Every person who has ever purchased a TOM BIHN bag is, in a way, an investor: I cannot put into words how grateful I am that you folks allow me and my company to do what we do. You’re helping us create some good jobs, as well as allowing me to have the time of my life. Thank you.
In the early years of my company, in a time before Kickstarter, I relied from time to time on the generous support of my family and friends. I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently. Often that support took the form of help purchasing a new piece of equipment, or a small infusion of cash to meet a shortfall in income. Sometimes it was a piece of advice, an extension on my rent, or simply an encouraging word. Our business is more or less a success now, and it’s often too easy to forget the tough times we’ve weathered and the kindness that got us through those tough times.
Of far more significance than of the actual dollar value of these investments was the faith that was behind them. They reflect the belief that my family and friends had in me and my endeavor; the belief that I was on the right track and that things would work out — even when sometimes I had serious doubts myself.
A big thanks to those who have helped out and whose faith got me here:
Left: Here I am sewing on my Consew 206RB sewing machine, circa 1988. My workshop was in the corner of David Meeks’ bee barn in the Santa Cruz Mountains. My brother Greg helped me purchase this machine in 1980. (Here’s a whole blog post we did on this very same Consew.) On it I sewed miles and miles of seams; and on it I made all of my early packs (excepting those I made before 1980 — those sewn on my Grandmother’s ancient Singer.)
Right: The 206RB is still in daily service in our factory: Tao sews the trim of every Organizer Pouch on it. Every one. It’s like a monument to my family’s belief in me.
Our newly remodeled Seattle Factory Showroom is now open! Our goal for the remodel was to create a welcoming space for those who make the trek all the way down to this semi-industrial area of Seattle, a space that would share the history of our company and the evolution of our designs. And perhaps best of all, give everyone a chance to see the star of the show: our Seattle factory.
Mission accomplished! (See photos below.) Or so we think. Come down and see our Factory Showroom for yourself! Hours Monday through Friday 6:30am until 3:00pm Pacific Time. Visiting our Showroom during these hours guarantees you’ll see our factory in action.
Hoping to come by outside of those days or hours? firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to make an appointment for you to stop by. Note that we’re early risers, don’t work weekends and are here from 6:30am – 3:00pm.
Placing an order through the website and picking it up at our factory remains a option. Add the bag(s) you’d like to your basket and during checkout select the ‘Store Pick Up – Seattle Showroom’ option. We’ll give you a call when your order is ready to be picked up.
As usual, we’re doing things our way, and in the case of the Seattle Factory Showroom, that means we’re taking our time with its remodel. (You’re welcome to make an appointment—206-652-4123 or email@example.com—to come by as long as you’re cool with our happy remodeling chaos.)
The work we’re doing conceiving our new Factory Showroom space is much like Tom’s process when he designs a new bag. There’s a lot of imagining and sketching as well as actual physical renderings and manifestations. We’re building tables and store displays and, sometimes, taking them apart and re-engineering them because of a new idea we’ve had. We’re adding more of ourselves: a side table built by Tom’s grandfather, bags and jackets Tom made when he was a teenager, plants from Darcy’s house, comfy chairs and some of our favorite books.
If you think of our Seattle Factory Showroom as just a retail store, it might seem like this is all taking a bit of a long time—entirely new Chipotles are built in mere weeks, after all. But if you can think of our Factory Showroom as we do—a way we invite you into our work, our lives, our family—you’ll perhaps understand why it’s something we aren’t rushing. Regardless, we appreciate your patience, your kindness, and your encouragement; marching to the beat of our own drum sometimes means we don’t do what’s expected (especially in the business world).
This coming December will mark the 25 year anniversary of Tom opening his first shop in Santa Cruz, California. Our Factory Showroom will be open then and we’re talking about the best way to celebrate that anniversary. It’s also worth noting that this milestone is, in part, what saved the Factory Showroom. As demand for our bags continues to grow and we grow along with that demand, space here at our headquarters in Seattle is also in demand: we need it for sewing machines, shipping tables, desks, lunch/break room tables, and people, too. Because of that, we considered closing the Factory Showroom: it makes much more business sense to use the Showroom space for production and fulfillment. But you like visiting us and we like that too, so for now anyway, the Seattle Factory Showroom is here to stay. We’ll continue to keep you posted on its progress.
