The following is the first in a series of audio sensory documentaries and short form interviews with creatives, activists, makers, and athletes alike. Passion Process is focused on the passions of people we’re inspired by and the daily processes, musings, and activities that help them realize those passions.
Passion Process Ep. 1 | Mario Rocchio
We meet Mario Rocchio at his home studio in downtown Rochester just as the sun is crescendoing atop his tree lined street. We’re going to bike (well, he’s going to bike) 10 miles north to the side of the lake that we often find ourselves gravitating towards; if not for the swell then for the sunrise and the sounds. Mario isn’t biking to a wave or a peak or a valley, although the terrain of this part of Rochester offers plenty of both, he’s biking to a state of mind. And that state of mind is fueled by coffee and nature.
“You’ve got to earn that cup of coffee. You get your blood pumping, you’ve got make it to the spot, then you’re grinding and boiling and brewing–You’ve woken yourself up along the way and already accomplished so much before what is usually the first thing you do in a day. It just set’s the stage for the rest of the day.”
Mario says, energized, after finally setting that stage on an unseasonably warm and sunny Sunday morning. After a pour-over of the Ugly Duck shop blend is enjoyed beside freshly hatched ducklings and the occasional caterpillar, we pack everything back up and head back to Mario’s studio where he gets to work and we get to asking questions.
JUSTIN: So who are you and what do you do?
MARIO: I try to answer that every single day, to be honest with you. In simple terms, I just consider myself a maker. I love making anything. I specialize in sewing and bag design and certain materials but I really just love making and building. I grew up fiddling with tools and things in the basement - miniature planes and trains.
J: So is the propensity to make fueled by necessity or by desire?
M: I guess my MO is that I’d rather make things than buy them.
J: Yeah man, I hear that. I guess that’s why we had you make the coffee this morning, too…
M: Yeah well you bought that, I made it, we both won!
J: For sure! So - making things is what you do, who are you?
M: Yeah that is who I am at the core. What I do heavily defines who I am.
J: I agree with that
M: I don’t mean that in the sense of--I feel like a lot of people let their job define who they are--but i don’t mean it in that way. I am not how I make my money. I am how I exist in the world - and the interactions I have with people as a result of the things that i have made. Being someone is meaningless if I can’t share those things with others. But yeah, my name’s Mario.
J: Haha - hey Mario. Obviously we started the day with coffee. And coffee is how I met you and a lot of other people in this city. With you sharing things and making things.
M: It’s how I’ve met so many people. I didn’t grow up downtown so I met a large chunk of my close friends and professional contacts over the bar.
J: Yeah - Ugly Duck isn’t where I met you for the first time but I do feel as though it’s where I got to know you. I feel like in customer service, especially, there’s a lot of meeting people but not a lot of getting to know people. That’s different in coffee. I think that’s a result of the craft that goes into what you’re doing.
M: Yeah I think about that all the time. The two main things that I do -- coffee and running my own design studio -- benefit and interplay with one another. 90% of making coffee is social. Conversations and people. It’s hard to be a barista if you’re not a people person. The craft of coffee, for me, comes before the shift starts when I’m dialing things in. The real day starts when I start talking to the regulars and the people that have never been to a shop like ours.
Shop the latest arrivals from Snow Peak
J: You’re also real involved in bike culture. How did your start in coffee and bike culture inform what you’re doing now in the textile world?
M: They have both directly and conceptually impacted that. I got into cycling and coffee at the same time, really. Even in college--I was drawing parallels between cycling and the craft industry all the while working in coffee. The common denominator in all of them is a DIY spirit. Biking is transportation you’re doing yourself, grinding and hand-brewing coffee is doing it yourself, my approach to bags is to do it myself.
J: What made you start doing the bags?
M: I didn’t want to sew at all but I got stuck in this class at RIT. As soon as I dove in - translating 2D design and combining sides and curves to make a 3D functional piece - I was so intrigued and fell down a rabbit hole. My first project was directly informed by cycling. I couldn’t really afford to buy a bag for my bike but I needed one, so I made one.
J: So you did it yourself
M: Yeah. I’ve always been drawn to things that fill a need. So after that, out of a need - I made myself an apron for the coffee shop I was working at, then I started making them for others. Then before I knew it I had made aprons for like half of the local baristas.
