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.
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
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
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
2 heads cauliflower
2 TBSP grapeseed oil
fresh ground pepper
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Can you give me a quick summary of how pre-order works?
- How do you define “pre-order”?
- When is my credit card charged for a pre-order?
- Can I ask you for updates on the progress of my pre-order?
- Can I cancel my pre-order and receive a refund?
- Can I return the bag that I pre-ordered once I receive it?
- Can I change the color of the bag I pre-ordered?
- I’ve placed a pre-order that will ship in 2-8 weeks. Can I add bags to that existing pre-order?
- I placed a pre-order and it shipped earlier than expected! Nice. How’d that happen?
- Will all new designs be introduced for pre-order?
- What’s the best way to be notified once a new design is available for pre-order?
- Can you accept pre-orders (backorders) for stock items?
- Hey, didn’t you used to offer backorders and pre-orders up until three or four years ago?
- Is it possible for a pre-order to “sell out”?
- How long will a pre-order be open?
- If a pre-order sells out, when will you offer the next pre-order?
- Why can’t you make enough bags to satisfy all pre-orders?
- How, and when, does a pre-order design become a stock design?
- 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?
- 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?
- What’s all this about some retired designs possibly being offered for pre-order at a later time?
Can you give me a quick summary of how pre-order works?
Yes. And if you have questions, keep reading the FAQ or email@example.com
- We offer a new design for pre-order for one week or until the first pre-order batch sells out.
- The expected ship date of your pre-order bag is listed as part of the name of the bag.
- Your credit card is charged for the total amount of your order the day that you place your order. You can cancel your pre-order at any time and receive a refund.
- You can place one order that includes just a Pre-Order bag or a Pre-Order bag *and* In-Stock bags. If you place an order for both Pre-Order and In-Stock bags, you will see two shipping options at checkout:
A) Hold In-Stock Bags Until Pre-Order Ships – (one shipping charge: for example, $10 for UPS Ground)
B) Ship In-Stock Bags Separately – (two shipping charges: for example, $20 for UPS Ground)
UPS Expedited International shipping will also be available. 3Day/2Day/Next Day options are only available if you place two separate orders for Pre-Order and In-Stock items.
- You can also place additional orders for In-Stock bags to be added to your existing Pre-Order up until two days before your order ships. At checkout, our system will recognize that you have a current Pre-Order. You will then be given the option to “Ship with my existing Pre-Order” (no additional shipping charge) or, if you want the In-Stock bags to ship immediately, you can choose from any of the regular shipping options.
How do you define “pre-order”?
We may choose to offer a bag for pre-order because:
- It’s a new design offered for the very first time.
- It’s a new design that’s already been offered for pre-order but we plan to continue to offer it for pre-order for the time being because it’s either very popular OR we don’t plan to offer the design on a long term basis.
- It’s the last, or uncommon, batch of a retired design.
- It is a one-time only offering of a design, fabric, or color.
Please note that not all new designs will be offered for pre-order. For example: debuts of new designs before the holiday season typically won’t be offered for pre-order because there’s a shorter timeline — most folks want to receive orders they place in early December ASAP.
When is my credit card charged for a pre-order?
Your credit card is charged for the full order total at the time you place your order. That means we charge you before your order ships, which, depending on the bag being pre-ordered, can be anywhere from two to eight weeks.
To charge you before your order ships isn’t our preference; in fact, we’d prefer to postpone charging you until the day your order ships. That’s how we used to do it back when we took pre-orders before: our system would authorize your credit card for the total, but we wouldn’t actually charge you until the day your order shipped. However, since then, charging folks in advance of shipment of goods has become such the norm that most shopping carts and payment systems don’t allow for an alternative. This is due in part because of the success of crowdfunding. It’s worth noting that our pre-order system is very different from crowdfunding: we aren’t raising funds to make a product and you can be assured you will receive the bag you’re ordering.
Rest assured that we see charging in advance of shipment to be a serious responsibility and a matter that calls upon our integrity.
And you’re welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org at any time up until the day your pre-order ships to cancel your pre-order and receive a full refund.
Can I ask you for updates on the progress of my pre-order?
