Gear Whores Anonymous: Q&A

Jon Custis speaks to the elusive founder of Gear Whores Anonymous and Next Gen Warfighter. They talk Citadels, patches and more.

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Most pieces of tactically-themed sewn goods are creative designs that only see commercial success after years of development.  The Gen 3 Citadel backpack is certainly no different and was born out of ideas from the enigmatic “CB” of Gear Whores Anonymous (GWA). CB started out as a prolific tactical gear reviewer and vlogger who turned his thoughts about everyday carry into a pack that sells out as soon as a restock is announced. 

The Citadel has gained so much of a following that an owner of a special collaboration version listed it on EBay for a bold “Buy-It-Now” price of $1,000.  That’s an either audacious or foolish price, but it nonetheless highlights a reality that within the backpack’s deep following of users, someone just might pay it to score their perfect pack.

After a long exchange of emails, I caught up to CB for a chat about the Citadel line, what it takes to manufacture in the USA, and the energy that drives his design flow.

Jon: You’ve previously defined GWA as a micro operation.  Precise words mean precise things, so what are you trying to convey to customers and onlookers when you describe your business that way?

CB: GWA is a small company, we are entirely self-funded and don’t have huge margins. This means that we can’t offer the same perks as large corporations.  That may be shipping, unlimited returns, etc.  We are still very much a “custom” operation, although our sewn goods are made by an ISO-certified defense contractor using automated machines, one-piece flow and lean manufacturing principles.

Jon: So is GWA a single-person effort or small team?

CB: Small team with me as the main guy doing the design work.  I’m self-taught in a lot of areas.  Whatever I can’t figure out or don’t have the time to do I have people to pick up the slack.  As GWA grows (which it has in the past year), I’ve been seeing myself stretched thin.

Jon: Has it become less a passion and more a business?

CB: Both really.  The positive thing about being micro is that I can constantly tweak designs without worrying about a container full of merch that I have to move first.  I take a lot of pride in what I design and it’s always something that I would use personally.  I don’t just make things to fill a seasonal catalog.

Jon: Can you recall when you first felt that spark or caught the bug which made you start to review the wide range of gear we can see in your video reviews?

CB: Oh man, that’s a tough one.  You couldn’t be into gear back in early 2010s without constantly browsing Eagle Industries, Mystery Ranch, S.O.Tech, or Crye’s web sites.  It’s wild how the industry has boomed. Notable mention would be Patrick Ma; I always admired him.  Underrated if you consider what he’s done. For example, instituting drop culture before it was cool.

Jon: Do you remember the moment when you sat back and said to yourself, “I’m going to design an EDC backpack”?

CB: Right around 2015 I designed a bag for a sportswear company, and it got me thinking. If I’m designing a bag for them, why can’t I for myself?  Once I got a better understanding of the design / manufacturing process (e.g. where do I even make a bag?), I knew it was time.  Lots of steps before you go live.  You need patterns, someone to sew your various samples, source materials and ultimately someone to sew the bags. It’s a tremendous amount of work…and costly.

Jon: It took nearly seven years to produce the first Citadel.  What lessons have you learned along the way?

CB: Manufacturing in the USA is EXPENSIVE.  A lot of people love the idea of things Made-in-the-USA, until it comes to the price.

Jon: Why the name Citadel? 

CB: I’ve always liked how the word sounds.  It’s strong.  The definition is:

“a fortress, typically on high ground, protecting or dominating a city.”  

The high ground got Obi-wan the victory and the Citadel pack as an EDC dominates.

Jon: The various generations of the Citadel have seen thoughtful updates to the basic design, with the most significant being the move to a dual bottle pocket setup.  Was that driven by customer feedback, or did you make the change based on some other factors?

CB: From the get-go I’ve always said that the Citadel was my perfect pack, the features being what I wanted in my dream bag. If you like those same features, then great. I’m always open to feedback and will make changes as long as its not something that interferes with my pack. The dual bottle pockets made sense. Looks more balanced and I found myself never using the MOLLE anyway. Having dual bottle pockets allowed you to use 1 for a bottle and the other as a dump pocket. The other big change was the framesheet. This is something I never wanted but gave in to user feedback and at the end of the day doesn’t affect the performance of the pack for me.

Jon: How difficult is it, from a materials availability and overall price point perspective, to stay true to your original vision of Made-in-the-USA?

CB: I’ll tell you right now it’s not easy. I touched on it a bit a few Q’s up. Availability hasn’t really been an issue to be honest. Most vendors are good at supporting U.S. contractors. Biggest hurdle to manufacture in the USA is labor. Qualified people to sew what I design is not easy to come by and it doesn’t come cheap.

Jon: I don’t think that producing a “Real G’s” morale patch and linking to the original Eazy-E video was some random choice. Can you talk about your SOCAL roots and how they influence your choice to drop collaborations?

CB: I get inspired by a lot of things, pop culture, movies, music, etc. I get these ideas that pop in my head when listening to my music collection or rewatching old movies. I love the classics regardless of genre. This applied to both music and film. Then it’s just fun to somehow connect it to GWA.  Hell, even meme culture now inspires me.

You can catch more of CB’s designs at the GWA digital storefront:

Photography provided by HL of Pangolins With Packs

(Photo credit: HL of Pangolins with Packs) 

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