Heraclitus said, “Everything changes and nothing stands still.” Whether in the life of a person or in the life of a business, change isn’t always extreme or sudden—it can be so ongoing and constant that you might not realize that things are different until one day they are. Here at the factory we’re in the midst of a series of renovations, and the changes we’ve made (and those that are still to come) have caused us to slow down and reflect a bit on our past and our hopes for the future. It has been very exciting, even though as the walls come down around us we’ve faced some temporary challenges that we believe will all be worth it in the end.
We are fortunate to have a very good teacher of life: this small business of ours. We’ve tried to learn when to leave work at work, and when to carry it with us and revel in its possibilities. We’ve learned that change is constant and that counting on anything to stay the same keeps us in the past, preventing us from enjoying the right here and now. We’ve learned to strive to find bliss in change and the opportunities it brings. We’ve learned stuff about ourselves: that our feeling hearts and creative minds can combine to create a kind of complexity that is both a joy and a challenge (note how many different designs and colors we offer and how much it pains us to retire an old design or color), and that implementing a new procedural efficiency can be as exciting as debuting a new design (yeah, we’re dorks).
Not all that long ago we’d close up shop for the afternoon and go on a hike if the weather allowed (something hard to pass up here in the Pacific Northwest). And not all that long before that, when Tom had his one-man shop in Santa Cruz, he’d walk to work with his dog Faux and they’d together put in some long days, while other days they’d put up the ‘gone fishing’ sign and hit the trail. We’ve grown to a point that it just wouldn’t work for all of us to close up shop and head to the beach, but we do our best to allow our people the opportunity to take the day off, even if that means we’ll be temporarily short-staffed. And those days show us all one of our favorite things about being a small business: we’re still close-knit enough that almost anyone can jump in and help when needed, whether that’s answering the phones, taking out the garbage, or helping to package orders.
A question we often muse on and one that is frequently the topic after-work cider discussions: how can we continue to be who we are as our company grows? How do we keep our identity from being diluted by all the daily minutia and details? When Tom had his shop in Santa Cruz, a sort of community formed around it and many of his dearest friends to this day are people he met at the shop. These days the majority of our community is online rather than just in the store, and it remains a great community: we get to know each other and learn about each other, and it’s about so much more than bags. We don’t want to lose that connection.
At some point we’re going to decide we’ve grown big enough. Conventional wisdom states that a business should grow for as long as it can. When we stop and ask ourselves what the benefits of growth are, we come up with quite a list: we get to create more jobs/careers, we get to do cool stuff like order custom colors and weaves of fabrics, we get to buy rad new machines for the factory, and with more infrastructure it’s easier to support all the new designs we come up with. We like to think we can have all of that, and yet still bump along our slow-growth path until we’ve reached a size that feels right to us. Of course, we’re hoping that we recognize that moment as it comes towards us, and not have to stomp on the brakes and jam the whole thing into reverse if we overshoot our goal and grow too big.
Though it’s useful to pause and contemplate our history and our future, we must focus the majority of our time and attention on the task at hand. And right now, we’re working on projects that we hope will support our modest future growth while allowing us to remain true to who we are (and remain true to you too!). These projects include website and Forum upgrades as well as behind-the-scenes projects: hiring and training more customer service and shipping staff, making procedural improvements (AKA making stuff flow better), upgrading our building, and, perhaps the most major project of them all, reorganizing our layout.
Earlier this year, we worked with several efficiency engineers to map out our existing space and brainstorm ways we could do even more within our current space, without adding more square footage. It was really fun! Since then, we’ve been making small changes here and there: we demolished the wall between the sewing floor and finished goods area on which our “sew-by” samples were hung (it feels so much more open!) and we’ve turned our shelving 90 degrees to fit more of it in the same space, amongst other improvements.
