While traveling in the UK in the early 1970's, Marley and Linda Hodgson found themselves at an estate auction. Among this stranger's many worldly possessions, one collection stood out: a rare collection of leather boots, belts, and backpacks.
"I was struck by the condition [of the items]," says Marley. "I mean, these things were more than 50 years old."
In fact, this collection was nearly 100 years old and had served as campaign gear for its original owner, a British Ghurka commander stationed in India. Yet despite its age, the leather remained supple, sturdy and full of character.
Though the Hodgsons were outbid on the items, they didn't walk away empty-handed.
"I ended up getting the tanning formula from a descendent of the person who made the leather for all the Ghurka officers," says Marley.
The Hodgsons brought this chemical-free formula back to the States and promptly worked to recreate the look and feel of the 100-year-old gear. In 1974 they founded Ghurka and produced the first Ghurka bag: the Express No. 2.
"The brand as we created it wasn't trendy," says Marley. "We expected it to last forever."
The Express No. 2, and all the bags that followed, were heavily inspired by the bags of their namesake, Ghurka soldiers. These Nepalese recruits served in the British Army, the Indian Army, pacific nations, the UN Peace Keeping force and other war zones around the world, and had a reputation for their indomitable spirits and their fearlessness. Former Indian Army Chief of Staff Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw once said that "if a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Ghurka."
Today, the unchanged Express No. 2 is still among Ghurka bag's top sellers, proving its design to be as timeless as intended.
In fact, Ghurka products are known to get better with age.
"Bags seemed to get more beautiful the more they were worn,"says Marley. "A lot of men I've met over the years actually prized the bag more the older it got. The more beat up. The more it looked like they'd carried the bag around the world five times."
The design of the Express No. 2 is just one aspect of Ghurka's enduring quality. If you take a closer look, you'll find a decades-long tradition of consistency throughout the company. Artisans still work at the original Ghurka factory in Norwalk, Connecticut. Some of those artisans themselves are from the original crew: Factory Foreman Luis Huerta has been with Ghurka since its very beginning. Still, after more than 40 years of crafting bags, he still takes immense pride the craftsmanship, quality, and purpose of Ghurka.
"People who appreciate quality will get attached very easily to a Ghurka bag," says Huerta. "You know that it's quality that will last for a lifetime. You'll pass it to your grandchildren."
Ghurka sees the bag through its entire production process, and each and every bag is handcrafted with the careful attention to detail and passion for the product by longtime artisans like Huerta. To them, Ghurka is much more than a bag, and the creation process is much more than manufacturing.
"It's like a puzzle, piece by piece. And at the end, you have a piece of art," says Huerta.
And this careful craftsmanship isn't simply skin deep. As Marley intended, these bags are made to last.
"We use materials that are beautiful, but functional," Marley says.
Ghurka's leather is never pretreated to remove flaws, so artisans use only the most naturally perfect hides available. They're typically produced from French calfskin, which has a finer grain and softer feel than traditional cowhide. As since two skins are identical, each and every Ghurka product has an individual character.
This uniqueness is an integral to Ghurka's brand, and each bag is identified with its own registration number. The bags' inner lining features Ghurka's signature plaid, another small and subtle touch that sets the brand apart.
Plus, with interior pockets abound, the bags are ideal for helping you stay organized while you travel. They're designed and made to enhance your travels, and enhance your life.
Today, 40 years after Marley began his journey into the world of bag making, it seems that Ghurka's legacy of timelessness has proven to be just as enduring as its bags.