Company

Pre-Order, The Truck, Zip-Top Shop Bags, Original Small Shop Bag

There’s lots of news and information to share, so let’s get right to it.

New Pre-Order System

This debut’s offerings — The Truck, Large Zip-Top Shop Bag, Small Zip-Top Shop Bag, and Original Small Shop Bag — will be available for pre-order on July 24th with an estimated ship date of early September. All four bags will ship on the same day. Each bag will be available for pre-order from July 24th until July 31st OR until the maximum production batch quantity sells out.

Those of you who’ve known us for a while know that we used to offer new designs for pre-order. The world (and our shopping cart system) have changed since then and there’s a few key differences in the new pre-order system: first, your credit card will be charged for the full amount when you place your pre-order, and second, you’ll be able to add In-Stock bags to your open Pre-Order up until two days before your order ships.

We expect you’ll have a lot of questions about pre-orders and have done our best to answer those in a mini-FAQ on each pre-order product page and in the two blog posts linked below. As always, you’re welcome to give us a call, live chat us, or emailus@tombihn.com if you have additional questions.

Pre-Orders: Frequently Asked Questions

You don’t need to read this FAQ to place a Pre-Order: it’s a pretty straight-forward process, so just go for it if that’s what you’d like to do.

If you’d like to know in advance everything there is to know about Pre-Orders, here you go! Below is a list of questions that we anticipated might be asked. If you have a question that wasn’t answered here, feel free to emailus@tombihn.com.

  1. Can you give me a quick summary of how pre-order works?
  2. How do you define “pre-order”?
  3. When is my credit card charged for a pre-order?
  4. Can I ask you for updates on the progress of my pre-order?
  5. Can I cancel my pre-order and receive a refund?
  6. Can I return the bag that I pre-ordered once I receive it?
  7. Can I change the color of the bag I pre-ordered?
  8. I’ve placed a pre-order that will ship in 2-8 weeks. Can I add bags to that existing pre-order?
  9. I placed a pre-order and it shipped earlier than expected! Nice. How’d that happen?
  10. Will all new designs be introduced for pre-order?
  11. What’s the best way to be notified once a new design is available for pre-order?
  12. Can you accept pre-orders (backorders) for stock items?
  13. Hey, didn’t you used to offer backorders and pre-orders up until three or four years ago?
  14. Is it possible for a pre-order to “sell out”?
  15. How long will a pre-order be open?
  16. If a pre-order sells out, when will you offer the next pre-order?
  17. Why can’t you make enough bags to satisfy all pre-orders?
  18. How, and when, does a pre-order design become a stock design?
  19. When a bag is offered for pre-order, will there be any distinction made between limited run and stock items? That is, will it be clear which items will only be offered for a limited time, vs. those you expect to have on hand for the foreseeable future?
  20. Will the color options for pre-orders be the same as a regular run? For example, say I really want Bag X in Steel/Iberian, but the pre-order colors don’t include that combo. Can I find out if the regular run will have it?
  21. What’s all this about some retired designs possibly being offered for pre-order at a later time?

Pre-Orders: Past, Present, and Future

In this post, we share some of our thoughts on and the history of how we’ve offered pre-orders over the years. If you want to get straight to the nuts and bolts of how pre-orders work now, see our Pre-Orders: Frequently Asked Questions post.

The Past

For the longest time (something like 2001-2015) we accepted backorders for existing designs and pre-orders for new designs on our website. Our choice to accept backorders and pre-orders was important to our growth over those years and there were other benefits as well: notably, we could plan our production schedule around the bags that we already had orders for (as opposed to forecasting what bags we might get orders for).

Around 2015, we stepped back from our daily operations to reflect on our past, present, and future. We tore down some walls, turned our focus towards some key procedural improvements, and evaluated the impact of various small — but important — efficiency improvements we had implemented in our production department over the past couple of years.