Now we’re ready to start taking on the bigger changes. First up: rearranging our departments so that everyone is more or less sharing the same wide-open space together, which further includes a remodel of our Factory Showroom.
These kinds of big changes and improvements aren’t without their downsides, though. Like, when we moved our website to a new and better server a couple weeks back, the website was unexpectedly down for a couple of hours. And as we’re in the process of making upgrades to our Forums, bugs and issues are popping up here and there. In the long run, these hiccups won’t matter all that much, but at the time, they can be a challenge.
And while we ramp up new staff and build out the new store design, our Seattle Factory showroom/store will be closed beginning the week of July 20th.
We know that many of you local Seattle folks, as well as all you visiting dignitaries, will be disappointed with this news (as we ourselves are). However, we’ve come to realize that if we are to have a retail store of which we are proud, we need to take a step back and make some improvements, both in the design of the store and the way we staff it. We’re not sure how long these improvements might take; naturally, we are hoping that the store will be up and running long before the holiday shopping season.
Placing an order through the website and picking it up at our factory remains a good option. Add the bag(s) you’d like to your basket and during checkout select the ‘Store Pick Up – Seattle Showroom’ option. We’ll give you a call when your order is ready to be picked up.
And if you’re from out of town and were really hoping to see our factory, firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see what we can do. Note that it is very likely there will be no showroom or bags on display but we can at least say Hi and give you a quick glimpse of our factory in action.
We want you to know that, as we think on these weighty matters and tear down walls and dream big (and think small), we wouldn’t have the opportunity to take all of this on without you guys. You appreciate our bags and our company enough that all of this is possible. And when we goof and show we’re human (sigh, server downtime), you are ever-so patient and understanding with us. You share your feedback with us; you tell us what you like and what you don’t. We couldn’t (and wouldn’t) do this without you guys. So, thank you.
One day, a few years back, we (the creative team at TOM BIHN) were hanging out with our dogs, as we do most of the time. It was at the beach, or on some mountain trail, as the story is now told. At some point we all looked at each other and said: “We are designers. We have our own factory. We have dogs. We should design and make our own dog gear. Duh.” And so it was: Skookum Dog was born.
Skookum is a Chinook word that translates to: “good,” “strong,” “brave.” If you’re a Pacific Northwesterner, you know this word: creeks, rivers, and trails here are often named Skookum. And that’s where you’ll find us in the mornings, the evenings, the weekends—whenever we can find the time: on the trails, along the rivers, in the mountains and meadows, hanging out with our friends, human and canine alike.
Skookum’s Creed is this: Loyalty first. Have Fun now, not later. Be Good. Be Strong.
It’s what our dogs have taught us. You are loyal to your friends. There’s no reason to put off doing something fun. Being good means being who you are and being good to those around you. Being strong means remembering all of this no matter what.
The Skookum Dog company was on its own for its first year — now we’re bringing it back into the TOM BIHN family. Many of you wrote to us over the last year asking us to do this so that you could get TB and SD gear from the same website, and we realized that’s a good point. So from today on, you’ll find all Skookum Dog gear (including our new treat bag, the Citizen Canine, which debuts tomorrow) available at TOM BIHN: here’s the link.
It might be important to note the similarities and the differences between Skookum Dog and TOM BIHN stuff. In common, Skookum Dog and TOM BIHN have the same designers (Tom, Nik, Darcy), the best materials, and Made in USA manufacturing.
There’s differences in aesthetics between TOM BIHN and Skookum Dog, though we think they compliment each other nicely. Notably, Skookum Dog gear is intended to age and to age well: there’s just no way SD gear is going to look new for very long. Dogs are tough on stuff: we’re good with that, and if you’re dog people, you probably are too. Skookum Dog gear is built to have a nicely broken-in look for years to come.
