Community

TOM BIHN Bags Create Community

“Community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. The question, therefore, is not ‘How can we make community?’ but ‘How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?'” -Henri Nouwen
 

TOM BIHN Blog - Patti Digh Camel
Photo by Lynn Buckler Walsh on her Moroccan adventure with her TOM BIHN special edition Life is a Verb Camp bag.
 

First there was the photograph of a camel in Morocco onto which an orange TOM BIHN medium cafe bag was secured. If you look closely, you can see a small grey “Life is a Verb” patch sewn onto the bag as it hangs from the camel’s back. Posted by Australian Lynn Buckler Walsh during one of her global adventures, the community of Life is a Verb Campers immediately responded to the shared emblem of our time together. We felt connected because of that bag, and felt a part of Lynn’s Moroccan adventure. In a sense, she took us along with her in that TOM BIHN bag.

Then, photos of the special edition TOM BIHN “Life is a Verb” bags in different colors started showing up from Iceland, Mexico, Ecuador, Paris, Mongolia, and beyond. Photos of bags from meetups of Campers around the world fill the Facebook stream of the Life is a Verb Camp alumni page, sparking the sense of belonging that comes with being part of a community–all from a bag. But not just any bag. And not just a bag, but something larger.
 

TOM BIHN Blog - Patti Digh Satyr
Campers have traveled around the world with their TOM BIHN special edition Life is a Verb Camp bags, and included the rest of the community with photos like this one from Mexico.
 

Since 2013, Life is a Verb Camp has brought together people from across the U.S. and around the world for four days of adventure in the mountains of North Carolina. Since 2014, TOM BIHN has sponsored the conference bags for the Camp, inadvertently and irreversibly creating a symbol of the strong community built around the Camp and its Campers, a signifier of togetherness and commitment, creativity and adventure, an emblem of what Camp is and means.

Life is a Verb Camp was begun as an experiment in community: How can we create a loving, open-hearted, generous, creative, generative community of people who are creative together, who can learn from the diversity in the group and practice being more inclusive, and who support each other through all that life can throw at them? What does it take to nurture giving hearts, to use Henri Nouwen’s language?
 

TOM BIHN Blog - Patti Digh Madrid
Lynn Buckler Walsh on an adventure in Madrid with her TOM BIHN special edition Life is a Verb Camp bags, a way she took Camp and Campers with her on her travels.
 

Now in its sixth year, the lessons of Camp are clear. To build community, you must have a shared vision, shared language, shared signifiers, and, paradoxically, a broken heart.
 

Community Holds a Shared Vision

From the beginning, Camp has focused on Courage, Creativity, Community, and Compassion (including self-compassion). Why? Because it takes courage to be creative; creativity blossoms in bumping up against others in community; being in community builds compassion for self and others; and compassion builds trust, which sparks courage, which helps us be creative, and so on back around the feedback loop.

When I don’t have COURAGE,
I play small and don’t take risks,
Instead, I sabotage my own CREATIVITY by
Minimizing myself and others,
Making it difficult for me to be in COMMUNITY
With COMPASSION,
And when I am alone, I often don’t have COURAGE and….(back to first line and repeat)

When I have COURAGE,
I take risks, am more innovative, and lean into my own
CREATIVITY, which deepens in a diverse
COMMUNITY where
COMPASSION for myself and others thrives,
Creating a community
where I feel the kind of trust that provides me with courage and… (and repeat)

People come to Camp, whether once or every year because they share these values and are actively looking for ways to inhabit them in more significant ways in their life. The people who come to Camp are mothers, fathers, grandparents, teachers, therapists, artists, writers, activists, trainers, musicians, and more. What links them, other than the Camp experience itself–including their TOM BIHN bags–is their attraction to these core values of Camp: Courage, Creativity, Community, and Compassion.

While it is easy for us to sit inside a culture–whether familial, community, organizational, or national–and act as if we are merely visitors to it, Campers know the Camp community is built by everyone there–culture is co-created with every decision and action made or not made. The talents and resourcefulness of Campers is integral to the Camp experience.
 

TOM BIHN Blog - Patti Digh Lovejoys
Where Campers gather (in this case, San Francisco), so do their TOM BIHN Life is a Verb Camp bags.
 

Community Requires a Shared Language Built Over Time

Shortly after the first Camp in 2013, a Camper was experiencing a difficult time in her life and posted about it on Camp’s private Facebook page. Within moments, photographs of other Campers appeared in the comments, each wearing their Camp t-shirt from that year. “Shirt on” became code for “I hear you and am sitting with you through this.” Six years later, “shirt on” remains a way Campers signify care and compassion for others.

As with the shirts, our custom TOM BIHN bags signify community in a similar way. When Campers gather, a photo of their TOM BIHN bags together is a given. In such a way, they have become so much more than bags. In carrying these special Camp bags, Campers know they are carrying a piece of Camp and Campers with them wherever they go. The bag is not just a holder of things, but is also a holder of memories, friendships, and transformational experiences.
 