Totally. Of course. Feel free to email@example.com
We also might send you an update or two on your pre-order with some insights on the design and manufacturing process.
Can I cancel my pre-order and receive a refund?
You bet. firstname.lastname@example.org, live chat us up or give us a call and we’ll make it happen.
Can I return the bag that I pre-ordered once I receive it?
Yes. You can find our return instructions here. Note: part of what makes pre-order great is that we can more efficiently manage our limited production capacity by building exactly to order. Sometimes folks will order multiple colors and return the ones they don’t like, which makes total sense for In-Stock items but less so (at least for us internally) when we’re building to Pre-Order.
Can I change the color of the bag I pre-ordered?
Sorry, but no. Because we’re building these bags to order, folks can’t change the color of the bag they’ve pre-ordered.
You can, of course, cancel your pre-order — at which point we will refund your credit card. If it is still within the pre-order window — that is, the pre-order has not sold out — you can then place a new order for the color you’d like instead.
Can I place one order that includes both pre-order and in-stock bags?
Yes! You can place one order for Pre-Order bag(s) *and* In-Stock bag(s).
If you place an order for both Pre-Order and In-Stock bags, you will see two shipping options at checkout:
A) Hold In-Stock Bags Until Pre-Order Ships – (one shipping charge: for example, $10 for UPS Ground)
B) Ship In-Stock Bags Separately – (two shipping charges: for example, $20 for UPS Ground)
UPS Expedited International shipping will also be available for selection. However, U.S. domestic UPS expedited shipping options (3 Day, 2nd Day, Next Day) will not be available. If you would like to order a Pre-Order bag and an In-Stock bag and have both ship via one of those shipping methods, we recommend placing two separate orders.
If you choose Hold, we will hold your entire order until your Pre-Order bag(s) are ready to ship and then we’ll ship the entire order.
If you choose Ship In-Stock Bags Separately, we will ship the In-Stock bags that you ordered right away. We will ship your Pre-Order once it’s ready to ship.
Whether you choose to Hold In-Stock Bags or Ship In-Stock Bags, you will have the option of placing additional orders up until two days before your Pre-Order ships. At checkout, our system will recognize that you have a current Pre-Order and give you two options: Hold In-Stock Bags or Ship In-Stock Bags Separately for an additional shipping charge.
This will all make a lot more sense in practice than it does theoretically 🙂 As always, if you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask: email@example.com
I’ve placed a pre-order that will ship in 2-8 weeks. Can I add bags to that existing pre-order?
Yes, you can. We will hold bags from any additional orders you place and ship them with your pre-ordered bag once it’s ready to ship.
And adding to your pre-order is easy: place the items you want to add in your basket and, at checkout and in the shipping options, you’ll see an option that says: “Add to my Pre-Order”. Our system will automatically add the new order items to your existing pre-order.
We thought of this too and made it an option in part because we think it will be especially convenient for customers outside of the U.S. for whom shipping costs are higher.
I placed a pre-order and it shipped earlier than expected! Nice. How’d that happen?
You received one of the few PPB bags available — congratulations.
A pre-production batch (PPB) of any new design will be ordered and completed by our production department prior to the new design being offered for pre-order.
The PPB is intended to:
- Serve as the first large-scale test of the efficiency of manufacturing the new design.
- Provide photo, review and employee loaner sample bags.
- Ship a small quantity of bags to a randomized selection of customers who place orders for the first pre-order batch. This will allow folks to post reviews and first thoughts / photos of a new design, which in turn may help other people decide whether a bag is right for them or not.
Please note that the design itself is tested and every detail finalized and approved by Tom, Nik, Lisa, and Fong long before the PPB is ordered. PPB bags are in no way “beta” or incomplete.
There is no way to request or reserve a PPB bag. Once the pre-order window is over, we will randomly select orders from the first pre-order batch and fulfill those orders with PPB bags. If your order is selected, we will email you with a heads-up a few days before we plan to ship your order. So, no need to rush to place your pre-order, as this is not first come, first serve.
Will all new designs be introduced for pre-order?
Some, but not all. Whether we choose to offer a design for pre-order or make it a stock bag depends on a variety of factors — most importantly, production efficiency. We probably won’t offer new designs released close to the holiday season for pre-order.