J: I think it’s real funny that - when I think about what you’re passionate about - biking, making, coffee - and this career that you’re building for yourself. Not only do biking and coffee influence that because they’ve helped you meet people, but they have also provided reasons for you to create. The first two things you made directly service the other things.
M: Yeah definitely!
J: The title of this series is called Passion Process. It’s focusing on the passions of the people that we are inspired by and the daily activities and processes that help them realize those passions. So with your bag making and your leather working there are these driving forces of inspiration like brewing coffee and biking.
M: Yeah there’s a lot more than just biking and coffee
J: Like what?
M: A huge one is just the interaction with the outdoors. Just being outside. From walks to picnics to mountaineering and hiking. Obviously i’m designing things for those activities but the activities themselves really influence and shape my passion. - this may be a fault of mine but i tend to not be in the sketching phase very long. I tend to work very intuitively. Sometimes the bag is a final product but the inception of an idea wasn’t even a bag but was more focused around a process I wanted to execute. I’ll see something outside or on a map that may inspire a seam that I want to use or another way of making a strap. So a bag is just the vessel for that idea.
Mario in his home studio wearing the Nylon Trek Stand Shirt
J: So the natural world inspires you?
M: Yeah even materials. As of late - natural fibre materials like leather, cotton, wool, and linen have really steered my path.
J: Why do you think that is?
M: Obviously I can’t trace it all the way back but these materials have stories. Where was this cotton grown, the animal has a story and the tannery has a story, the wool has a story. There are so many different levels to it. The smell, the texture, the noise it makes. And I get to make something from there that will then accompany someone along a story they’re telling.
J: Yeah it’s a whole sensory narrative. Even if you weren't using the materials you would still interact with these elements of nature. How would you define the perfect bag?
M: It’s simple, it’s repairable, and it’s maintainable. It develops a relationship with the user. The perfect bag is in a reciprocal relationship with its user. The details change from maker to maker but at the end of the day if you don’t have a symbiotic relationship with it then it’s far from perfect.
J: Like a patina of daily life. Your bag could be dirty as hell, but you can think about where every snag came from, every mark in the leather.
M: Yeah exactly. It chronicles history. The patina is much more than aesthetic but a collection of experiences transcribed. It’s a conversation starter.
J: Right. The bag tells a story, what about the contents?
M: I think the contents say just as much about the person
J: What’s in your bag?
M: Extra layers, hand sanitizer, hand salve because my hands get dry, a book to read, a pencil pouch and sketchbook, water, some snacks. Lately I’ve been trying to bring a camera to document more. A hammock, this sit-pad thing to stay comfy.
J: That’s a lot of stuff
M: What’s that say about me?
J: You make big bags.
J: You put a lot of care into your bags and your bike and your coffee--but I was wondering what role clothing plays in the world you live in?
M: Well I’d love to eventually make more for myself. I made a jacket but I want to make more to wear. I tend to not shop much. If I’m buying a “new” piece of clothing it usually has a very specific function or reason. It’s for specific task or activity-like a lightweight coat for a long bike trip. More often than not I’m buying something that’s vintage or shopping at thrift stores--shoutout Op Shop--because it’s like i get to carry a piece onto its next chapter. I rarely love clothing until it’s been owned, by me or someone else, for a long time.
J: Right - I think a feature in a new piece is narrative in it’s nature, as well. The waterproof zipper was designed for a reason, the placement of a pocket, the articulation in a hood. It’s all a product of experience and research and development.
M: I agree
J: What does a perfect morning sound like to you?
M: It's quiet. I’m waking up in a tent on a bike trip. I stay in the tent for a bit and listen to the birds and the water. I gather my gear for coffee, filter some water from the creek. Grind the coffee, make a cup. And just sit. Then I start a fire and cook breakfast. A perfect morning is peaceful and quiet.
J: And you do it all yourself.
M: That’s right. Then I get right back home to my workshop.
J: Sounds like today.
M: Yesterday sounded like today, too. That’s my favorite part of the story.
You can find Mario on instagram @mariorocchiato.
Video: Robby Houppert
Photo: Adam Zarowny
Editor: Devin Gan
Creative Direction: Justin Dusett