November 27, 2021

Production & Design Notes: Old School Carry-All

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Production & Design Notes: Old School Carry-All

What follows are various production and design notes pulled from various meetings, our project management app, and our recollections. In some instances, we added to the notes to make them more descriptive of what we, in person, were discussing: folks appreciated our Luminary Pre-Production Batch and Synik Pre-Production Batch notes but asked us to share more about design choices and considerations or explain more about aspects of the manufacturing process. We share these notes in the hopes they give you a sense of what it’s like to be here on the factory floor and understand more about what goes into realizing a vintage-inspired design like the Old School Carry-All (OSCA). (Many thanks to Mike for taking notes in our PPB meetings!)

We're also working on Production & Design Note posts for the Techonaut and Organic Cotton Trucks; if there's anything you'd like to hear more or less of, let us know in the comments.

Old School Carry-All Notes 

Photo of a TOM BIHN catalog from the 1990's; the Sport Bag is featured.

Sewing of the initial samples went well — Lisa and Fong don’t report any issues. They do note that the OSCA takes a fair amount of time to sew. Tom sheepishly reminds us that his “Classic Sport Bag” design from the 1990’s (on which the OSCA is based) was just a main compartment flanked by simple flat pockets (one of mesh exterior, one fabric interior), and was much more straightforward to sew.

A little bit of history: back in the 90's, Tom designed The Classic Sport Bag in answer to customers' requests for a bag to take to the gym. He recalls that, though it was well-loved by many customers, there was some legitimate feedback about the Classic Sport Bag that Tom has taken to heart and addressed in the OSCA. Specifically, that folks wanted separate and substantial compartments to segregate and/or organize their stuff. As a result, Tom turned the simple flat pockets on the sides of the Sport Bag into the generous 3D side pockets of the OSCA; this also allowed us to make the padded handles on the top of the bag lean in towards one another (“kiss”, as Tom says) making them easier to grab.

Photo of a TOM BIHN catalog from the 1990's featuring the Classic Sport Bag.

Getting a bit more into the technical aspects: the two dividers which create the three separate compartments on the new OSCA (center compartment and two outboard 3D side pockets) are sewn into the bag with their seam allowances facing into the outboard pockets rather than into the main compartment. This is the point at which it’s taking extra time for the factory: the sewing is a bit more challenging, plus the bag needs to make an extra round trip between joining and binding. Again, another aspect of the end result is that the two handles tend to “kiss”: they fall naturally towards each other rather than away from each other. Tom notes that this is a distinctive design feature of many of our bags — it is important that when the end user goes to pick up the bag, their hand can easily grab the two handles as if they are one, as opposed to fishing around grabbing first one handle and then the other. (Sometime around 2003, Tom observed travelers in the airport fumbling with bags that had handles falling away from each other; he designed the handles that "kiss" as a result.) 

Lisa did note some additional notches may be needed: Mike will follow-up with Nik when the final marker is being completed.

Photo from the pre-production batch meeting for the OSCA in the TOM BIHN factory.

Specific note re: the notches for lining up the handle. The initial assembly of the handle is done on a specially outfitted Seiko walking foot sewing machine: the thick Poron foam gets wrapped with ballistic nylon and the finished edge of the handle is created in one nuanced (and slightly tricky) step by a highly skilled sewer; the handles are then tacked on to the raw edges of the half-finished center compartment before the 3D side pockets are added.

More about the handles: should they be two-tone, or all black? We decide to go with solid black.

Tom is finalizing the length of the foam in the bottom panel. The bottom of the OSCA has a foam stiffener and is lined to ensure the bag holds its shape when carried and also prevents the bag from sagging, even if a heavy object is carried in the main compartment.

Main zipper will be #10 locking with 2 sliders.

Side zippers will be #8 with 2 sliders. Two zipper sliders is nice for a couple of reasons: if you’re left handed you can push both sliders to whichever side works best for you. Also, if you need to carry an odd shaped item such as a racquet, you can still mostly zip that side pocket shut around a protruding handle.