And while we don’t think we need to tell you not to chew on your TOM BIHN bags, we do feel compelled to remind you not to chew on your Skookum Dog gear. Note that if you (or any of your friends) do chew on this stuff, repair (when possible) isn’t covered by our Lifetime Guarantee. Unlike TOM BIHN bags, it’s okay to machine wash some Skookum Dog gear; here’s a video we made about how to clean and care for SD stuff.
As long as you or your dog don’t chew on it, your Skookum Dog gear is, as we intended, good and strong. It’ll handsomely show off its battle scars and road dust: nice reminders of the adventures it’s seen. Many of the new photos we’ve taken of Skookum Dog gear show the actual Skookum Dog stuff we’ve been using: Ichiro’s Sheepskin Bed has been in use coming up on two years now, and Lily’s Camp Mat has been on road trips all over Idaho, Oregon and Washington and machine washed 10+ times.
Stay tuned over the coming months and years for new designs for you and your canine BFF — there’s some good and strong new stuff in the works.
We could call 2014 the Year Of Design. The long-awaited Aeronaut 30 and The Parental Unit were released; and we surprised everyone with the Daylight Briefcase and Daylight Backpack. The Night Flight Travel Duffle was introduced as a carry-on bag but also quickly gained popularity as a camera bag. Tom recalled a design from his past: the Travel Laundry Stuff Sack, first conceived by Tom in 1981 when he was hosteling around Europe.
Double Organizer Pouch
Night Flight Travel Duffle
Travel Laundry Stuff Sack
Synapse 19 Freudian Slip
Synapse 25 Freudian Slip
The Parental Unit
We also debuted a few new colors:
Verde 1050d U.S. high tenacity ballistic nylon
Red Blend 1000d Cordura
Azure 1000d Cordura
Orange 152 1000d Cordura
And when we weren’t busy designing and making all of these new designs, we found time to write a bit about design and the tools we use:
Design Beyond “Fortuitous Contrivings”
Brief Thoughts On Vision and Need
25 Years of Service: Consew 206RB
This, our new blog — Field Trips — debuted in 2014. The driving force behind the design change was a desire to feature more in-depth essays and interviews and bigger photos. (If you’re missing the quick news/updates about stuff like which bags are on backorder/which bags are back in stock, check out this thread in our Forums.) It’s a blog less authored by us than all of us; your contributions make Field Trips what it is. Here’s a few of our favorite posts from 2014:
Knit for the TB Crew
tpnl’s TB Design Spotlight
Reasons To Go: Connections and Depth
mrbrown goes to Japan
Ben’s Knot Tutorial
Membership and activity in Forums grew considerably in 2014 and it’s been awesome. We’re taking some time right now to reflect on that growth and think about how our community can continue to grow and invite new folks, new ways of thinking about things — while still retaining everything that makes our community so awesome and so unique. We tried to select and highlight some of our favorite forum posts and threads of 2015, but there were just too many great ones to single out any few in particular. Ok, wait a second: one we’ve got to mention is the “Your Photos Are Needed” thread. Recognizing that in our community are many talented photographers, we put the word out, asking for everyone to submit photos of their bags in action. And everyone responded: 26 pages of photos and counting!
The reflection on growth that we mentioned above is, in a way, parallel to the deep thinking we’re doing about the growth of our company as a whole. Our bags are more in demand than ever before (we know… we say that every year!) and some continue to be on backorder at any given time. We’ve been working on meeting that demand, and we grew our Seattle sewing crew by 20% in 2014. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot, but we set the bar high: only the most talented and positive folks join our team. There are great things about growing as a company and there are challenges; right now, we’re taking the the time to consider both as we chart our course for the next year.
Yellowstone National Park, the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, France, England, Australia, Vietnam, The Phillipines, California, Oregon, New York, Uganda: just a few of the places the TOM BIHN Crew and our friends and family traveled to this year.
While we love to travel — and hope to do more of it in 2015 — our work designing and making bags and running a company keeps us tied to our factory and company headquarters in Seattle. And that’s where you come in: you guys go amazing places. You tell us about them, and it inspires and motivates us: we get to design bags that people take on relief missions to Haiti? Really?