TOM BIHN Blog - Patti Digh Camp365
Photo by Muse. Some call it #Camp365 because Campers gather throughout the year, always bringing a piece of Camp with them.
 

Community Requires Relaxing Into Relationship

Parker Palmer said it best: “When we treat community as a product that we must manufacture instead of a gift we have been given, it will elude us eternally. When we try to ‘make community happen,’ driven by desire, design, and determination—places within us where the ego often lurks—we can make a good guess at the outcome: we will exhaust ourselves and alienate each other, snapping the connections we yearn for. Too many relationships have been diminished or destroyed by a drive toward ‘community-building’ which evokes a grasping that is the opposite of what we need to do: relax into our created condition and receive the gift we have been given.”

Just as a “search for happiness” ensures that happiness will elude us, so too “engineering” community-building thwarts our deep need for community. For community to happen, a space must be created that is safe enough and challenging enough for people to bump up against one another, build relationship, and share experiences.

Community Requires a Broken Heart

As Parker Palmer also said, “…leadership for community will always break our hearts. Here, ‘breaking your heart’ (which we normally understand as a destructive process that leaves one’s heart in fragments), is reframed as the breaking open of one’s heart into larger, more generous forms…”

To lead a community, the leader must hone their own capacity for connectedness, their own belief in the resourcefulness of any group, their own ability to relax into community rather than engineer it. Their role is to open the space, hold it, deepen it, and create shared experiences that will tie the community together. Campers co-create Camp onsite because they are more than Campers–they are creative leaders themselves.
 

TOM BIHN Blog - Patti Digh Alexandria
Campers Alison Campbell, Susan Lucas, and Jeanne d’Orleans on a meetup in Alexandria, Virginia
 

Community Requires Shared Signifiers

From Morocco to Iceland to Ecuador and beyond, Campers and their TOM BIHN bags see the world and report back to other Campers, posting photos of Camper meetups that simply show all the TOM BIHN bags from Camp, a symbol of community, and an agent of community at the same time. The TOM BIHN bags have become a signifier of the hallmarks of Camp: courage, creativity, community, and compassion.

The signifier is the bag itself. The signified is what it means to Campers–the extra significance it holds because it is representative of a shared, lived experience. It is not just a bag.

Just as the official Camp t-shirts each year have become a symbol of belonging, care, and connection, so have the TOM BIHN bags. As a result of TOM BIHN’s generosity, Campers have started making pilgrimages to the TOM BIHN showroom when in Seattle, and have become TOM BIHN ambassadors around the world. As one does.

Thanks for helping us build community, one great bag at a time, TOM BIHN.
 

TOM BIHN Blog - Patti Digh Decatur
Photo by Muse. Decatur, Georgia, USA.

An Interview with Chef Simoni

Last year, Chef Simoni Kigweba made his TOM BIHN debut in photos of the Moveable Feast shopping bag, and he kindly shared a recipe with us (the now-famous Tomatoes and Bread).  Now he’s busy cooking in Nashville, Tennessee: he’s the executive chef at a new restaurant that will open later this year.

Chef Simoni’s helping us out again this year by modeling The Truck—and he’s also got another recipe up his sleeve, too.  We sat down with the chef to ask him how he learned to cook, his favorite ingredients, and where he spends his Sundays.

You can follow Chef Simoni — and see his latest recipes — on his blog or on Instagram.

TOM BIHN CREW: How would you describe your cooking style?

CHEF SIMONI: I like to think that I enjoy cooking that is simple and elemental, using incredible ingredients local to Nashville and inflecting them with a simple elemental technique (air, water, fire, earth).

TBC: Who taught you how to cook?  Who were some of your major influences as you were developing as a chef?

CS: Loads of people taught me how and why you should cook. Mom, Dad, friends, and brilliant cooks and chefs. As I continue developing my craft I find inspiration in all the chefs I’ve cooked under, as well as Thomas Keller, Jacques Pepin, Marcus Samuelsson, Alice Waters, and Christian Puglisi.

TBC: Were there any foods or dishes you hated as a kid?  Do you feel differently about them now?

CS: Growing up my dad, an immigrant from Burundi, would cook cow stomach that I couldn’t stomach – I don’t know if that’s changed.

TBC: At what kinds of places do you like to eat when you travel?

CS: I love finding regional cuisines specific to different parts of the world wherever I travel. My wife and I love places like Henrietta Red in Nashville, Here’s Looking At You in LA, or a great food hall like Chicago French Market or Liberty Public Market  in San Diego.

TBC: How do you relax on your days off?

CS: Sundays are one of my favorite days to rest. I start with CBS Sunday Morning, go for a run, read the New York Times, then hit up Little’s, a local seafood market, pick out something for supper—usually clams—and then enjoy a meal at home with friends.