Overall aesthetic of the OSCA will remain true to the Classic Sport Bag. Tom’s new gym bag design is still kicking around, though he feels it may have too many features — there’s a point at which features overwhelm, sort of like being able to order any kind of takeout you want and have it delivered in 30 minutes (sometime a good thing, but is that always a good thing? Do I really want pizza and french fries just because it's possible?) To Tom, it feels overwrought, overthought. The gym bag (clever working title, eh) is still in development, may not debut until 2022 or 2023 or never at all: just not feeling it as of late, though a flash of inspiration could change that.

Made a point to add LOTS of O-rings. 10 in fact. Is it enough? Can there be enough?

Added end grab loops of 5/8” smooth webbing, like the Grab Bag. These turned out to be handier (ha ha) than expected.

Tom and Lisa (Ben and Mike in the background) at the PPB meeting for the OSCA. Lisa is (we think) looking for spots for O-rings.

We discuss adding webbing lash tabs to the bag, since folks often ask for external attachment points to which they can clip a carabiner or the like. Later in a Pre-Production Batch meeting, Tom, Lisa, and Fong noted that since the “dome” of the exterior pocket requires a join seam that could be situated anywhere around its circumference, why not move that seam to be where we’d want the lash tab — doing so reduces potential visual clutter, since you’re covering one visual element with another (that is also functional.)

We discuss lining; the majority of the interior of the main compartment will be lined. Regarding lining the interior of the bag at the dome – though it’d add just a teensy bit of fabric (and thus just a teensy amount of weight), it also doesn’t seem necessary from a functional point of view. Tom also points out that the side pockets aren’t fully lined because, if folks are using the OSCA as a gym/sports bag, more lining fabric can trap more moisture and make it take longer for the bag to dry from the inside out, which could be important if it gets used to carry sweaty clothes, wet bathing suits or damp towels. Everyone agrees.

OSCA will have the Moon label. Darcy waxes on about what the moon represents. Discussion ensues around the variety of labels we offer — the brand has a history of experimenting with labels (see our blog post Labels 1975 - 2017) but is it too much change? Some folks love the different labels, others don't. Off-topic debate ensues re: keeping options open vs. sticking with the classic red plane that goes beyond just the labels in relation to the OSCA. We put a pin in the discussion but will continue to consider the issue further: the different labels add a degree of logistical complexity, though we also like how they define and honor different stages of the brand and the evolution of designs.

The foam for the bottom of the OSCA was delayed, preventing the possible late summer or early fall 2021 release we hoped for; we discuss making lemonade by saving it for the holidays — it’s a bag we certainly would give as a gift and might fit in nicely with the Tray Bien and The Organic Cotton Truck. One issue being: often, we choose to debut designs on the “Monday After Thanksgiving” that, if they sold out that day or soon after, we could potentially get a second batch in the works to restock before the holidays, giving folks a second chance to order. Might not be possible with the OSCA due to the work it takes to build it; have decided against the second batch, two weeks wouldn’t be enough to get it done. In the end, decided to make a large batch of OSCAs in advance to prevent them from selling out.

Mike gestures at the bottom of the OSCA, perhaps asking a question about the foam.

Difficulty narrowing down the color choices — we eventually narrow it down to 17 (not really narrowing it down!) Decide it’s better to offer more colors, rather than less — can narrow it down in the future if we make another batch of OSCAs. And if this is the only batch, then we gave folks the most options we could. Offering more colors in the first batch is also a way we can see which colors are most popular and narrow it down from there. As always, it remains to be seen how popular the OSCA ends up being: with our limited production capacity, it's important for us to focus on making the most popular designs.

 

10 comments

BethC - November 28, 2021

This was fun to read! I was interested to see how much discussion went into the top handle design and the way the seams influence it, etc.. Definitely something I wouldn’t have noticed if it hadn’t been pointed out.

Tari - November 28, 2021

From someone who sews, and has sewn bags, I find these notes fascinating. Thank you for sharing.

Munki - November 28, 2021

Simply amazed at the thought and care that goes into these bags. Please do keep sharing!

Gary - November 28, 2021

Out of curiosity, how many bags did you actually make?

G42 - November 27, 2021

It’s always fascinating to read about all the puts and takes in the design & manufacturing process to get these bags made! Thanks for sharing the behind the scenes insights.
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TOM BIHN replied:
Glad you find this stuff as interesting as we do, and helpful to boot: encourages us to put more time into collecting and organizing our notes so we can share them here on the blog.

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