Paul is an contemporary artist and sculptor based in Cape Town and the owner of Natch! Goods, producing awesome bike bags and outdoorsy gear. Paul also rides the raddest Surly Cross Check, a do-it-all commuter bike and was one of the founders of Critical Mass in Cape Town back in the day…
To begin, can you share a bit about yourself?
I was born in Jo’burg, lived in Pietermaritzburg for six years where I studied, and moved to Cape Town in 1996. I am married to Heather who’s far superior to me in many ways. We used to have two cats who were superior to both of us.
Can you tell us about your work and how you started Natch!?
I am an artist. That hasn’t always been lucrative so I’ve had many side jobs like writing, copy editing and teaching. Last year I started a small sideline I call Natch! Goods, designing and producing anything from t-shirts to bags, but largely leaning towards things to do with bikes and being outdoors. All goods and most of the materials are made in and around Cape Town, and most of the legwork is done by bicycle. I work in both new and re-used fabrics, my objective is to make things which are not over-complicated and which represent good value. I took some marketing tips from my wife (Skinny LaMinx), and I do it all on Instagram and email.
Can you share a bit more about your design /manufacturing process?
Mostly I just make things I want myself, and they change over time. I’m not too rigorous about testing things. I guess I have a sense of how materials and processes hang together and I put my gear through lots of wear and tear. I make the things pretty tough, but not so tough that they would have to be expensive and would essentially be over-spec’d for their usual use. Sculpture teaches you how to make three-dimensional forms from flat materials, and that lends itself well to the design process I employ. I just put things together with fabric scraps or pattern-making cardboard, then I make a sample from the right materials and discuss it with one of the seamstresses I use if need be. I am lucky enough to have access to a seamstress who works with my wife and another who worked for Chapel bags. They help me out with things a domestic machine doesn’t like.
What’s the most popular product that you make?
The Nutsack stembag. Perhaps I’ll regret that name one day, but for the time being I’ll put up with it.
What excites and motivates you?
I have what I describe as a ‘low pleasure threshold’, so I can be quite happy just walking down the street. But I have always liked things that involve spinning objects and balance. This has seen me get into anything from skateboarding to bicycles, and recently even a bit of slacklining. Lockdown (or Lockup, as we call it here) found me getting into the hula hoop. Sad, I know, but no one else had to watch. I’m into all kinds of design, from graphic design to architecture. I really like reading and I really really like music. I like working with my hands and I like being outside.
Why cycling? How did you get into it?
I had a couple of bikes as a kid, but the bug really bit when I had a brief romance with BMX at age 12. I had an old mountain bike as a student which I eventually sold to my brother-in-law and later bought back from him. It was then I started building them myself from whatever I could get hold of. I started riding to my studio around then. Nothing else made sense after that. This led to my first single speed mountain bike, and then a fixed gear road bike. I rode a few mtb races and used to do the Argus for fun. We even had a minor single speed league in Cape Town. At some point bikes just became an integral part of being me, and now we’re seldom apart. I’m allergic to joining though, so I tend to do most of my riding alone. Although I have lots of friends who are into bikes.
Do you have a favorite bike to ride?
The bike I ride most days is my beloved Surly Cross Check. It just couldn’t be better. It goes through phases, but it’s generally built up with old mtb parts and I always have some kind of odd bars which lend the bike a kind of conservative disguise. At the moment it has a wide-range 1 x 10 set-up and a basket on the front. It takes nice big tyres and has been known to go off-road.
What is your greatest cycling experience or adventure?
I like a bit of swoopy singletrack (on my Jones SWB, my other love) as much as the next guy, but I really like the everyday bits of riding. To work and back, stopping at a coffee shop to talk a bit of shit, carrying shopping in my basket. As I said: low pleasure threshold. I haven’t done a whole bunch of touring, but years ago Justin Fiske and I began the bike ride to Rocking the Daisies which was just beautiful. I was so poorly equipped, and the kids that came along even more so (someone did it on a solid-tyred MTB one year), but it was just fantastic. I’m a bit curmudgeonly and kind of allergic to group things, so when stuff gets popular I inevitably move off.
Do you see cycling as a sports or as a lifestyle?
It’s just a normal thing to me. I wish more people would try riding to work. They’d see you don’t need any special clothes or a shower at work. All over the world in all sorts of countries, people do this. The health benefits are measurable, and you know, the planet would prefer us.
Lastly, do you have anything new up your sleeve that you’d like to share?
The future’s not carefully mapped out, and I do a whole lot of other things too, so I tend to just manufacture to order. But I will probably introduce a new product in the next few weeks, and I hope that will generate some excitement.
This story was originally published on WRTT (We Ride The Thunder). A blog dedicated to sharing inspiring stories of people in South Africa’s cycling scene.
Cover photograph by David Malan
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