1972: Tom with one of his first pack designs.
How It StartedWhen 10-year-old Tom Bihn asked his parents for money to buy the equipment he wanted for his nascent outdoor adventures, they suggested two options: get an after-school job and earn the money, or "just figure out how to make it yourself." Up for the challenge, Tom chose the second option. His grandmother had an old Singer home sewing machine which his brother Dan helped get running; Tom's mom taught him how to sew and his dad provided the foundations of the necessary engineering.
More than 40 years later, Tom's still at it — designing and making the best backpacks, briefcases, and travel bags.
What We Make (or What Makes a TOM BIHN Bag a TOM BIHN Bag)
Design:With his 30+ years of design experience, Tom Bihn designs all TOM BIHN bags.
"The design process is always evolving and varies from one bag to the next. The constant operating principal behind the process is this: I don't want to make something that is already out there. It has to be unique — work better, look better, last longer, fill a niche that no one else has filled. I keep in mind that, because our products last (almost) forever, I have a responsibility to make them be very useful and as handsome as possible as well: I personally don't like being around things that are not pleasing to the hand and eye, especially on a semipermanent basis. I feel in a small way like an architect."
Materials:U.S. made, 1050 denier, high tenacity ballistic nylon fabric. YKK AquaGuard® water-repellent zippers. Superstrong Japanese Dyneema®/nylon ripstop fabric. 500 and 1000 denier U.S. Cordura® nylon. Duraflex® and Nexus buckles. Double-plated, U.S. made metal snaphooks. When we can't find what we want, we design it and have it made — like our 250-lb-tested, acetal shoulder strap attachment rings, made for us in Georgia (U.S.A.).
We don't settle for less than the best: if there's a better fabric, a better zipper, a better anything out there, we'll find it. Of course the best materials don't guarantee a great bag: we've been making bags for quite a while, all along paying close attention to which materials work in specific applications and which may look good today but are likely to fail down the road (or trail).
Construction:There's no finer team than our Seattle factory crew. Many of our seamstresses have been sewing backpacks and bags for over 30 years — in fact, we have over 300 collective years of sewing experience in our factory. Tom works closely with the crew on refining the construction of his bags, relying on the crew to alert him to any details of the design or patterning that make cutting or sewing needlessly difficult or inefficient. Tom, Fong, Lisa, and the rest of the crew work as a team, tweaking new designs and refining current designs, adding new machines, binders, tools, cutting saws, and other laborsaving technology to further streamline (and at the same time humanize) our manufacturing process.
Much of the minutiae involved in creating our über-durable bags is so deeply ingrained in us that we often forget to mention it: we finish 100% of the inside seams of our bags; we reinforce critical areas, like where a handle or strap joins the rest of the bag, with multiple bar tacks; all nylon webbing is hot knifed (heat fused) so it won't fray; and though you'll never see it, many crucial panels are overlock stitched prior to being included in the final construction. All to ensure your bag won't give up, ever!
A Variety of Choices, Lots of OptionsWe're a small company that behaves like we're a big company: we offer a rather large number of color options in many of our bags. And most of those colors are our own proprietary colors — colors you won't find anywhere else. Plus, you can customize your TOM BIHN bag purchase by choosing which shoulder strap works best for you, which size insert best fits your laptop, which combination of packing cubes will best suit your travel style. Finally, add zippered pouches and color-coded key straps to organize the interior of your TB bag.
Watch more of our videos. And see this interview in which Tom discusses the tools that aide him in the design process.
The photos above are by our customers. See more here.