TBC: What’s one dish your family and friends always want you to make for them at home?

CS: It probably goes between chocolate chip cookies and waffles. Both are fan favorites.

TBC: What are your guilty pleasures—those things you consume when no one’s looking?

CS: OREOs. It’s a vice and I should know better.

TBC: Is there an underrated or under-used ingredient, flavor, or cooking technique that you think should be better-known?

CS: Blanching and lemons. When cooking most vegetables, the technique of blanching enhances their natural flavors. Lemons…a squeeze goes a long way, whether it’s a sauce, Sunday roast, or on top of a piece of grilled fish.

TBC: What advice can you give to people who are intimidated by cooking?

CS: Start cooking with the simplest technique and ingredient—roasting potatoes or preparing scrambled eggs. Both will equip you with tools enabling you to be more comfortable in the kitchen.
 
 
Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower Steaks with Salsa Macha

Salsa Macha: Adapted from Alex Stupak’s Tacos

Ingredients:
12 dried arbol chiles
2 oz. dried guajillo chiles
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup raw, shelled, unsalted peanuts
2 TBSP sesame seeds
3 garlic cloves
1 cup cider vinegar
1 TBSP salt
2 TBSP honey
 
Method:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast the chiles for 3-4 minutes until fragrant and brown in color.
2. Wearing gloves, remove stems from the chiles and roll them gently to remove the seeds. Discard the seeds.
3. In a 2 quart saucepan, add the oil, seeds, peanuts, and garlic. Toast the ingredients over medium heat until browned.
4. Remove pan from heat. Add the chiles and let steep for 10 minutes.
5. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Add a touch of water to thin if too thick.
 
 
Roasted Cauliflower Steaks

Ingredients:
2 heads cauliflower
2 TBSP grapeseed oil
salt
fresh ground pepper
 
Method:

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. As soon as it reaches 475, place a baking sheet in the oven and heat for 10 minutes.
2. Remove only the toughest outer leaves from the cauliflower. Trim stem to create a flat base. Resting the cauliflower on its stem, cut it in half from top to bottom, creating two lobes with stem attached. Trim the outer rounded edge of each piece to create two 1 1/2 inch thick steaks.
3. Dress the steaks with the oil, salt and pepper.
4. Carefully place the steaks directly on the heated baking sheet and cook for 12-15 minutes until fork tender.
5. Repeat the process with the other head of cauliflower.

 
Assembly

1 sprig parsley, rough chopped
1 spring basil, rough chopped
1 TBSP lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1 TBSP sesame seeds
flake sea salt, such as Maldon

1. Using a spoon, smooth about 1/4 cup of salsa macha evenly over a large platter.
2. Place the roasted cauliflower on top of the salsa.
3. Garnish the cauliflower with parsley, basil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, and sesame seeds.
4. Serve.
 

Recognition for our Crew from Andrew

Thank you all,

I found you after one of the other coaches for my company showed off his Brain Bag while we were traveling to support a new contract. I subsequently managed to grab one of the last few red Synapse 25 specials and its made a huge difference in my daily work. I’m in a suit most of the time and the bag stands out, in an awesome way. It has literally removed pain from my daily commute, and opened a few conversations that became contacts for my next project. The design and immaculate craftsmanship is wonderful. I used to do theatrical costuming and am envious of your ability to make such excellent work of the materials and designs in your hands.

I’m now hooked. I’ve just received my second bag (a Co-Pilot) and am eagerly awaiting the return of the right color of the Aeronaut 45 to place my next order. I’ve got a trip planned for this fall and have rebuilt my itinerary from the ground up to take advantage of the two bags without wheels options. I fully expect to indoctrinate friends and family in the very near future.

You do great work, thank you,
Andrew

The above was sent to factorycrew@tombihn.com

As one might expect, we include a receipt with each bag that we ship from our Seattle factory. On the back of the receipt is the usual useful info plus the following invitation:

Appreciating the fine workmanship of your new bag? Feeling inspired to recognize the talented folks responsible? Here’s your direct line to our production team: factorycrew@tombihn.com

We read emails sent to factorycrew@tombihn.com to everyone at our monthly company meetings. It means a lot to us to be recognized for our efforts: thank you. Know too that it’s something we pay forward in our own day-to-day lives.

Birds, Coffee, and a Limited Edition Cafe Bag

TOM BIHN Limited Edition Cafe Bag for Birds & Beans
The limited edition Birds & Beans Cafe Bag out in the wild.

