A pearl is the oyster’s reaction to a little grain of sand that is annoying the heck out of them – and many good things come from working around something that is irritating you. For Denton Hunker of Hunker Bag Co., that little grain of sand came while on the road with his band. “I had this black wheelie suitcase – like everyone has – that I used for years and years,” Denton told me in our recent chat in his workshop/garage, “and other folks on airplanes kept grabbing it thinking it was theirs. I finally even wrote ‘THIS IS NOT YOUR BAG’ in silver Sharpie all over it and someone still tried to take it!” After that last incident, Denton decided to take matters into his own hands. His grandmother taught him how to sew when he was younger, so he designed and made his ideal suitcase: a dufflebag with rope handles – something no one else had, something totally unique because he had made it himself. He started carrying this creation while on tour and attracted a different kind of attention as folks stopped him to ask where he got his bag, and the pearl that would be Hunker Bag Co. began to take form. As his band geared up to release a new album, Denton channeled this creative energy into preparing to launch his business. “It felt like now or never, so I said, ‘let’s do it!’” he said.
As the orders started rolling in, Denton juggled touring for weeks at a time with fulfilling them during time spent at home in Nashville. Having these kinds of competing commitments has definitely shaped his business, he says. “There was a huge wholesale opportunity that approached me a while back, but it was for way more than I could produce by myself in the two weeks that I would be at home.” Denton has a part-time assistant who comes in during high-volume seasons, but in this particular case, he had to turn it down. “Since then, I’ve been thinking and planning so that the next time that happens, I can make it work. But I don’t have the answer to that yet. I want to grow smart.”
Growth is something Denton wants to be very intentional about due to a heartfelt goal. His father’s business ethic has had an important impact on his own plans for the future of Hunker Bag Co. “My father works for himself, essentially, building houses, but he also makes opportunities for other people to work. And while working for myself has always been appealing to me, whether it’s with the band or making bags, the real goal is to create a business that is sustainable enough to give other people a job – to help the community and support folks who need work,” he said.
One day, Denton would like to have a retail space that expands on the idea of the workspace he built for himself in his garage – a space where the process is on view, where folks can come in and see bags being made, hang out, listen to a record, drink a fine bourbon on a leather couch, and maybe buy a piece to take on the road. Between here and there, there is plenty to learn and plenty of hustle to do in his own way. “I’m a terrible hustler!” Denton laughed, “I don’t like to impose on folks … but things move fast. There’s no time to doubt yourself – you have to dig down and go for it.”