One of the major changes we decided to make was to no longer offer pre-orders of new designs or backorders of existing designs. Three of the main reasons behind this decision were: the combination of greater efficiency and the hiring of a few new talented personnel in our production department meant that our production capacity had significantly increased; we were outgrowing our current website and the options that looked the best to us didn’t allow us to accept pre-orders and backorders as we previously had; we were finally outgrowing what had been a pretty darn good system for managing backorders. Eliminating pre-orders and backorders was an easy way we could reduce complexity — without, at that point in time, reducing a significant benefit to our customers.

The Present

Flash forward to 2018. Our production department is still hecka efficient. We’ve continued to occasionally add a new crew member to our factory — but only when we were certain we could devote the full attention and significant amount of time it takes to train a new crew member to Lisa and Fong’s exacting standards. Over the past few years, we designed and programmed our own inventory and production management software and inventory scanning/tracking system, rebuilt nearly our entire website on a new platform, and reviewed, improved and documented all fulfillment related procedures. That’s all in addition to new designs and new fabrics.

We’re in a good place. So good that we think we might’ve just found our happy place. Our company is now comprised of 47 people: not too big and not too small. We don’t have any plans to aggressively pursue or promote growth at the rate we experienced in previous years, but demand for our bags continues (something we never take for granted).

This year, we retired more designs than ever before, as had been the plan for a while: a smart decision, perhaps, but one that often didn’t feel that great (sometimes, as an artiste is prone to do, we disparage our own work and wish it would disappear — but more often, designs that have been a part of our line for years just become part of the family).

We also found ourselves — dare we say it — a bit restless in our good place, in our good fortune. Amongst Tom and Nik’s various designs are those that we look at and wonder — “Would anyone find this useful?” Or, we might find ourselves with the opportunity to purchase a smaller quantity of a very cool fabric or color — not enough to offer a significant number of bags in, but perhaps just a production run.

As Nik trained Mike to manage finished goods ordering, we reminisced about the days when we placed some finished goods orders based on what had already been purchased. It was more of a sure thing to order what we knew was already wanted — and the entire crew enjoyed knowing they were making bags for specific people who already couldn’t wait to get them.

Those three considerations and subsequent conversations — the sadness related to retiring designs, the excitement of offering small or limited edition runs, and the efficiency and connection to customers inherent in ordering already-purchased bags — led us back to pre-orders.

In 2018, pre-orders are much different than they used to be. Nearly all payment gateways worth their salt (read: won’t crash during the holidays) don’t allow authorizations that last longer than a few days. That means we must immediately charge the full amount for any pre-ordered item. That this makes us hesitate in the day and age of Kickstarter is probably a little laughable and points to our Pa Ingalls sensibilities when it comes to money and debt. But hesitate we did, until we were convinced that it’s normal. Plus, we would, of course, gladly refund someone’s money and cancel their pre-order at any point in the process.

Read our Pre-Orders: Frequently Asked Questions to learn more about the specifics of how our new pre-order system will work — at least for our next debut…

The Future

“Change is the only constant in life.”

“The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny – it is the light that guides your way.”

Heraclitus

 

(Okay, that last quote has nothing to do with this post — we just thought it was pretty cool.)

While we have planned, documented, and tested down to the most minute, most boring detail the internal logistics of our first pre-order debut, we are leaving open the possibility that there is much we will learn once the rubber hits the road.

Perhaps pre-orders won’t be all they were cracked up to be — for you guys, or for us internally. Or maybe we’ll be really glad we did all of this. We’ll have to see. In any event, your feedback throughout the process of the pre-order debut is essential: feedback@tombihn.com

We even dare to say your feedback is required. What isn’t a requirement, but something we generously receive nonetheless, is your support. Whether that support is demonstrated through constructive criticism, appreciation, or recognition of individual efforts, it’s always seen and absorbed (though not always acted upon).

The next design debut after this one may or may not be a pre-order debut. If it is a pre-order debut, certain aspects may be changed. You’ve been warned by us — and Heraclitus.

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 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 M.F.

Hello Tom Bihn Crew:

I want to recognize those on the production team that create these wonderful bags. I ordered and received a Tri-Star last week.

