Whether you’re Boston Strong or Portland Proud, Maptote has a bag for you.
Since 2006, husband and wife team Rachel Rheingold and Michael Berick have been turning destinations into their own personal journey through Maptote, their innovative company offering products that celebrate cities and towns around the world.
For Rheingold and Berick, Brooklyn is home – and it’s where their fabric (U.S. cotton) is cut, sewn and printed. But for anyone who calls someplace else home, Maptote’s got a bag for that.
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After ordering Maptotes for the out of town guests at my son’s wedding in Baltimore last year, I was so smitten, I caught up with Rheingold and Berick to learn more about their work and their travels.
Tell us a little about your backgrounds.
Michael went to school for environmental studies and biology, and has always had a keen interest in geography and sustainability. He went to Australia for graduate school to study Geographic Information System, which is computer-based cartography. Rachel went to school for art and fashion design. We combined these to make Maptote.
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How you get the idea for Maptote?
We got the idea for Maptote from a trip to Germany in 2006 where we saw how they were using cotton reusable bags in lieu of plastic. We were so inspired by this as it was pretty uncommon in the US at that time. We were also living in Brooklyn, falling in love with each other as well as Brooklyn itself. Featuring Brooklyn and all the places we love as a map felt very natural to us. We had brought back some of the cotton totes from Germany for our friends but they really wanted a Brooklyn version so it just clicked.
Why did you decide to feature maps on the bags?
Michael was a cartographer and worked for engineering design firms so, for him, it was a natural way to depict places. We both have always had a strong love of travel and maps. It’s really interesting to see where you live and have conversations with people about it. We love when people look at our products and point to a neighborhood and tell us a story about how that place was/is important to them. Everyone can relate to, identify with or learn from maps. They are something that appeals to both tourists as well as locals.
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Do you design the maps yourselves?
When we began, Michael designed all the maps. He still does some design but now currently focuses on art direction and design for new products. Rachel has always had input into the overall aesthetic of our graphics. As our business has grown, we hired an in house designer who works with our clients on custom designs as well as helping to expand the designs in our line.
How do you figure out what sites to include on them?
We research locations, but we do try to find a friend or friend of friend to get insight. It is important to us to get insight from a local as they have the best advice that can’t always be found on Google.
Were there ones that were challenging?
Some foreign locations we’ve done – like cities in Japan and South Korea – have been a bit more difficult.
Brooklyn seems to lie at the heart of your business. Tell us about its significance to you personally and to the business?
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Brooklyn is where we met, live, work, have kids. It’s our home. Although we live in a big city, it does feel like a small community to us.
Which other places did you start with? Why?
We started with places that we knew and that were easy for us to travel to like Manhattan, Queens, Los Angeles, San Francisco.
How many different places do you feature now?
We have over 75 locations in our line on our website. However, we’ve custom designed a countless number of places for businesses, weddings and stores all over the world.
Which is the most popular Maptote city?
Probably Brooklyn or Los Angeles.
Why did you decide to add other products to the line?
As our business expanded, our stores wanted more. It was a natural progression of growth for us to add new location designs as well as more products to our line. We now feature everything from totes to pouches to home goods to baby clothing to stationery and more.
Which are the most popular ones? Are the popular cities for those different than the popular ones for the totes?
We have about 10 to 15 locations that are our best sellers. Our products typically resonate most strongly with big cities in the Northeast and on the West Coast.
We used your Baltimore totes as welcome bags for the out of town guests at our son’s wedding, and they were a huge hit.
Yes, people use Maptotes for weddings and celebrations as well as corporate events. They’re both a functional yet very personal way to welcome guests and make them feel right at home. It’s also a great souvenir to remind people of that specific location and the memories they made there when they use it for grocery shopping, etc. when they actually get back home.
Are you big travelers yourselves?
Yes! We love to travel and when we were starting our business we definitely wanted to be able to travel together for work. We have two kids now – they’re six and eight – so we don’t always get to travel as much as we’d like. But we do get around.
Do your trips inspire your products?
For sure! When we travel we’ll hit up the standard tourist spots, but we always try and find more local neighborhoods or destinations that are off the beaten track. Getting out of our office and bubble is a great way to get some space away from our everyday routine and to be inspired. We love to see what people are wearing and using in other places. That’s how the tote bag idea started for us in the beginning!
Which destinations are next for both your trips and your bags?
Personally, our next big family trip is to Charleston, South Carolina to visit family and then to Costa Rica for fun. Over the past several years, there has definitely been a trend of pride for local-centric products. We’ve been collaborating with many stores (big and small) on custom designs for their town or neighborhood. People want to see themselves on the map!
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Are you working on any new projects?
We’re always on the hunt for expanding our line. We love collaborating with people and are always seeking out other like-minded businesses and stores to work with. We’ve partnered with amazing companies like Pendleton, HBO, the Brooklyn Museum and so many more, and are excited to see what will be next for Maptote. We’d love to hear which new places your readers would like to see featured.