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Cook & Gates Makes Tote Bags Gallery-Worthy

And piles in enough sand for a faux beach party.

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Ethan Cook and Sara Gates turned their hand-dyed, aesthetically complicated bags into the sort of art pieces that earn gallery shows—as evidenced by the one they held at Live With Animals in Williamsburg. Here, Sara, who now runs the biz on her own, explains how the whole thing—including the massive fabric waves—came together.

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“That gallery space is actually pretty big—you can do whatever you want. We had these grandiose plans to build rooms and cover everything with our fabric, and we realized it was just too much. I asked Ethan what would be the most inconvenient thing to make out of fabric, and his first response was, ‘Liquid.’ We were like, ‘Let’s make an ocean!’ and went from there.”

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“I bought a 1,000-yard roll of canvas, and we used almost all of it. We built a structure out of wood and chicken wire and used fabric stiffener to create the ocean. We did this whole line of beach-bag-like bags, and we made blankets with Mary Meyer.”

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“We had a closing party, and surf bands played in the ocean. The whole thing was quite a construction project—it was great, but it was an undertaking. I’ve done installations but nothing this huge. The waves were probably eight or ten feet tall.”

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“We had a ton of sand. To do something so simple like that and alter the entire space—we could have not built the ocean at all and just had sand on the floor and still changed the whole experience. You can get caught up in wanting to do bigger and to do more, but we’ve found that keeping things simple and to-the-point always makes it better—a better bag, a better installation, whatever.”

Now’s the time to score Sara’s latest Of a Kind edition! This hand-dyed duffle is pretty mind-blowing.