No Longer Adrift

Big Driftless in Decorah is set up to showcase the creative process behind their custom-made bags. “It’s a fun way to bring the customers into the lifespan of their backpack or fanny pack,” says owner Cody Whittle.

Writer: Brianne Sanchez

When things fell apart for Cody Whittle in California, he decided Iowa was the place to piece his life back together. Whittle still had ties to the northeast region of the state where he grew up, so in 2015 he moved back in with his dad and took a manufacturing job.

He quit drinking, and inspired by his surroundings, he started developing prototypes for accessories people could use to explore the outdoors. Trained as a product designer, Whittle followed that thread to pursue his dream in Decorah. The result is Big Driftless, a community-focused purveyor of handmade backpacks, bags and apparel geared toward getting people outside.

“What I’m trying to do with Big Driftless, as well as making and selling things, is also harboring relationships and creating a place where people who share common interests can come,” Whittle says. The company hosted an overnight bike trip last fall, and he’s looking forward to doing more rides and hikes that bring groups together in nature.

Customers who walk into the new shop at 112 Winnebago St. see on display the heavy-duty sewing machines used make the backpacks and bike bags. The connectivity between the workshop and retail space is both practical (Whittle handles customer service in addition to making the merch) and philosophical.

This is the third space Whittle has renovated since his return, and it will be co-located with two other retailers to create a cooperative hub. Located downtown between an art supply store and a travel agency, Big Driftless is at the nexus of creativity and adventure—the two biggest inspirations for Whittle’s work. He hopes a stop into the shop will become both a destination and a launching point for people to explore new trails, both in the region and beyond.

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