Take an idea picked up while visiting Israel, get your family involved, transform a seldom-used patio at home into a work area and you have Lightweight Enterprises of Utah, a nine-month-old company producing lightweight backpacks.
Lightweight is the brainchild of Jeff Fowles, who is getting plenty of help from his sister, Jana, and their parents, Gerald and Helen Fowles. At one time he also had help from a friend, who has since moved to a different area.While in Israel in 1986, Jeff noticed a child carrying a small backpack with drawstrings, and when he returned to Utah he decided to try to produce one with drawstrings so the contents couldn't get out.
Last August, Jeff and friends began experimenting with different types of materials and drawstrings. They settled on ripstop nylon, which doesn't run and is also used in tents.
The drawstrings, made out of the same type of nylon used in parachute cords, serve as the shoulder straps when the top is pulled shut.
Having completed his first backpacks, Jeff approached ZCMI's buyers, who purchased 144. Somehow, the packs got lost in the store warehouse and didn't get put on the shelves until November, when they finally began to sell.
Last December, production at the Fowles home at 4428 S. 3065 East began in earnest, and the family has produced 1,200 backpacks, working at night and on weekends because they still have full-time jobs. The packs are being marketed in stores in six states.
Enclosing a seldom-used patio into a workroom by using heavy plastic, the Fowles family cuts the materials, applies a silk-screened company name to the nylon and takes them to three women for sewing. When they come back, the drawstrings are tied to the packs, which are put in plastic bags for sale in stores.
Jeff, who plans to display his product in some trade shows, also is trying to persuade more stores to carry his packs. He said the backpacks are ideal for schoolchildren because they weigh 1.5 ounces each and can be folded up when empty and stored in a pocket.
The corners on the bottom of the packs are reinforced with metal fasteners through which the drawstrings are looped. The length of the drawstrings can be changed by tying the knot in a different place. The backpacks come in several colors.
Once the backpacks get some exposure and sales increase, Jeff said the family might start producing a larger model. He has applied for a patent on the product.