What’s the best way to be notified once a new design is available for pre-order?
Subscribers to our general email newsletter will get the first heads-up on new designs. We send out about one email newsletter per month, but may send two newsletters out when there’s an active pre-order.
Can you accept pre-orders (backorders) for stock items?
Not at this time. It’s just too logistically complex at this point for our small company.
Hey, didn’t you used to offer backorders and pre-orders up until three or four years ago?
We did, so we have a lot of experience doing so. As with anything, there’s pros (for us and for you) and cons (mostly for us in the added complexity). Read our post Pre-Orders: Past, Present, and Future to learn more about that.
Is it possible for a pre-order to “sell out”?
It is possible for a pre-order to “sell out”. If that happens, the product page for the pre-ordered item will be updated to indicate that the first pre-order batch has sold out and that the next pre-order batch will be available for order on a specific date. You will also be able to sign up via email to our newsletter to be notified when the next pre-order batch is available for order.
Our production department is at its most efficient when we produce a batch of bags that’s not too big and not too small — the “just right” quantity in a batch depends on the design (and, occasionally, other factors, such as the production capacity available at that point in time).
When we offer a bag for pre-order on our website, we will set what is basically a total inventory number that equals the maximum production batch quantity. When that number of pre-orders sells, the first pre-order batch will be “sold out”.
Additionally, we promise a specific shipping time frame for each pre-order batch. If we accepted an unlimited number of pre-orders as opposed to constraining the quantity in batches, it is unlikely we could meet the shipping time frame originally promised. We don’t want that to happen.
How long will a pre-order be open?
We will take pre-orders for a new design for one week or until the first pre-order batch sells out.
If a pre-order sells out, when will you offer the next pre-order?
It is likely that we will offer the next pre-order batch *after* the first pre-order batch has shipped — that could be two weeks or eight weeks. This gives all of us a chance to catch our breath and make sure we’ve delivered what we’ve already promised. It also allows us some time to make In Stock bags, which is the majority of what we offer.
Rest assured you can sign up to be notified / reminded via email when the next pre-order batch is available for order.
Why can’t you make enough bags to satisfy all pre-orders?
We’re a small company of 47 people. Our entire company — production, shipping, website, design, IT/programming, production engineering, accounting, HR, customer service — all works together under the same roof in the same 16,000 square feet in Seattle. We can’t possibly make, or be, everything for everyone. We’re not trying to be the next big company. We are doing what we love — and we make sure that, besides the very rare exception, no one other than Tom, Nik, and Darcy work more than 40 hours a week.
The options that would allow us to radically increase our production capacity aren’t appealing to us. For example, if we moved production offshore, we’d lose the connection that’s created by all of us working together under the same roof. Not only does that connection make our work more enjoyable, but we think it results in a better bag and overall experience for you.
That said, we know our business model won’t work for everyone. While the majority of our bags are In Stock and ready to ship same day if ordered by 12:30pm PT, it’s possible that the bag that you want in particular is Pre-Order or In Production. And if you need the bag right away, that’s going to be a bummer. Sorry about that: we know how it can feel to find the perfect item and not be able to get it right away. That said, it’s one of those “it is what it is” type situations.
How, and when, does a pre-order design become a stock design?
That depends on a variety of factors, including but not limited to: the complexity involved in manufacturing the design, its popularity, our production capacity, what other new designs we have waiting in the wings, and, well, whether we want to make it a stock design or not.
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?
Sometimes we’ll know the answer to this from the outset and we’ll make that clear. For example, we may have a limited quantity of a particular fabric or color, or may want to try offering a current design in a new configuration (see: The Guide’s Edition Synapse 25) without committing ourselves to offering yet another bag on a continual basis — in those two cases, we will do our best to communicate that we won’t be able to make the bag in question on an ongoing basis without hyping the “limited edition” part.
Or, to give another example, Tom or Nik may put a considerable amount of time and effort into a new design and be absolutely in love with it themselves — so much so that our plan is to offer it as a stock bag after pre-orders are over. It may be a design you love too from the outset or it may take a few years of being out in the world to catch on.
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?
