ARTIFACT’s Chris Hughes Turned Crisis into a Made in America Opportunity

By Matt Heller
Dec 06 2021 |

The Omaha-based company, which got its start during the Great Recession, makes beautiful bags, aprons and accessories that are built to last.

In 2009, Chris Hughes lost his job amid the financial turmoil of the Great Recession. Unsure of what to do, he asked himself what he was passionate about, what he was good at, and which of those things he could make a living doing.

Photos courtesy Artifact

Ultimately, he decided to take his future into his own hands — literally — and ARTIFACT was born.

The company, a 2021 Made in America Holiday Gift Guide pick, has continued to find success in the decade since by making high-quality bags, aprons and other accessories that are made to last, and importantly, Made in America.

“I chose to base manufacturing in my hometown of Omaha because I wanted total control over the quality and did not feel confident I could achieve that by outsourcing,” Hughes explained of his decision to keep ARTIFACT Made in the USA.

ARTIFACT grew quickly. When Hughes started the company, he was also working a placeholder job full time. But within 10 months, he was able to devote all of his time to running ARTIFACT. His studio expanded in size, more people came on, but one thing remained constant — design with absolute devotion to quality, utility, and a timeless aesthetic.

“My entire team is comprised of skilled craftspeople,” Hughes said. “Everyone is a maker. Pride of work and creativity is universal in our culture.”

Importantly, ARTIFACT’s local workforce is one of the things that allows the company to excel.

“Our demand for consistency and quality is higher than other sewn product manufacturers, and it shows in our products,” Hughes said. “It would be very difficult to maintain the same level of quality if our products were made elsewhere. You need boots on the ground by people invested in the brand, with constant hovering to consistently produce the finest quality.”

Hughes does acknowledge, however, that sometimes he is challenged by the cost of domestic labor, employee retention, and training. But when it comes to the increased quality you get from being American-made, as well as the increased product control, the tradeoff is worth it.

Supply chains have also been an issue for ARTIFACT, especially due to shortages related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of the leather that ARTIFACT uses comes from American tanneries, which became an issue when delays caused them to wait up to 20 weeks to get supplies. But Hughes noted that the costs of importing had also increased exponentially.

Overall, and despite these difficulties, ARTIFACT has continued to grow and thrive as a shining example of the brilliance within utilitarianism and a timeless American aesthetic. For Hughes, who found opportunity amidst misfortune, it’s certainly something to be proud of.

As Hughes said, “I sense our community is proud to have a sewn goods manufacture, considering most of our manufacturing left in the 1990s.”

You can check out ARTIFACT’s wide array of products including utilitarian bags like totes, backpacks, cross-bodies, specialty aprons for kitchens, gardens, workshops and studios, as well as timeless accessories here.