Rochester native Jesse Andrist now lives in Menomonie, Wis., with his wife, Christina, and his three children, ages 5, 3 and 1.
There, he has channeled his passion for being a stay-at-home dad into his company, Chabee Outfitters, and recently designed a diaper bag for dads.
The business name, Chabee, is a mashup of the words "change and be." Andrist says the company name was inspired by the beautiful Gandhi quote, "Be the change you want to see in the world."
"I did this to validate and celebrate my decision to be an involved dad," he said. "I decided to become a stay-at-home dad when my first child was born. I believe there is nothing better for your kids or your soul than to be an involved father or father figure.
"That's how this was all born — my small way of trying to put a little bit of validation into that choice to be a stay-at-home dad and an involved dad and just do it differently than other dads have," he said. "My intention is that other dads seeing products made just for them will, in a small way, add validation and evidence that the world respects and appreciates the decision to be an involved dad."
"The first concept of the bag came with my first child about five years ago," Andrist said, "but I actually drew up plans with our second child about three years ago. After that, I started seeking out someone to help me make the bag."
It's in the bag
After some time with a company that didn't follow through on the promises made to Andrist, he made a prototype himself.
"I bought all the canvas, learned how to tan and dye leather, how to cut leather and set rivets and snaps, and made a version myself," he said. "I found a networking site for U.S. manufacturers and teamed up with a company in the northwest that makes things just like I was looking for. Waxed canvas, metal hardware, it was a great fit."
After going through a few prototypes, the began producing and selling the bags this fall. "Honesty" and "quality" are themes that come across in talking to Andrist. The materials are high-quality and guaranteed to last.
"I wanted waxed canvas because it's waterproof," he said. "And it's nice and sturdy. All of the hardware is 100 percent brass. I could do brass-plated nickel or something, but I want this bag to be long term, last through multiple kids, and then with the nice leather, all of the sudden I have a high-end bag, which I didn't set out to do. I grew up with a pretty normal childhood — we didn't have loads of extravagances, so to justify this bag for myself, I offer free repairs for life — your fault or mine — for as long as you want to send it in to me, I'll fix it as best I can. That's my version of a more honest guarantee. My end goal is to be a company that I would want to do business with."
The bag was released this fall, and they are available online and in a few boutiques in Washington and Pennsylvania. They are currently being reviewed at a few shops in New York City, and will soon be available in the Twin Cities at the three locations of Pacifier, an urban children's store.
"It's very 'boots on the ground,' and I like that part of it," Andrist said. "I like actually meeting the shop owners that will be selling my bag. It feels valuable when you can make those trips and hear the feedback, what they like, what they don't like.
"I'm going at this very organically and want it to be sustainable," he said. "I got some really good advice from a boutique owner — this woman who ran a little store front that also ran a doula service and made a name for herself helping wealthy families find nannies. She started doing well, got a little bit of publicity and things just started going bonkers, and now she is hardly home. She started the business because she loved being pregnant and being a mom, and now she is hardly home, so she told me, "Just think about that as you are doing this. I really like the bag, it's really neat, and I think it's something that might do well for you, but just keep it in your mind why you started this in the first place," which is true. The reason I started this was because I was home with the kids and that matters a lot to me, so I'm protecting that still and I'm not out there trying to blast every opportunity possible so I'm not away from my kids. I'm happy with the balance I have right now."