me, sometime later this year, I am going to replace my torn duffel with that Weekender, also in twill. After all, I am on the road – almost all the time!