We usually offer more color combinations in the first production runs or pre-orders of a design than we do when it becomes a stock design. That said, we offer a lot of different fabrics and color combinations, and it’s possible that down the road we may offer a new color in said bag that we didn’t offer at the time of pre-order. When we choose new color combinations, we let our inspiration guide us, your feedback influences us, and we always make room for new colors or fabrics that we’ve since added to our line up. That means we don’t produce a list years in advance of decided-upon color combinations. You’re always welcome to ask us about specific color combinations but more often than not, our answer will be: maybe, maybe not.
What’s all this about some retired designs possibly being offered for pre-order at a later time?
We don’t like retiring existing designs, but as demand for our bags continues to grow and we continue to release quite a few new designs every year, retiring existing designs is a reality we must face.
Thanks to the new pre-order system, in some cases* we can offer a glimmer of hope to ourselves and, perhaps, to you when we choose to retire an existing design: when the design retires, we will update its product page so you can sign up to be notified via email when or if we decide to offer a pre-order batch and make a very last, or rare (think once a year at the most) production run of the design.
*Sometimes we will retire a design that requires a special component or material that we can’t obtain a small quantity of. In those cases, we will offer it for potential pre-order.
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.
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.
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 a bit restless and wanting to experiment more with new offerings. 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. Most payment gateways nowadays 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 crowdfunding is probably a little laughable and points to our Pa Ingalls sensibilities when it comes to money and debt. (To be clear: our pre-order system is not about crowdfunding.) 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…
“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.”
(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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Both Tom and Nik are designing various new bags and smaller items—everything from new backpacks to new travel bags to new organizer pouches. And that, of course, prompts questions: When will they be released? Will all the designs turn into real bags that will debut someday?
There’s an easy answer: we don’t know. But why do we not know? And further, how can we be comfortable with—and actually admit to—not knowing?
First, we might identify the various impetuses behind the new designs, as the origin of their inspiration does impact the design process and timeline of development.
The inspiration for Tom and Nik’s new designs is influenced by:
- Taking and using bags (current designs or prototypes of new designs) on trips.
- Observing other people traveling, hiking, or commuting with bags.
- Feedback from people who use our bags.
- The intervention of inspiration from an unknown, unidentifiable source. (Sounds lofty, but we’ve all experienced that in our work, haven’t we?)
- A design problem or challenge that would be exquisite to solve.
- An aesthetic drive: to first start with building something that looks good.
- Life events. Best friend having a baby? We’ll make a diaper bag!
- Recalling an incomplete design that was put aside years ago, and applying newfound knowledge and skills to complete the design.
The development timeline of new designs is influenced by:
- How busy we are running our small business. Internal projects can sidetrack design. For example: over the past few years, we’ve designed and programmed our own inventory and production management software, implemented our new inventory scanning/tracking system, rebuilt nearly our entire website on a new platform, and reviewed, documented, and improved all customer service and shipping-related procedures.
- How inspiration waxes and wanes. It may be there for a week and gone the next three weeks—or three years. We don’t push it or force it; in our experience, design driven by inspiration is far superior to design forced to meet a timeline.
- Research into and development of new materials that’ll make the new design truly sing.
- Engineering the manufacturing of the design so that it is … manufacturable.
- Configuring a new sewing machine set-up, folder*, or ordering dies* to make the design efficiently manufacturable.
- Staff time to either make the bag or make the debut happen. We have decided we’re happy with the size of our company more-or-less—with 47 people, we’re big enough to do stuff like develop custom fabrics and small enough that we’re all still working here together under one roof in Seattle. Having a smaller company/crew means there’s less redundancy—if someone takes family leave because they’re having a baby or someone else has major surgery (these two things have happened recently/are happening right now FYI), we rally to cover their work or make do so they can take time without worrying about it. That can mean that new releases or debuts or other projects get delayed because we don’t have our full crew on deck. With the rare exception around the holiday season, our crew doesn’t work overtime. Tom, Nik, and I often work in excess of forty hours each week, but that’s because we want to.