It is one thing to read and review a product online, but it is another to have it in hand. The materials that compose the bag are enough to differentiate it from competitors; yet, it’s the quality craftsmanship that truly sets it apart. Time and effort are exemplified in its build quality, and I am honored to carry this product with me everyday (and for years to come). You all should be very proud of your work!

In short, thank you!
Consider me a customer for life. (^.^)

Warm regards,
M.F.

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.

Farewell to the Field Journal Notebook

TOM BIHN | The Field Journal Notebook Returns

Back in 2015 we made the decision to retire a number of designs including the Field Journal Notebook. And then, in 2016, we announced its return. Now, in 2018, we are once again retiring the Field Journal Notebook. This decision was made partly because of two materials supply related reasons: first, the Field Journal Notebook’s three-ring binder mechanism is no longer available, and second, the cost of the specially-produced-just-for-us FJN paper inserts/refills have gone up by a substantial amount that we’d rather not pass on to you.

And so here we find ourselves once again: the Field Journal Notebook is retiring and this time it’s for good. The currently available Field Journal Notebooks, accessories, and paper refills are the last of their kind. No more final batches will be made. (Go here to see the Field Journal Notebook and its accoutrements all in one place.)

Those of you who already own or plan to purchase a Field Journal Notebook may be wondering where you can find paper refills from here on out. The Field Journal Notebook accepts paper that is 5.5 x 8.5” which isn’t a terribly common size but not too rare. Here’s some paper refill options that can be obtained through Amazon:

Avery Mini Filler Paper, 5.5 x 8.5 Inches
Bright White 24lb Bond 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ Sheets
Ampad Graph-Ruled Refill Sheets

In addition, unpunched Half Letter or A5 (different but fairly similar sizes) paper can be acquired and an industrious person could make their own custom pages (or find one that works for them on sites like Etsy) and use a Mini 3-hole punch such as this one by Staples or an adjustable punch such as this one by Swingline to print and punch their own replacement pages.

Finally, there have been some helpful discussions about this on the forums, such as the Where to Buy FJN Insides, Field Journal Notebook Hole Spacing, and Field Journal Notebook threads, all of which are worth a look if you’re interested in more information about planners and hole punching for the Field Journal Notebook.

Many thanks goes out to our volunteer Forum Moderators moriond and Ilkyway for the links / information / tips referenced in this blog post.

And, as always… if you have questions about any of this, emailus@tombihn.com or give us a call at 1-800-729-9607 or 1+206-652-4123.

The Hats Knitted for the TOM BIHN Crew

Hats knitted by the TOM BIHN Ravelry group for the TOM BIHN Crew

Every year, the TOM BIHN Ravelry group knits wearable gifts for our crew. Some years the wearables have been scarves or gloves, and this year it was hats. We know a thing or two about materials and quality craftsmanship, and we’re in awe of what the group makes for us.

From all of us here at TOM BIHN to the TB Ravelry Group: thank you! The wearables you make for us are a big part of our annual holiday party, and everyone looks forward to choosing an item. Special thanks goes to Annie, a knitter and Ravelry member local to Seattle who coordinates the whole effort and delivers the knitted items. (Annie is also the person who knitted G.I. Joe’s hat — see below.)

Below are just a few of the photos; click through to read the whole post and see all 40-or-so (we lost count) photos of the hats and our crew.

Hand-knitted hats for the TOM BIHN crew made by the TOM BIHN Ravelry Group
(Yes, there’s a story behind this.)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

From all of us at TOM BIHN: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Here’s a few photos from last week’s holiday party at the factory. You may be asking: what’s up with all of the beautiful knitted hats? Each year the TOM BIHN Ravelry group knits hats for our entire crew. We’ll post more hat photos next week — stay tuned!

TOM BIHN Bags Holiday Party 2017
Happy Holidays to all of you from all of us!