I grew up on the central coast of California, and remember being particularly excited to see any birds of prey. Mostly I’d see red-tail hawks and sparrow hawks—now called American Kestrels. At the time I didn’t realize that all was not as it should be in the world of raptors; I didn’t know that these were the days when farmers still used DDT, and the paucity of birds of prey was the sad effect of DDT’s biomagnification. Happily DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972, and now these many years later when I return to my old stomping grounds, I see not only my old friends the red-tailed hawks and American Kestrels, but peregrine falcons, ospreys, and bald eagles. Their return is really quite amazing, a testimony that when it comes to wildlife conservation, there is reason for hope.

However, DDT is still used outside the U.S., and habitat loss, light pollution, wind turbines, and feral cats are having devastating impacts on bird populations. With so many challenges, where do we begin? My personal recommendation is to begin as one would with any difficult task: with a strong cup of coffee.

Our friends over at Birds & Beans coffee roasters partner with organic and shade-grown coffee growers in Central America, helping their coffee plantations to not only produce great coffee, but be great bird habitats as well.

Tropical forests in Latin America have been disappearing at an alarming rate for decades. Without these forests as winter refuges, many bird species that migrate to and from North America for the nesting season, like Veeries and night hawks, are suffering dramatic population declines. Traditional shade coffee farming offers a buffer for the loss of these important forests, and scientific studies prove that these types of coffee farms are nearly as good as full forest for the biodiversity that provides both migratory and local birds with the habitats they need to thrive. Organic, shade grown family coffee farms that are Smithsonian-certified as Bird Friendly® are amazing habitats for the birds we love. Indeed, not just birds, but the family farming that supports viable local rural communities in Latin America are under ongoing threat of giving way to large-scale “sun” farms. Sun farms require clear cutting trees and use heavy chemicals to grow coffee, resulting in less work for farming communities. Buying and drinking Bird Friendly coffee such as Birds & Beans helps save birds, family farms, local rural communities and the Earth we all share.

Every bean in every bag of Birds & Beans coffee is certified shade grown, Bird Friendly, USDA Organic and Fair Trade.

To help support the Bird Friendly coffee mission, we made a special edition Small Café bag, available only from Birds & Beans.

TOM BIHN Limited Edition Cafe Bag for Birds & Beans

TOM BIHN supplies Birds & Beans coffee to our production and fulfillment crew here in Seattle. Stop by and we’ll pour you a cup to try.

Some Thoughts for the Prospective Bag Designer

Tom Bihn in the Dave Meeks Bee Barn, Santa Cruz
In my garage, Santa Cruz, circa 1983.

The other day, someone stopped by the factory just as I was leaving – they are learning to design and make bags, and were hoping to look around. I was glad to give them a brief tour and answer some questions. Surprisingly, this request is not that uncommon: we’ve recently had more and more inquiries from people who’d like to start their own bag businesses or become bag designers, and are hoping I might give them some advice or wisdom to help them down their path. Of course, the thing about any map is that, while it can show you where someone else has been, it cannot show you where you’re going to go.

I’ve been very fortunate myself to have had some great mentors along the way, folks who were willing to share their time and their opinions – not so much about the specifics of design or running a bag business, but about business in general, and even more broadly, this bigger thing we call life. Dave Meeks was a big influence, as were many friends, family members and early customers (such as my math teachers Gary Rominger and Randy Smith!)

Tom Bihn Custom Down Jackets
The business card from my days as a student at Aptos Junior High, circa 1972.

Doing my best to be helpful, I first try to dissuade those who want to “follow in my footsteps”: there’s nothing easy about what we do here, and there’s got to be about ten million easier ways to earn a living than by making bags. All that said, if you’re still interested, what follows are a few words of advice, such as they are . . .

Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” Similarly, the best way to find out how to make bags is to make bags.

I’ve been making outdoor equipment since about 1972. I was 11 or 12 years old and I just wanted to spend more time outdoors. I thought all that fancy gear coming out of Berkeley, Boulder, and Seattle was pretty neat, but I was just a kid and all that stuff was a bit expensive. Somewhere in there my parents suggested I try making my own gear. My mom taught me the basics of using a sewing machine, and after that I was just winging it. I started off more or less just copying traditional styles, over time adding my own touches until ultimately I was truly “designing” my own products. I never went to design school; engineering was a bit inherited from my dad and otherwise self-taught, and the aesthetics were largely my own.

Read this book: Light Weight Camping Equipment and How to Make It by Gerry Cunningham

It now seems quaint and somewhat out of date, but it’s a great way to get some basic information about, as the title suggests, how to make your own gear. Gerry Cunningham was the “Gerry” behind the company of that same name, and he had figured out a bunch of stuff already.

Tom in Yosemite
Solo backpacking trip in the back country of Yosemite, 1977. I built the pack hiding behind me; it’s mounted on a classic Kelty external frame.

Learn to sew
Take a class or just get a machine and start tinkering around. Nik (COO/Designer here at TOM BIHN) more or less taught himself to sew over the course of a few months, mentored a bit by Lisa, Fong and myself. It’ll make a world of difference in your designs if you can actually sew them yourself: the cycle of sketch/prototype/test, sketch/prototype/test is so much faster and easier than if you need someone else to make your ideas real. Plus, you might invent a whole new way of making a bag if you do it yourself.