- The fact that many design ideas don’t make their way to fruition. This excerpt from Tom’s most recent newsletter update sums it up well: At the same time, we’re experimenting with and developing new fabrics (my Taber testing machine is getting a workout!), new webbing, and new zippers. And I realize (once again), that more often than not, these forays start off with high hopes but yield nothing new that we can actually use—they’re good ideas that turn out to be not-so-good realities. Indeed, life would be much different (though far less interesting, IMHO) if one knew in advance which was going to be a gold mine and which a rabbit hole. But the few fabrics that work well, and the few designs that rise above the others, make it all worthwhile.
Updates on Just a Few of the Designs We’re Working On Right Now
Last month, Tom sewed a prototype of a new backpack/briefcase design so he could use it on a weekend trip. In line at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the guy standing behind Tom told him that it was a great looking bag and asked him who made it. Tom replied that he, in fact, had made it, and that while he appreciated the feedback, he’d already redesigned the bag over the course of that short trip, and it would end up looking a lot different. Tom made something like five design changes to the bag after using it on trips—that’s how his design process works. Even when that process results in a longer development timeline, we think it’s worth it. We’d rather take our time and meet our own standards of perfection.
Or, take the Luminary backpack: we were 100% sure its design update was done when several different people testing the bag told us an additional interior pocket against its front face would be useful. And, upon first consideration, Tom thought that could be a good idea too. But by that time, he had shifted his focus to working on other new designs, such as the aforementioned briefcase/backpack, which are now nearly done. His plan is to complete those designs and then work on samples of the Luminary with the new pocket so we can see if it’s a good idea in reality.
The same process can apply to materials—and it’s not uncommon that we have to wait on the development of a new material that’s necessary to make a new bag design. Tom’s currently developing a new fabric and a sample of it arrived from our mill. It looked exactly as we had envisioned it, but it didn’t Taber test as well as we had hoped. We expect to spend weeks investigating those Taber results in an effort to identify and solve the problem.
To Sum it All Up…
As usual ’round here, there’s a lot in the works. And when a design is really, really done—and its debut it scheduled—we’ll let you know about it.
Until then, we remain grateful for your feedback, support, and interest in our little company and what we make. The more work we put into what we do, the more we get out of it, and the more you share with us (whether a review of your bag, photos from a trip, or constructive feedback), the more we’re inspired to take on new projects and make things even better than they are. Thanks!
*Dies and die cutting
A die is, most simply put, a sharpened steel edge bent into a specific shape: think of an industrial strength cookie-cutter. We use dies to cut small fabric parts like pouches, as well as foam and plastic parts. Dies allow you cut out parts with a very high degree of accuracy and speed. We use a 20 ton press (called a “clicker”) to push the dies through whatever material we’re cutting. All of our dies are custom fabricated to our specifications.
A folder (also sometimes called a binder) is an attachment to a sewing machine, typically made of stainless steel or chrome-plated steel, which sits in front of the needle and feed-dogs (mechanisms that pull the fabric through the machine). The folder/binder effectively mimics the hands and fingers of a sewing machine operator, locating or placing various parts in very specific and consistent orientations relative to one another. Folders allow many of our sewing operations to take place with near-perfect consistency, and at high speeds. We have folders that keep the edge of zipper tape in the same relative placement to the sewing operation, at the same time folding the cut edge of the fabric and holding that folded edge consistent to the seam and zipper as well. We use several folders that fold the various narrow widths and types of fabric tape (effectively light weight webbing) that we use to cover the cut edges of fabric inside our bags, preventing those cut edges from fraying apart. Many of our padded handles are created by using folders. All of our folders are custom fabricated to our specifications.
Earlier this year, we heard from four people — one with a Co-Pilot, one with a Pilot, one with a Cadet and one with a Side Kick — who were all experiencing the same issue with their bags: the main compartment zipper was getting fuzzy and worn-looking. Though premature wear and tear (and even failure) of a zipper can occur if someone carries a too-large-for-the-bag object in the bag that puts undue pressure on the zipper, we asked and did some investigating and that wasn’t the case in these instances. So, what was happening here?
What we’ve determined is that, for a minority of people who have purchased one of the following bags after January 2014, a combination of various factors led to the snaphook on their shoulder strap abrading the zipper on their bag.
