This New Line of DC Travel Bags Pays Homage to Military History With Aviation-Inspired Design

In 2015 Pial and Cesar Vega had just returned from a trip to Mexico where, after picking up leather bags left and right, they got to thinking. The inexpensive, high-quality purses, totes, and suitcases they came back with had quickly become their go-to favorites. 

Cesar, a Chicago native, had some family living in Mexico with contacts in the leather industry. After some research, the couple decided the moment was right to embark on their own business venture. They began designing their own line of travel bags, settling on the name Quavaro.

Olga along with Quavaro founders Pial and Cesar Vega at their factory in Mexico. All images courtesy of Quavaro.

“We spent many months in León, which was the leather capital of the world for many years, developing the designs and finding the right manufacturers,” said Pial.

After commissioning their first set of bags, the two began participating in pop-ups around DC in early 2017, selling their bags in their free time while Pial worked in marketing for CARE USA and Cesar as a consultant for the government. However, the couple dreamt of opening their own store. In November of 2017 they did just that, opening a storefront in a white-painted rowhouse edged with wrought iron on the fringe of Eastern Market at 323 Seventh Street, Southeast.

Our shop ouside
Interior of shop

When it came time to design their full collection of bags, Cesar, who served more than four years in the US Navy, floated the idea of working off of vintage military bag designs, specifically those assigned to aviators. As a child, Cesar had attended air shows with his father, who was also in the military, and marveled at the feats the pilots performed.

“I remember seeing the pilots board their planes with helmet bags. I always thought those were the coolest bags ever,” Cesar said. 

The wools, leathers, and tweeds used to make vintage bags appealed to the Vegas. They worked off traditional materials but incorporated the patterns into more modern, travel-friendly designs. Their current line sports ten different styles, all named after different aircraft, such as the Pelican (based on a toolbag design), Raven (based on a helmet bag), Tomcat, Piper, Goose and Falcon.

Designs in the aviation line range from backpacks to laptop cases to duffels. Most items in the collection are waxed canvas and leather, but a few sport tweed or a wool and felt combination in place of the canvas.

For the Vegas, each detail of their bags has been carefully thought out. They can explain the reasoning behind a seam, a small cut-out, a bit of hardware, but their one goal above all is, as Pial explains, to design for utility.

“We really wanted to do something relatable to traveling in some way,” said Cesar. “Over our own personal travels together, we really found that our bags definitely experienced the journey with us. Each stain or tear had a special memory and took us back to that moment in our travels. We wanted to encourage people to feel the same fondness and memories with what they travel with.”

Cesar and Pial recently decided to push ahead and open their own factory in Mexico, moving the cutting and sewing in-house.

“We love having the ability to create an environment where all artisans are celebrated, highly respected and paid fairly for their decades of experience,” said Pial.

Quavaro323 7th Street SE. Wed-Fri: 11:00am-6:00pm, Sat-Sun: 10:30am-5:30pm.

Editorial Fellow

Kate Cimini is an editorial fellow at Washingtonian who is currently earning her master’s at the Medill School of Journalism. While at Medill she embedded with the Army and Army National Guard, covering relief and recovery efforts in Houston post-Hurricane Harvey. A former sports journalist and photographer, her work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Vice and Vice Sports, the Athletic, and others.