What type of machine, you may ask? I made everything on a walking foot Consew 206RB for years. If you can get one with a servo motor instead of the old clutch drive, you’ll be ahead of the curve as you learn (it’s sort of the difference between an automatic and a stick shift in a car: especially in the learning phase, you’ve got enough other things to distract you).


My Consew 206RB is still in use in our Seattle factory.

Start small. Don’t quit your day job. Not yet, anyway.
Times have changed and this advice may not be as relevant, but here goes: I attribute part of the success of this business to the fact that I had modest expectations and never planned to make a lot of money making bags. For years I held down other jobs and made bags on the side, renting a loft above my friend’s garage for almost a decade while I developed my designs and learned to run my own business.

Tom's letter of recommendation
A letter of recommendation from the Frick winery. I had over 30 jobs before I officially started my own business.

Listen to everyone’s advice, but take little of it.
Everyone will give you their opinion about what you make. It’s important to pay attention to this feedback: after all, the idea is not to just make bags for yourself. But it’s also good to develop a filter that helps you sort through all the opinions before they confuse and sidetrack your own vision.

Remember as well that your designs and skills will evolve: there’s always more to learn from yourself, your critics, your supporters, and often by just watching people use their bags.


I (most of the time) welcomed the feedback of friends and family who used my packs on their hikes and travels. Here, Brooke wears the Sack of Spuds backpack.

And perhaps most importantly…
Though it might just remain an avocation rather than a full-time career, if you love making things, don’t give up. Had Etsy been around when I was starting off, you can bet I would have had an Etsy store. What cooler way to to see what people like and don’t like than to offer your ideas for sale to the whole world?

While living in a loft above a friend’s garage is perhaps a bit glamorous at age 20 or 30 (as opposed to age 50), there were plenty of times I thought about getting a “real job”. I’m glad I didn’t. And frankly, I’d rather still be living in that loft than doing something for work I didn’t really enjoy.

TOM BIHN Crew
Look at us now: we’re a company of 47 people all working together under one roof here in Seattle. We made it. And you might, too.

Recognition for Our Crew from Henrietta

Thank you to all the hands and hearts that went into repairing my bag for me. I love this bag so much. I wear it everyday no matter where I go. Without it my entire body rhythm was off.

I am proud to know that hard working people make and repair bags that they take pride in. So everyone – mail handlers, admins, folks that sew, wash, fold, package, add handles, sweep the factory floor, clean the break room, pay the light bill, show kindness to co-workers, to all of you I salute you.

most sincerely,
Henrietta

The above was sent to factorycrew@tombihn.com

As one might expect, we include a receipt with each bag that we ship from our Seattle factory. On the back of the receipt is the usual useful info plus the following invitation:

Appreciating the fine workmanship of your new bag? Feeling inspired to recognize the talented folks responsible? Here’s your direct line to our production team: factorycrew@tombihn.com

We read emails sent to factorycrew@tombihn.com to everyone at our monthly company meetings. It means a lot to us to be recognized for our efforts: thank you. Know too that it’s something we pay forward in our own day-to-day lives.

Libraries Endure

It’s true: these days many questions can be answered through an internet search. In spite of this, libraries endure.

Not only do they have a transformative effect on individuals and society, libraries themselves have evolved over the years to keep pace with changes in how people seek and use information. What remains constant: the library makes access to knowledge available to all. It’s still the place to head when searching for deep understanding of a given subject.

Libraries hold the many strands of human history, and the mysteries of the world as it was before we came along. They’re portals through which we can step into the shoes of explorers and scientists, brigands and baseball heroes. For so many of us, the library was where we realized that places existed beyond the realm of our experience, and where we kindled our ambitions to travel.

April is a fitting month for this little homage to the library. In the United States, April is School Library Month and also when National Library Week is observed (2018 is its 60th anniversary!). Over this month, libraries across the country and around the world will celebrate and promote library use, recognize the work of library and information professionals, and acknowledge the important role libraries play in community life.

We should also feel free to support our libraries the other 11 months of the year by using our local branch, or through volunteer work or financial donations. (At TOM BIHN, we’ve donated over a hundred Daylight Backpacks to rural and tribal libraries.)

It’s also worth considering a visit to a library when you travel. In addition to books and periodicals, many libraries contain galleries or archives, and some have troves of artifacts from the past. Some host traveling exhibits. And some are worth visiting simply to marvel at their architectural beauty. You may have to whisper, but libraries endure because they provide a glimpse into a community’s daily life that’s unlike any other.

Here are some fun library factoids—share, discuss, and dispute in the Comments.