To be clear: our research and testing leads us to the conclusion that this is an issue experienced by few and not many; nonetheless, we wanted to prevent even those few from experiencing that problem, so we’ve gone ahead and updated the placement of the shoulder strap attachment point on the following bags:
Daylight Briefcase (though we haven’t heard about this issue from anyone using a Daylight Briefcase, its shoulder strap attachment points were placed in a way similar to that on the other bags, so we went ahead and changed it too)
The new snaphook attachment point placement on these bags ensures that the snaphook won’t abrade the bag’s zipper and that carrying the bag via a shoulder strap is still totally comfortable and efficient. You can visit the pages for each of the aforementioned bags to see photos of the new snaphook attachment point placement.
If you purchased any of the aforementioned bags after January 2014 and are experiencing zipper abrasion not caused by a too-large object in the bag’s main compartment, please email@example.com about the issue (make sure to send photos!) so that our production team can assess your bag.
Please note that we have only seen the zipper abrasion occur on bags made with the zippers sewn “right-side-up” or “teeth-side-out”. We began sewing our Aquaguard zippers right-side-up in January 2014; see this Forum post for the how and why of that switch. The possible zipper abrasion issue we’re talking about is not due to the zippers being sewn right-side-up; rather, it is due to the placement of the shoulder strap snaphook attachment point placement.
If you have any of the aforementioned bags and aren’t experiencing a zipper issue, woohoo! You’re one of the majority of folks who will never have this issue.
And if you think there’s any other kind of issue with your bag, contact us right away. While defects in materials and workmanship are exceedingly rare, we are human and it’s possible we might make a mistake (hasn’t happened yet, but you know, theoretically 🙂 When presented with a possible quality issue, our goal is to investigate the issue thoroughly because it may reveal an improvement that we can make. Sometimes, however, what seems to be an issue is caused by an external factor we can’t control, or particularly harsh use or use for which the bag was not intended: puppy chews on bag, bag is placed on top of car before person drives away, baggage handlers play soccer with bag, etc. At other times, issues that must be livable realities are revealed—for example, the pattern of Halcyon combined with the placement of our logo label can make one or the other appear slightly off-kilter. Regardless, contacting us directly is the best course of action. We will work with you to figure out what exactly is going on with your bag.
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 supplies Birds & Beans coffee to our production and fulfillment crew here in Seattle. Stop by and we’ll pour you a cup to try.
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. See for yourself below; we’ve photographed each and every hat that was sent to 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.)
Even the replica of Tom’s first G.I. Joe got his very own hat.
Want to see previous years knitted wearables?
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: we sent Tom’s post out to our email newsletter list yesterday morning and 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.
We asked around and here’s the books the rest of the crew here at the factory plan to give this year:
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
Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapesby Thomas Rainer, Claudia West
The Philosophy Bookby Will Buckingham
Thanks to our awesome production and shipping crews, backorders for the following bags have been shipped and they’re officially in stock and ready to ship within one business day:
Shop Bag, Small, in Ultraviolet, Solar, Steel, and Iberian, and the Shop Bag, Large, in Wasabi and Iberian
Western Flyer, Backpack Straps, in Navy/Solar and Black/Steel
Synapse 19 in colors Olive/Steel, Black/Iberian, Black/Wasabi, Navy/Ultraviolet
Synapse 25 in Black/Steel, French Blue/Steel, Burnt Orange/Steel, Cocoa/Wasabi, Steel/Ultraviolet
Night Flight Travel Duffle in Coyote/Steel, Forest/Steel, Steel/Steel
Aeronaut 30 in Black/Wasabi
Aeronaut 45 in colors Black/Iberian, Black/Ultraviolet
Pilot in Navy/Solar, Steel/Ultraviolet, Forest/Steel, Black Steel, and Steel Dyneema/Steel
Clear Quarter Packing Cube in colors Steel, Iberian, Ultraviolet
Packing Cube Shoulder Bag in colors Steel and Wasabi
Smart Alec in colors Black/Black/Steel and Black/Steel/Steel
Super Ego in Black/Black/Steel
Medium Cafe Bag in many colors, including Kelly/Navy, Burnt Orange/Navy, and Black Dyneema/Ultraviolet
Yeahh: the Night Flight Travel Duffle fits the Canon C100 Cinema.
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