Here’s just a few of the journeys you shared with us in 2014:
Benidorm/Spain with… You’ll see
Mr. Guide’s Pack Goes to Washington
Couple of pics from Venice and Amsterdam
Field Journal Notebook and Bears at Katmai
Overnighter with the Daylight Backpack!
My Smart Alec rules Folklife
One-Bagging it for Four Days, Penang, Malaysia
A Christmas Trip with the A30
Tom Bihn gear goes to New York City
6 Days in Surabaya, Indonesia
(Keep ’em coming: send your photos and stories to email@example.com or post them in our Forums.)
Stay tuned! Here’s a hint of what will debut in 2015…
Skookum Dog Citizen Canine
Cross-Body Knitting Bag
TOM BIHN Luggage Tag
And there’s many other designs in the works that we can’t even hint about yet!
More of your photos, stories, and essays for this blog: submit your work to firstname.lastname@example.org
Wow! It’s been busy around here. We’ve already sold out of various bags, big and small, in some or all colors. (For the latest on what’s in stock and what’s on backorder, see the Backorder Updates/Back In Stock thread in our Forums.)
Our Seattle Factory Showroom is open just one more Saturday this December — and that’s tomorrow, Saturday, December 20th from 10am – 4pm. And hey! We’ll be open on Christmas Eve from 10am – 2pm.
We shared the list of What We’re Giving this season, but, if you’re like us, you still might have some holiday shopping to do. We want to help make it as easy as possible to place an order with us for guaranteed delivery by or on December 24th (UPS will be delivering Ground and Air packages by the end of the day on Christmas Eve), so we’re offering some Holiday Shipping Specials — see below for the details. Want help figuring out which shipping method you need to choose, or what the perfect TOM BIHN gift might be? email@example.com or give us a call: 1-800-729-9607. We’re here and happy to help!
$25 Holiday Special! UPS 2nd Day Air (Dec. 24th Delivery)
Begins Friday, December 19 at 12:30pm and ends Monday, December 22 at 12:30pm (PST)
Note: UPS is working this Saturday, December 20th, and that means we are too! Orders received by 12:30pm PST on Saturday with UPS Next Day Air or 2nd Day Air as their shipping method will ship that day. And Saturday will count as a transit day, so that means orders shipped Saturday via Next Day Air will be delivered on Monday, December 22nd, while orders shipped on Saturday via UPS 2nd Day Air will be delivered on Tuesday, December 23rd.
$40 Holiday Special! UPS Next Day Air (Dec. 24th Delivery)
Begins Monday, December 22 at 12:30pm and ends Tuesday December 23 at 12:30pm (PST)
Last day to get something delivered on Christmas Eve!
People in Hawaii and Alaska: we’re offering you Next Day Air for $50 and 2nd Day Air for $40.
To take advantage of these special shipping rates, simply select them in the shipping method box during the checkout process. No special code is needed.
And hey! Gift Certificates are available with immediate electronic delivery 24/7, 365 days a year.
Hey, wasn’t it like, September just last week?
Expert Gift Giving Advice
Want help figuring out the right bag for that person near and dear to you? Give us a call (1-800-729-9607) or firstname.lastname@example.org — we’re here and glad to help. Helping people find the right bag is one of our favorite things to do and it’s extra fun when it’s a gift.
Seattle Factory Showroom
We’re open today from 10am – 4pm and two more Saturdays in December: the 13th and 20th, 10am — 4pm.
And we’ll be open until 2:00pm on Christmas Eve.
These Bags Are Going Fast…
Our bags are so much in demand that they often sell out and go on backorder. We knew this going into the holiday season and everyone worked hard to make sure we had our shelves as stocked as they could be; still, the following bags are more popular by the day and might sell out in at least some color combinations by the end of the month.
The Guide’s Pack
Medium Cafe Bag
Small Cafe Bag
Travel Laundry Stuff Sacks
Travel Stuff Sacks
The Parental Unit
Available for purchase 24/7, 365 days a year, Gift Certificates are a great spontaneous “thank you” or last minute gift.