Northernmost library in the 50 states: Tuzzy Consortium Library, Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska

Southernmost library in the 50 states: Naalehu Public Library, Big Island, Hawaii

Westernmost library in the 50 states: Unalaska Public Library, Alaska

Easternmost library in the 50 states: Peavey Memorial Library, Eastport, Maine

Largest library (in terms of number of holdings) in America—and the world!: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Smallest library in America: The Book Booth, Clinton Corner, New York. With dimensions of 3’ x 3’ x 8’, it’s housed in a retired British phone box and has room for two people. It’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

American library with the biggest books: Kansas City Central Library, Missouri. Okay, they’re not real books, but the library’s parking garage is decorated with 25-foot tall book spines. Titles were nominated by locals and 42 were selected.

American library with the fewest number of books: Haskell Free Library and Opera House, Derby Line, Vermont. This library straddles the U.S./Canada border. It has a collection of 20,000 books, but all of them are on the Canadian side.

Sketchiest library: Brooklyn Art Library, New York, the repository for the Sketchbook Project, containing over 35,000 sketchbooks by artists from around the world.

Seattle library with the craziest exterior: Central Library.

Seattle library with the coolest interior (and our featured image): The reading room of Suzzallo Library, University of Washington.

New Passport Pouches

Passport Pouch that fits four passports

We’ve increased the size of our original Passport Pouch so that it fits passports in protective plastic sleeves, thick passports with many pages, or as many as four passports—without making it too big to comfortably wear cross-body or around one’s waist. (The Passport Pouch can also simply be stowed inside of a bag.)

The previous dimensions of the Passport Pouch were 5.0″ (w) x 6.3″ (h) / 125 mm (w) x 160 (h).
The dimensions of the new Passport Pouch are 5.5″ (w) x 7.1″ (h) / 140 (w) x 180 (h) mm.

We also now offer our Passport Pouch in two versions:

Passport Pouch, Standard
A simple, straight-forward and well-made passport pouch, it gets the job done well. $22. Ships by April 13th.

Passport Pouch, RFID Blocking
Underneath its interior lining of Aether fabric, this version features a layer of a special metalized fabric that will effectively block detection or reading of RFID chips. $25. Ships by around late April.

You can sign up on the Passport Pouch page to be notified via email the moment either version of the Pouch is ready to ship.

Many thanks to Walker, Artdime, pammy, Cristina, and  habanero for providing feedback in the Forums about our Passport Pouch sizing.

Passport Holder by TOM BIHN

Passport and Document Wallet

Portable Culture Portrait: Mausermama

Our Portable Culture Portrait blog series features TOM BIHN Forum members, the bags they carry, and the items they carry in their bags. It’s inspired by our Portable Culture tagline. This edition features Forum member Mausermama. The previous editions featured Forum members platisc, ceepee, sea_otter3, NWHikerGal, widepipe, Rocks, JonC, cdh, Badger, haraya, imahawki, Amy, Perseffect, jujigatame and bchaplin.

Portable Culture Portrait Mausermama TOM BIHN Blog

What’s the most useful item that you carry?

That’s a very challenging question for me! I guess if I had to distill it down to one item, it would be the key strap as paired with the magical o-ring. As a child, I frequently heard my parents tell me, “You’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached.” They were right. It seems until I found TOM BIHN, I was always misplacing one item or another, usually my keys.

I’m a longtime knitter, and I first read about TOM BIHN and the Swift through the Knitty online knitting magazine. It sounded like a great bag, reliably sturdy and intelligently designed, and it had these things called o-rings. I especially liked that it’s a domestic company that pays its workers a living wage. I was intrigued, but the price tag made me hesitate for a couple of years (I can be slow sometimes). Eventually I pulled the trigger, but it was on a different bag, the Imago. I ordered it along with an extra key strap. When it arrived, I loaded my knitting and EDC items into it and discovered something wonderful. I no longer left my keys or wallet behind because they were now tethered. What I gained by buying that bag was not just a fabulous bag, but extra time in my day and peace in my life. From that point, I became a TOM BIHN convert.

Portable Culture Portrait Mausermama TOM BIHN Blog

I eventually did buy a Swift (and a lot of other TB bags and accessories), but the Imago and those awesome key straps and o-rings paved the way. I really love how modular they make the entire TOM BIHN system. I don’t have to be married to any one particular bag. It only takes a few seconds to slide my basics out of one bag and into another. Case in point, my Maker’s Bag Freudian Slip. It travels from my Swift to my Maker’s Bag to my Pop Tote effortlessly.

Portable Culture Portrait Mausermama TOM BIHN Blog

What’s your most treasured item?

