Stitching Stories with Jed Frost

Look into any bag, and you will discover the items its owner deems necessary to keep his or her quotidian wheel turning. But how often is the carryall that totes around those items chosen from whatever is available in the store?

All too often, says Jed Frost. While a Birkin might be a birthday gift or a Cartier tank watch a commemoration, neither item is specific to its wearer’s personality — other than the signature on the bill. Frost, a former Mizzou athlete, is the man behind a custom carryall design company that aims to challenge the perception of luxury.

Originally hailing from Springfield, Frost grew up as a Tiger fan and went on to play guard for Norm Stewart’s basketball team at the University of Missouri from 1990 to 1994. After his collegiate career, he knew he wanted to coach basketball and build things — whether abstract or physical. He became a teacher and coached basketball at Odessa High School and Park Hill South High School near Kansas City, and became a volunteer assistant with the Iowa State University basketball program before becoming the director of basketball operations at the University of Hawaii for three years. Frost returned to the mainland in spring 2004 so his wife, Beth Ellen, could attend medical school in Lexington, Ky. He switched careers and became an insurance and financial representative.

When she graduated from medical school, Beth Ellen gave her husband a gift: a handmade leather messenger bag. The bag’s details subtly convey the story only she and Jed have lived. She had selected a raw cowhide that coincidentally featured the number 25 branded into it — his college basketball jersey number, the number he wore when he and the undefeated Tigers won the 1994 Big Eight regular season conference title. The inside of the bag is lined with worn fabric taken from a pair of pajama pants Beth Ellen gave Jed as her first gift to him. The brass, equestrian hardware on the bag represents the couple’s ties to Lexington, the horse capital of the world. The underside of the bag features Jed Frost’s signature, an effortless, energetic scribble. The back of the bag is branded with a small elephant, symbolizing the couple’s journey over the years. There is space for files, a laptop and pockets for miscellaneous electronics and items.

“When I received this gift from my wife, it just really moved me because of the fact that it tells our story right there,” Frost says. “That bag represents 15 years of our journey together. That bag is very emotional to me.”

Frost was inspired to provide the same sentiment for others. “I’ve always loved to give special gifts,” he says. “I’ve loved that regardless of cost; it doesn’t matter if it’s a dollar or a hundred dollars, it’s something that is special to somebody and I’ve always just enjoyed doing that.”

Frost went on to found a custom carryall company, FROST. As founder, CEO and chief of design, Frost is largely responsible for meeting with clients, designing the bags and overseeing their production. The mid-Missouri-based company handcrafts one-of-a-kind bags for its clients Frost describes as “discrete and distinguished.” His products are unique, he says. “We understand that these bags aren’t for everyone, but we aren’t interested in making a bag for everyone either. Our clients are not people who want the best, but rather people who expect it.”

He aims to make bags that convey a story through their construction, making it precious and significant to its owner, he says. It’s an exclusive product in a luxury market.

Clients come to him through word-of-mouth; a newly launched website is designed to strengthen both FROST’s brand and its story through focused branding, photos, videos and biographies of the company’s small team.

Frost meets with prospective clients all over the country, talks to them about their experiences in life, their family and friends, what they do for a living, etc. During this vetting process, he gathers evidence as a detective might, and begins to construct something material out of something more fickle: life. Frost designs the bag with the customer, then has the design sketched with dimensions and particulars. He presents the design to his team of artisans for them to give their input based on how they would approach the design. Frost then decides which of the company’s artisans will start the bag and who will need to contribute to the process. The client is kept in the loop as the bag progresses toward completion.

These artisans are the only hands to touch the bag and mold it into a finished product without help of machinery. “When it comes to the artisans, I think we have the best in the United States,” Frost says “Each has his or her own individual talents.”

For Frost, knowing where and how his artisans do their work is as important as the quality of their craftsmanship. “You don’t have to have the best people,” he says. “You just have to have the best people for you.”

Under Frost’s watchful eye, the process of handcrafting each bag into being becomes an act of meditation, with each stitch and material a repetition of a personal mantra, a representation of a personal memory or possession. Each bag celebrates its owner’s life and the personal road traveled to the present.

“We love building for cool people with cool stories; people who are passionate about what they do, people who have changed others, people who make a difference, people who see the big picture, people who want success for others,” Frost says. The company is quickly building a star-studded roster of clients, designing bags for Tracy Blue, Louisville publisher of The Voice-Tribune, and Diana Baker, thoroughbred rescuer, plus other notable movers and shakers. Currently Frost is in the process of designing and building a bag for award-winning American sportscaster Joe Buck to take with him to World Series and Super Bowl productions. FROST also just received its first international order from an individual in Dubai.

During the design process, mementos and memories become materials sewn together to facilitate and decorate a particular lifestyle. A FROST bag can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $75,000, but really, there is no limit on what a bag could become, Frost says, a reflection of whatever the client can dream up.

Each bag comes with a lifetime warranty, should a strap pull or a future owner need to give it a tune up. The process of designing and building each bag takes between three and six months from beginning to end. FROST either gathers materials from the client to represent milestones in his or her life or outsources the appropriate materials. The bag’s makeup depends on the customer and can include personal heirlooms, exotic leathers and skins such as alligator or crocodile, or basic fabrics and leathers.

Completed bags are delivered to the customer in a custom box and dust cover, with the customer’s name affixed to the box on a brass plate. “We give back all of the scraps, as well as the design, so each bag truly belongs to its owner from design to finished product,” Frost says “No one has the same story, and that’s what our bags display.”

The company’s personal approach stands out in the luxury-goods market.

“We don’t have any competitors,” Frost says. “We are unique and we feel like we’re going to put out the best product with the best team. We have the best marketing and brand person in the country, the best legal person and the three best consultants. When you combine that with the artisans, we know we’re going to have success. Anyone can go out and buy a Louis Vuitton, Hermès or Chanel bag, but no one can go out and buy a Tracy Blue bag, a Diana Baker bag or a Joe Buck bag. No one.”

The inimitable bags are one of a kind. “I want to do this for other people. I want to create something that no one else can,” Frost says “When you own a FROST, you own the only one in the world, just like you.”