Tom’s Simplified and (nearly) Painless 2017 Holiday Gift Guide

Tom Bihn Listening to Audibooks While Designing

Much has been said and written about giving gifts that are not things, and about how experiences ultimately mean more to us than stuff. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve observed that more than ever before, I cherish time spent with family and friends, travel to new and old places, fresh air, wildlife, and nature more than a garage full of objects. With that in mind, I’ve in years past given movie, concert or opera tickets as gifts, or even a gift certificate for a massage or kayak rental. So far, so good.

As we set out to create a 2017 version of our Bags and Beyond Gift Guide, we realized we couldn’t improve much on the list of things already in it, and that some of us were giving other types of gifts this year – food, drink, experiences, and…. books.

I am very fond of books and I’ve begun to give them as gifts. The thing of a book is often more the experience of reading it than the possession of it. Coffee table books of art, wildlife, and photography, as well as illustrated works like Eric Sloan’s A Reverence for Wood or Roger Jean Segalat’s How Things Work series, (and yes of course graphic novels, my dear friend Erin the librarian) are exceptions.

My advice this year is: if you feel compelled to give a gift that is a thing, find your way to your local bookstore and buy books. If you see nothing there that seems appropriate to the person on your list, or if you’re like me and everything looks wondrous and beguiling, gift certificates are there for you. Shopping remotely for an out-of-towner? Go to Indie Bookstore Finder and then call the bookstore closest to your friend and buy a gift certificate. Seriously consider the local bookstore rather than the easy way out of online shopping — remember, if you don’t support your local bookstore, it may not be there the next time you look.

Now, back to where I was headed with this…

These past few years I’ve become rather addicted to audio books. I listen when I drive, while I do housework, and even in my studio as I’m working on a new design. I listened to 57 hours of Sherlock Holmes while designing The Hero’s Journey (though I guess I really ought to have been listening to Joseph Campbell); Anna Karenina and The Boys in the Boat while designing the Luminary; News of the World and A Brief History of Time while designing the Pop Tote; Far from the Madding Crowd and The Heart of Everything That Is while working on The Moveable Feast. When a story has really grabbed me, I’ve even been known to listen, unbelievable as this may sound, as I hike. (One must exercise some reasonable caution: as I listened to Sissy Spacek read To Kill a Mockingbird, I had to pull the car over and wipe the tears from my eyes.) I’ve always a few books in queue loaded on to my smartphone, along with some language lessons to break things up (Cantonese and Swahili: I just want to be able to say “hello” and “thank you”.)

I love my audio books.

So with that in mind, and in the spirt of giving things that are not things, this year I am offering up what is perhaps the simplest gift guide ever: after you’ve pillaged the local book store, give Audible.com subscriptions. Yes, I know they are part of Amazon.com, and are therefore somehow cahooting with Darth Vader, but it’s an amazing service: there are not enough hours in the day to ever make a dent in their selection. [Editor’s note: when we sent this post out to our email newsletter list yesterday morning, reader H.C. wrote back to offer an independent bookstore equivalent of Audible — Libro.fm.]

Best wishes to all of you for a grand holiday weekend with friends, family, dogs, cats, and anyone else who is dear.

Cookbooks
Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables by Joshua McFadden
The How Not To Die Cookbook by Michael Greger
The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs by Karen Page
Clean Cakes by Henrietta Inman

Coffee Table Books
Where The Animals Go: Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics by by James Cheshire, Oliver Uberti
Sohan Qadri: The Seer by by Various (Editor)

Books For Kids
Big Red Barn and Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Matilda by Roald Dahl

Magazines (print or digital) 
Astronomy 
Nautilus 
The New Yorker

Seattle Factory Showroom Open 12/16

Hey Seattle folks!

Join us for a rare Saturday opening of our Factory Showroom on December 16th from 10:00am – 2:00pm. We’ll have hot coffee, homemade cookies, and, of course, bags…

4750A Ohio Ave S – Seattle – 98134

TOM BIHN Seattle Factory Showroom

News Briefs

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.

We don’t have any current plans to make future production runs of The Hero’s Journey or Moveable Feast. You can sign up on their pages to be notified if/when we make more.

Three of our most popular briefcases are back in-stock: the Pilot, Cadet, and Daylight Briefcase.

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