Holiday Shipping Guide
Orders for in-stock items received by 12:30pm PST are shipped same day; orders received after 12:30pm PST are shipped the following day.
Last day for folks on the East Coast and in the Mid-West to place an order with UPS Ground ($10) as their shipping method with delivery by or on Wednesday, December 24th. Remember: you can still place an order and choose expedited shipping ($20 and up) for December 24th delivery up until Tuesday, December 23rd!
Last day for those on the West Coast and in Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, and Southern California to place an order with UPS Ground as their shipping method with delivery by or on December 24th. East Coast and Mid-West: this is your last day to select UPS 3 Day Select with guaranteed delivery by or on December 24th.
Everyone! This is your last day to select UPS 3 Day Select with delivery by or on December 24th.
UPS is working and so are we! Even though it’s a Saturday, orders received by 12:30pm PST with 2nd Day Air or Next Day Air shipping selected will ship today. That means 2nd Day Air orders will be delivered on Tuesday and Next Day Air orders will be delivered on Monday.
Everyone: choose UPS 2nd Day Air as your shipping method for delivery by or on December 24th.
Everyone: choose UPS Next Day Air as your shipping method for delivery by or on December 24th.
Our Seattle factory showroom will be open 10am – 2:00pm for last minute shopping and we’ll be answering your phone calls and emails. Our shipping department will be closed, which means all orders received on the 24th and 25th will ship on Friday, December 26th.
We will be closed. Hope you have fun — that’s what we’ll be doing! Orders received over the holiday will ship Friday, December 26th. P.S. There’s still the option of ordering a Gift Certificate with instant email delivery to your near-and-dear one’s inbox.
After we debuted our new Cord Zipper Pull options, some of you asked for a written tutorial on how to achieve the Robust Knot seen in our how-to video. Here you go!
The Robust Knot is a simple knot that can be customized to the desired length of the loop as well as the pull itself.
As seen in the video below, fold the line in half with the bottom facing yourself. Keep in mind that the knot builds downward, so make the loop longer than you will want it when finished. We recommend starting with about 2″-2 1/2″, depending on the desired loop and knot size. Loop the right arm across the front so that it is perpendicular to the original large loop, forming a horizontal line. Take the left arm down over that horizontal line, around the back of the original large loop, and back through the loop created by your first fold. Pull tight but do not cinch, as this will pull the slack out of your large loop. Repeat the above process from the left side. Now cinch all ends, including the large loop, as tightly as possible. This can be repeated as many times as needed for the desired length of the knotted pull, simply alternate the side that is pulled down to begin the process.
We recommend that you repeat the process at least three times. This will leave a knot roughly 1/2″. When the knot is cinched tight, clip the remaining string ends as close to the body of the knot as possible and lightly burn the ends with a lighter, using care not to melt the body of the knot. Loop through the end of your metal zipper pull and enjoy!
A salute to Tom’s Consew 206RB sewing machine: purchased in 1980 and still in continuous use at our Seattle factory.
Excerpted from Tom’s interview with The Setup:
“One of my most obvious tools is a sewing machine (Ivan Illich would call it a tool, not a machine—I like that). The sewing tool I used for over two decades was a Consew 206RB, with a compound walking foot. Basically a machine made for heavy work like sewing leather and upholstery—an incredibly flexible tool. (If you buy a new one today it’s reputed to be not so great – buy a Seiko STH-8BLD instead. Seiko was the OEM for Consew, so it’s the same as the old Consew machine. I mean tool.)
That specific Consew I started with is now over 30 years old and still sees daily service in my factory: Tao uses it to do three-fold bias binding. These days when I am sewing prototypes, I either am in the factory using whatever sewing machine is available or I’m in my studio using my new Seiko. One of the things I appreciate most about our company is that a lot of the design process is happening in the factory—there’s a beautiful co-evolution between design and manufacturing that you don’t get when the design process is physically removed from the build process.”
The new Luminary 12 and Luminary 15 backpacks + bags in 210d ballistic nylon will be up for pre-order on 02/26. Details here.
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