I’ll break it down into non-TOM BIHN and TOM BIHN categories. For non-TOM BIHN, I think I would have to say my wedding ring. This upcoming spring my husband and I will have been married for twenty-five years. We married young and have been married for more than half of our lives. To me my ring is a tangible symbol of our love and commitment to each other. A close second would be my mother’s wedding ring. I lost her a few years ago, and my father gave me her wedding ring. They were married for forty-six years. When I look at her ring, I’m reminded of the love they shared in their time together.

My most treasured TOM BIHN item would have to be my Imago. It’s a lovely Navy/Cork/Wasabi combination, and every time I carry it, it makes me smile. Sadly, I don’t carry it as often as I used to because cross body bags are physically a little harder on me these days. Instead I tend to favor either my Luminary, Synapse 19, or the new Pop Tote (my new favorite bag, by the way!). I love the Pop tote because it is reminiscent of the Swift, but it’s lighter and zips closed.

Which item do you use more often than you thought you would?

Oh, that’s an easy question! Definitely my Travel Trays. It started with one and has quickly blossomed into several, each in a different color. I bought it because so many people on the forums raved about them, but I didn’t really see the appeal. Then I got it and plopped in my yarn and tools. Voila! It was another way to keep me organized and from losing knitting tools like stitch markers, cable needles, etc. My “obsession” with Travel Trays has grown. I now have at least one in most of the rooms of my house. My office boasts two: one to catch loose change and other pocket detritus, and the other to keep track of my stapler, binder clips, lip balm, tape, paper clips, and what-have-you.

Portable Culture Portrait Mausermama TOM BIHN Blog

I have three in my bedroom. One holds my essential oils, another keeps my watch, rings, fitness tracker, and phone in one spot for the next day. The other, alas, catches junk that I should put away but don’t. Once a week or so I take it around the house and put everything back where it belongs.

Travel Trays have become my go-to gift for birthdays and Christmas. I love their price point, and people who receive them always tell me how much they love and use them. They’re cheery and colorful organizers. I doubt I’m done collecting them, either. There’s always something else I can corral.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am finishing up educating my three children, who I homeschooled from the beginning. My oldest is in college double majoring in English and Philosophy. My middle kiddo is graduating this spring. He wants to major in computer science. My youngest is starting dual enrollment this January. She’s currently in her sophomore year. Eventually she hopes to work either in veterinary medicine or as a park ranger in our national parks system.

Now that I don’t have to spend quite as much time with my children teaching, I spend my time teaching other students. I tutor students with dyslexia using a special Orton-Gillingham program called Barton Reading and Spelling. Additionally, I work virtually for the Institute for Excellence in Writing in a number of rolls. I am the content editor of their blog, one of their homeschool educational consultants, and a moderator on their forums. When I’m not doing those things, I teach high school composition and literature to a small group of homeschooled students.

Portable Culture Portrait: platisc

Our Portable Culture Portrait blog series features TOM BIHN Forum members, the bags they carry, and the items they carry in their bags. It’s inspired by our Portable Culture tagline. This edition features Forum member platisc. The previous editions featured Forum members ceepee, sea_otter3, NWHikerGal, widepipe, Rocks, JonC, cdh, Badger, haraya, imahawki, Amy, Perseffect, jujigatame and bchaplin.

Portable Culture Portrait platisc TOM BIHN Blog
platisc with his Small Shop Bag + A30 (with Absolute Shoulder Strap)

What’s the most useful item that you carry?

Bellroy’s Phone Pocket is something that continuously satisfies me. It’s a combo phone case and wallet that often houses quick-grab documents like receipts or tickets. It’s a beautiful accessory that I enjoy holding in hand as much as tossing into the sling-accessible side pocket of my S19 or into the bottle pocket of my shop bag. I operate a small inn, so my work follows me onto sandy beaches and dusty trails long after I depart the office. I’m constantly in and out of this thing for my phone, responding to guest needs or inquiries, so I’d be hard-pressed to find something more useful outside of the phone itself. Carrying the device that keeps me connected, along with all my cash, coin and documents for the day has to qualify this piece as my most useful. Plus, it’s just always nice when the repetitive motions of everyday duties can be pleasant interactions.

What’s your most treasured item?

Over the past few years, I’ve developed a strange relationship with all of my material possessions. As minimalism and the art of de-cluttering have gained traction, my own goods have continuously been pared down in a quality-over-quantity ideal. As a result, I feel that mostly everything that I do own and use brings me great joy each time I reach for it – and if it doesn’t, I’ll start debating an upgrade! This leaves me in a space where I feel grateful for everything that I have, but don’t necessarily favor or treasure one thing over another. There is no pocket-watch that’s been handed down from generations, or secret diary that makes its way onto every trip (though I do journal quite often). My old Smart Alec kickstarted this philosophy (like any great backpack can), as the great thing that carried my things. It was my best friend, and accompanied me through many countries and great adventures, as I strived to fill it with contents that could match its subtle beauty and durability. Now, for the sake of picking a single item (outside of my Aeronaut 30 which is another best-friend type bag), I’d say my Outlier Slim Dungarees. I’ve always valued comfort and function in my clothing, even as a kid who complained that my jeans were restricting. I’ve worn my Slim Dungaree pants and felt comfortable and confident on airplanes, to formal meetings, at work, in the ocean, on the basketball court and beyond. Like my bags and gear, I don’t have much clothing, but the garments I do have definitely don’t restrict me anymore, and all follow the “Be Prepared” motto that I try to still live by.

