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."
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).
Now it's time to really brag: we think our Seattle factory crew members are about the best in the business. 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. Early on, the seamstresses were a bit suspicious to see Tom sitting at a sewing machine to make a prototype. But when they saw he could sew as well as they could, Tom earned some street cred. Over the years this mutual respect has deepened: today, Tom works closely with the factory 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 needless 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 Options
We'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.
Brain Bag and Aeronaut
Smart Alec and Brain Bag
Medium Café Bag
The photos above are by our customers. See more here.
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.
Aravelia: Quality Assurance
Velia's favorite movie is Alice in Wonderland.
Araceli: Fabric Inspector/Spreader
When she's not at work, Araceli likes to sing, dance, and play the guitar.
Tom Bihn: Designer and CEO
Tom's favorite book is Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean, and he plays the accordion.
Nik: Production Engineer
Nik makes his own fermented sodas which can range from sweet and bubbly to explosively fizzy.
Candi plays the piano beautifully.
Coqueta: Shipping Department Helper
Coqueta is an exceptionally good sniffer and digger and enjoys 5-year-aged ham bones.
Darcy Gray: Chief Creative Officer and VP
Most unusual hobby: hiking at night.
Edelmira prefers Mexican music above all others.
Esther is an avid reader. Her favorite genres: mystery and romance.
Ichiro is a happy and vocal Lab/husky mix. He likes to be the center of attention and thus does not get free rein of the factory.
June Johnson: VP of Production
June can save the life of any houseplant and is pretty much good at everything she does.
Irma: Fabric Cutter
Irma likes to take vacations (we miss her quite a bit) and listen to Mexican music.
Amy: Operations Manager
Amy loves to sing... in the shower, car, office, you name it. She loves all genres and knows the words to hundreds of songs.
Kieu likes to go on urban walks. The secret to her good health? Eating lots of vegetables from her own garden.
Lai-Fong: Sewing Supervisor
Fong is a natural with dogs — and people, too!
Lee: Findings Lead
Lee's favorite gadget is his Kindle.
Ling likes to cook traditional recipes and fruit dishes.
Lisa: Sewing Supervisor
Lisa likes traveling to other countries and working in her garden.
Lulu: Quality Assurance
Lulu's favorite movie is The Lion King.
Maria's favorite tv show is Sábado gigante
Mo-Fong is an adventurous traveler and especially likes to visit countries she's never been to before.
Riley: Chief Wisdom Officer
Riley's one of those dogs who doesn't need a leash, so he hangs out in the factory wherever he likes.
Rudi's idea of the perfect Sunday: reading the newspaper and gardening.
Sim can take the heat: she'd beat everyone here in a eating-spicy-food contest.
Scott: Shipping Lead
Scott once woke up in a McDonald's restaurant and swore that he had fallen asleep at a Starbucks.
Son: Sewing Machine Mechanic
Son can fix anything.
Tao is an accomplished knitter. To relax, she cooks, specializing in amazing seafood dishes.
Ying is an accomplished cook of a variety of cuisines.
Yeah, you! You're part of our crew, too.
Ying likes to knit while listening to Cantonese opera.
If Yuan's not at work, she's probably playing tennis or doing Karaoke.
Wing's passion is music.
Zhong loves to grow and tend to a variety of ornamental flowers.
Beau: Customer Service
When Beau was three-years-old, he gave his socks to Kevin Bacon at Discovery Zone in Seattle.
Trevor: Customer Service
Trevor's most prized possession is his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles collection.
Lily: Fastest Dog in the West
It might be the Greyhound in her: Lily navigates through the woods faster than any dog we know.