July 21, 2022

Production & Design Notes: Cambiata

TOM BIHN Crew discuss Aubergine Cambiata tote backpack

What follows is a summary of production and design notes pulled from various meetings, our project management app, and our recollections. Folks appreciated our Techonaut Pre-Production Batch and Le Petit Derriere Pre-Production Batch notes that helped explain more about design choices and considerations, as well as the manufacturing process. We first experimented with this format for the Old School Carry-All; see our Production & Design notes: OSCA edition. Now it’s the Cambiata’s turn.

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 the design of a pack like the Cambiata.

The origins of the Cambiata are pretty interesting. The concept originated in the forum where some customers shared their desire for a tote/backpack hybrid with a few key features. With this in mind, we set out to create the first sample back in late 2021.

A lot of desired features went into the first sample: A bag that stands on its own, shoulder straps that can be stowed away, a separate laptop compartment for ease of access and quick access pockets for the essentials.

There was a lot we went back and forth on: The tote straps – grab handles or over-the-shoulder straps, the removability of said straps, and how much internal organization we wanted to include.

Additionally, we wanted to make backpack straps that could be folded and neatly stored in the back pocket. With this goal in mind, we used the same backpack straps as the Zeitgeist and Paradigm which folded nicely into the back compartment with an additional bartack to allow it to lay straight, which Mike thought was really clever.

The first version of this bag was somewhat similar to the current edition but needed some key changes before it would truly transform into the Cambiata.

Our first attempt had two short grab handles with Poron foam, much like some of our existing totes. Even with the cushiness of the Poron, we found these short grab handles to be uncomfortable for a bag with this carrying capacity. 

We wanted the bag to hold a lot, in particular large laptops, and took inspiration from the Techonaut when creating the separate laptop compartment. The original version was even bigger if you can envision it. We decided to size the bag down to a more comfortable tote size, but found that the short grab handles still were not the most comfortable for carrying. We considered perhaps sizing the bag down even more, but the piping that enables that bag to stand on its own, combined with the location of the zipper for the exterior laptop compartment, was already presenting the bag as a (fun!) challenge for the joiners on the floor. A smaller version would likely require a new design that excludes the separate laptop compartment.  So we went back to the drawing board.

Our second iteration of the Cambiata had longer tote straps, allowing it to be worn over the shoulder. While this solved our handles problem it left us with another issue: Finding the perfect length. We tested the bag on crew members of varying heights and got their feedback. 

 As we attempted the search for strap length we found ourselves with another consideration – due to the U-shaped opening and the location of the backpack straps, the tote straps would not “kiss” perfectly in the middle of the bag. To counteract this we thought of narrowing the bucket compartment opening by 1" (1/2" on each side), lowering front seams to line up with back seams, and attaching the handles.

Mike was quick to point out that by lowering the front seams we would be creating a stress point to the small joining seam at the zipper on both sides of the bag, due to the webbing strap pulling on the seam allowance where it was currently attached. This left the bag in an interesting position, as the stress created from this seam would prove the main zipped compartment hard to open when the handles were in use. 

It was suggested that the zipper opening be narrowed to curb the issue, but by changing this element we would be affecting multiple pattern pieces and eventually create a problematic production process for the team. So with this in mind, the team went back to the drawing board to assess how to handle the tote straps of the Cambiata.

Production Manager Fong proposed the solution of one strap and it seemed to be the perfect solution to all of our problems. It could be completely adjustable for any height, is comfortable, and could even be removed for those who preferred the Cambiata as a backpack only. 

When Fong’s idea was added to the bag, we found it was the perfect solution for the bag. With the adjustable shoulder strap, the bag was not only able to function as a tote but as a messenger bag as well!

Some fun details on our color choices – we loved the playful look of the Zest against the Black as well as the understated Mountain Grey against various exteriors. We decided to mix things up with the blackout label, pairing it with our Deep Blue exterior for the first time. 

After finalizing our design, we did a bag demo for the broader crew (which we featured on our Instagram stories!) and the feedback was very positive. The bag looks very different from many of the bags we have in the line and we see it as a welcome change!

Follow the link to the Cambiata page to see the final design of the bag!


Robert - June 14, 2024

As an engineer and product designer, I find the design notes fascinating.

If I didn’t already have two nice bags that are similar in size and tote/backpack/laptop capability to the Cambiata, I would have bought it. As things stand now, I have just ordered a Western Flyer which at 26L is roughly halfway between this one and my 30L Technaut which I have used successfully and happily for a number of trips including 10-day trips to Europe for which it was my only bag.

Cheers. Wonderful work.

Justin - February 27, 2024

Just wanted to say this is my favorite Tom Bihn bag for sure. If you guys ever make some new colorways I’m all about getting another

Briz B. Garcia - October 9, 2023

For nearly a year, I have used the Cambiata as personal carry-on travel bag, then an everyday carry bag to the office. The stowable straps have been great as I sometimes check the bag and want to minimize potential damage. Surprisingly, I have kept the tote strap on all the time and often change from backpack to tote carry. Like when standing on a bus and or at the airport and wanting to pull something out without having a place to rest the bag on. I especially enjoy the laptop compartment. At the end of each workday I drop my laptop into the bag and the small (and intentional) internal gap at the bottom keeps the laptop from hittng my desk. If I were to change anything, it would be a third smaller elastic pocket inside the bag above the other two pockets. The two existing pockets are difficult to access when it is packed out for trave.
For future Production and Design Notes, would it be possible to post additional pictures to help describe the challanges that are overcome? Thanks for a great bag.

Mike - February 25, 2023

Any thoughts on designing a garment/duffel hybid bag? I would like the utility of a garment bag for my suits, but with the convenience of a duffel. There are options out there. Bu I think TB would execute it better. Thanks for building such great stuff!

K.H. - July 27, 2022

You know you’re a TomBinner when…every new bag announced is the “one you’ve been waiting for”

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We're the TOM BIHN crew: we design bags, make bags, ship bags, and answer questions about bags. Oh, and we collaborate on blog posts, too.