Which item do you use more often than you thought you would?

My Small Shop Bag. I wrote a bit of a love-letter post when I received it because it instantly exceeded my expectations. For over a year, my Small Shop Bag functioned as my EDC bag, and it rested perfectly in my bicycle’s trunk to and from work. Now, its days are a bit more varied. I use it to transport large items like my tongue drum or a basketball. It’s always with me on trips to make ends meet if I overpack, purchase anything additional, or just want quick-access items under my airplane seat. Fearless, durable, and easily cleaned, it never ceases to surprise me – like when it happily smuggles in pizza slices to my local outdoor cinema. It’s now most often (and gloriously so) a beach bag, carrying with ease my phone, wallet, goggles, blanket, snacks + water, nook and more. It seems to hold whatever I need with a minimal footprint, and if/when not in use, it packs into a large Q-Kit perfectly. It’s just a bag that I love looking at and have used in so many different ways on all sorts of unexpected occasions. Love it.

Tech and Accessories

Portable Culture Portait: platisc TOM BIHN Blog

  • 11” Macbook Air (in vertical cache, stowed in A30 backpack strap pocket)
  • Nook GlowLight (in pouch)
  • Medium Double Organizer Pouch (used for travel documents, receipts, etc.)
  • USA /EU USB adapters, micro usb plug, lightning charger, Anker portable battery (inside a small Q-Kit)
  • Assorted toiletries – thumbs up for Schmidt’s Deodorant and essential oils (inside a size 6 stuff sack)
  • Bellroy Phone Pocket (phone, wallet, quick-documents), Bellroy Key Cover, Apple headphones, Moleskine notebook, Person sunglasses (inside Navy parapack Side Effect)
  • Assorted toolset (often a multi-tool like a leatherman, this trip happened to have this set)

*NOTE* – Not pictured but typically packed is a stacked First Aid Kit inside TOM BIHN’s First Aid Pouch)

Clothing

Portable Culture Portrait platisc TOM BIHN Blog

  • Mission Workshop Orion jacket (inside a Pocket Travel Pillow)
  • 2x Outlier Mojave Pivot short-sleeve shirt
  • Outlier Air Forged Oxford
  • 2x Outlier Runweight Merino Tee
  • Outlier Ultralight Track Jacket
  • Outlier Futureworks
  • Outlier Slim Dungarees
  • Outlier New Way Shorts
  • Outlier Ultrafine Merino Magnetic Bandana

*NOTE*: pictured is a Medium eBags packing cube. I’ve since upgraded to TOM BIHN’s Aeronaut 30 Packing Cube Backpack, which I love.

Everything In Its Case

Portable Culture Portrait platisc TOM BIHN Blog

About Me

Home is where the bags go. I’m a Brooklyn born self-employed traveler at heart who currently operates a small inn on the island of Santorini, Greece. I make a point to love where I live, wherever I may be, and I find this easier to do so by bringing along only the gear and bags that I deem necessary to pick up and go. Everything (material) that I love and need fits into my bags, and so the philosophy of being able to pack and move at any notice keeps an adventurous fire underneath my feet, even though I adhere to the daily responsibilities of running a business. Winter months you’ll find me back in the birthplace of New York City and far beyond – taking my bags to new lands, seeing how they react to different environments and unexpected scenarios (my favorite). I have many friends, family, and a loving partner, and they all tease me about my relationship with my bags. I just hope I never lose the love I have for such reliable companions. A special thanks to Brooklyn-based Outlier for building unfailing clothing of radical quality, and of course to the TOM BIHN crew and community for creating such thoughtful and dependable designs for everyday living and beyond.

News Briefs

The Guide’s Edition Synapse 25, The Truck, and Small and Large Zip-Top Shop Bags will be available for pre-order on 09/10 with an estimated shipping date of late October. Sign up on on any of the linked product pages to be notified the moment the bags are made available for pre-order.

New color of ultralight Aether fabric = Northwest Sky = new Packing Cubes. Sign up on the Aeronaut 30, Aeronaut 45, Tri-Star and Western Flyer Packing Cube pages to be notified when they’re stocked and ready to ship.

The Pre-Order window for The Truck, Small + Large Zip-Top Shop Bags and Original Small Shop Bag has closed. Our factory will now begin making the pre-ordered bags. All but the Original Small Shop Bag (due to low numbers ordered) will be made available for pre-order once again in September.

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