Designed for Durability: Steele Canvas Basket Corp.

Small canvas, 3 bushel truck waiting for assembly.

Small canvas, 3 bushel truck waiting for assembly.

Steele Canvas Basket Corp.
Chelsea, MA

Durability defines much of what the Steele Canvas Basket Corp. is all about in both their products and their business. For over 90 years, they have hand produced canvas baskets, bins ("trucks"), tote bags and chairs that are made to last and stand up to the toughest jobs from construction sites, to the US post office. Beyond these rugged tasks, I was surprised to learn that Steele Canvas products have also been used for an impressive variety of purposes including mini bar bags for high end hotels (Carlyle Hotel), store displays for retailers (Victoria's Secret), on movie sets for major motion pictures and the fields and locker rooms of major sports teams (professional and college). Not to mention countless home laundry and play rooms!

On a recent visit to their factory in Chelsea, MA, I got to learn more about their process, materials and how they are catering their products to new customers while still staying true to the quality and design that sets them apart.

Steele frames provide support and strength to baskets and trucks.

Steele frames provide support and strength to baskets and trucks.

The Steele Canvas Basket Corp. has a long history. How have the products and production that the company started with changed over the years? What has stayed the same? How does the past influence or inform what the company produces today?
Most of the products pictured in our 1937 catalog look pretty darn similar to the baskets currently on our website.  Although the machinery and manpower have changed a bit over the years, the overall design of our product has remained remarkably unchanged.  Like the saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", and from day one, our baskets have been built not to break. 

You mentioned that your market and customer base have been expanding over the past few years, in which ways?
Due to the recession of 2008, we had to take a chance on all sorts of projects we would have traditionally passed on.  As luck would have it, more than a few of these pursuits worked out better than we ever imagined.  This exposure to new trades resulted in opportunities from national retailers as well as overseas shops and designers, most notable Japan and the EU.

Once used for New England coal and textile industries, Steele's original designs have stayed much the same.

Once used for New England coal and textile industries, Steele's original designs have stayed much the same.

Sturdy straps for reinforced handles.

Sturdy straps for reinforced handles.

What are some of the key features of Steele Canvas products that stand apart from others?
In short, their durability.  For better or worse, we tend to over make most of our products.  From the flat steel bottom we put on even our smallest baskets to double boxed bottom canvas tote bags that can hold a 100 + lbs., our products are built to earn their keep.  

All of your baskets, bins and bags are assembled by hand in your factory, why is this still important?
A number of our craftsmen have been doing what they do for well over 30 years.  That type of experience is hard to come by these days and even harder to program into a machine.  

Hardwood runners piled high for assembly on baskets.

Hardwood runners piled high for assembly on baskets.

All Steele products are cut, sewn, welded and assembled by hand in Chelsea, MA.

All Steele products are cut, sewn, welded and assembled by hand in Chelsea, MA.

How does New England and the Boston area specifically influence your company?
When we started in the 1920s, we just about exclusively catered to local industries.  Although some of our products spent their days inside of laundries and mills, others didn't have it so easy.  Our Fish baskets had to be built tough enough to get through a nor'easter on the deck of a fishing trawler and our small baskets and totes were used to haul coal, ice and just about everything else around town, regardless of the weather.  We didn't have a choice but to be tough and dependable from the start.  

Canvas used by Steele for their products is able to carry the heaviest loads.

Canvas used by Steele for their products is able to carry the heaviest loads.

Cutting tools on the factory cutting table.

Cutting tools on the factory cutting table.

Company pride and craftsmanship - all Steele products are hand stenciled.

Company pride and craftsmanship - all Steele products are hand stenciled.

What is the strangest or craziest thing you have seen Steele Canvas Baskets used for?
Over the years our baskets have been used for everything from movie prison breaks to baby bassinets, though watching Dwayne Johnson push Kevin Hart out of an office building window in one of our baskets was pretty memorable.  

A few out takes from the factory floor.

A few out takes from the factory floor.

You can learn more about the Steele Canvas product line and how to order at
www.steelecanvas.com

Photos: Melissa DiPalma