Can you tell us about yourself?
My family immigrated to Boston, MA when I was 2. Boston was my home for all of my childhood and my early adulthood. My parents started off working in restaurants before starting a small one in Chinatown themselves – they’re the hardest working people I know and my biggest inspirations.
I attended Harvard and studied Economics. After graduating, I moved to New York to work in finance and then eventually moved back to Boston to work in some operational roles at startups. Moving to Seattle for TOM BIHN has been my biggest move yet.
I have been a longtime fan of TOM BIHN bags, being able to work at the factory everyday has truly been a dream realized!
Can you tell us a little bit more about your role as CEO at TOM BIHN? What do you do and what do you like the most about working here?
I do a little bit of everything!
- I work very closely with Design, Materials Management, Production, Operations, Fulfillment, Admin, Social Media, and Photography. We discuss and align on priorities, make to-do lists, and get stuff done!
- Listen to customer feedback across all our channels and figure out how we can serve you all better
- Work with external organizations on social and environmental initiatives
- Organize TB crew events! We recently had our Employee Bag Giveaway and summer ice cream event. We gave away 300 bags to our employees!
What I like the most is definitely the people: the TB crew, our customers, and community. We have some really awesome dedicated people that I have the pleasure to go to work with everyday. We also have the most engaged customers and community, who always ask the hardest questions and challenge us to be better.
Why is “Sewn in Seattle” important to you?
Firstly, like Tom and Darcy, I am passionate about creating good jobs and providing a place for people to foster their careers. There is a lot of cross-training and mutual learning that happens on the floor between our more tenured employees and newer ones (including myself). The working environment that we’ve created here is truly so special. Many of our employees have also been with the company since the early days. Their dedication inspires me to do the best for them.
I also love that we are in the unique position of being three companies in one (design house, manufacturer, and direct retailer). Being sewn in Seattle allows us to be complete control freaks about the quality of our bags and our design and manufacturing processes, in the best way possible. If we are not 100% satisfied with how a batch of bags turns out, we will send it back to our production floor to figure out how we can make it better, even if that means taking longer to release a new bag or restocking an existing design.
I am also really happy to call Seattle home now! It’s a great city with a long history in innovating and making things, and I’m really proud that TOM BIHN can continue to be part of this tradition!
We also recently renewed our 10-year lease at our Seattle factory so don’t expect us to go anywhere anytime soon.
What have been some of your favorite projects so far?
Oh so many! Thankfully, this year, we haven’t had to pivot back to making masks, so instead we’ve been able to focus all our attention on bags again! Back in February, we worked on a large knitting goods pre-order. It has been a while since we’ve had the Swift and Little Swift in stock, so we wanted to make sure that we did it right. We partnered with a local small business, Seattle Yarn, on the re-release. The lovely team there (Bethany, Destiny, and Elspeth) starred in all our new videos and modeled for the photos, and they helped us spread the word at the Red Alder Fiber Arts Retreat.
I’ve also really enjoyed working along with Tom, Nik, and our newest designer, Jose, on all the new releases this year. We had the Paramour, Tom’s blended version of the Paragon and Paradigm, in April; the Bummer, which was a reissue of a fanny pack designed by Tom in the 90s, in June; the Cambiata, a blended vision of a tote backpack designed by Nik and Jose, in July; and finally the recently released Aeronaut 2.0. Every design process has its unique challenges, and it’s been really fun to work together through these processes.
What are some things you are looking forward to?
I’m super excited about all the stuff we’re going to be releasing for the holidays! I can’t say too much yet, but there’s at least one totally new design in there and possibly a re-issue of a retired bag that we haven’t made in a while (any guesses?!).
And here’s some exciting news that I can share: we just received a large shipment of Halcyon from Japan in our factory last Thursday! We’re still feeling some of the supply chain challenges caused by COVID, so that has meant more drawn out timelines between shipments, resulting in us having to be a little smarter about how we allocate our fabrics across our bags. The shipment that just arrived will definitely help make things easier. I also don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but there is also a new Halcyon color that we’re (tentatively) expecting to arrive in the factory late fall/early winter. There is a chance we may be able to incorporate this new color into our holiday offerings (and if not, then by early next year).
We’ve also been exploring new fabrics and sewing up lots of samples at the factory for testing. Nik and Darcy are currently the owners of a Synapse 19 made in one of the new fabrics that we’re considering. They’re trying out the bag, and I'm looking forward to getting their feedback on the new fabric.
Can you tell us a little bit more about how Tom, Darcy, and Nik have stayed involved? What can we expect in the future?
My opportunity to be involved in TOM BIHN was brought on by Tom, Darcy, and Nik’s desire to retire from everyday operations. It’s been a smooth transition and they continue to be incredible resources as Advisors to the company. It’s really important to me that TOM BIHN continues to be the company that the crew and customers love. To me that means designing and manufacturing the highest quality bags, delivering the best customer service, treating folks well, contributing to our community, and furthering our environmental and social goals.
As for the future, here’s what they have to share!
"Since 1990, when I opened my shop on Locust Street in Santa Cruz, the TOM BIHN company has been my primary life focus: it’s been my vocation, my avocation, arguably my “child.” Honing my skills as a designer, building my expertise in materials development, mastering cutting and sewing machines and processes: though all those things have been fun, it’s been my connections to *people* that I cherish most. Employees, customers, suppliers – it’s people that make it work, and people that make it all worth while.
That said, over the past several years, I’ve begun working less in the company, spending more time in what looks more and more like “retirement”: hiking and cross country skiing, spending time with my friends, my family and my dogs.
When I was introduced to Cindy in 2021, I soon realized that perhaps I could have my cake and eat it too: I could retire from the company and still have its legacy continue into the future.
I’ll still be involved from time to time as a consultant, though so far the new team seems to be managing fine without me – all the production, customer service and fulfillment crew have stayed on – I think Cindy is in good hands.
Wish me luck!" - Tom
“I am going to miss everyone at TOM BIHN — the crew and everyone who uses our bags — quite a lot, yet I’m also having a wonderful time after making the leap and finally working towards realizing my lifelong dream of becoming an organic farmer! I’ve been working behind the scenes with Cindy for a while now and I’m excited about the skills, ideas, and energy she’s bringing to the company as the new CEO. It’s fun to work with someone who is as geeked about design and Seattle manufacturing as we’ve always been.” - Darcy
“I've enjoyed my time at TOM BIHN and have learned so many things from working with Tom, Darcy, and all the rest of the wonderful crew there. As for what I've been busy with (besides helping TOM BIHN with systems support), I'm taking some programming classes (Machine Learning/Automation/AI type stuff) to see if that is the career direction I want to work towards next. I'm also a bit of a DIY type person and have a fairly large to-do list of various house projects that have piled up over the years so I've been working my way through those as well.” - Nik
What do you like to do outside of work?
I like to hang out with my dog, Daikon. He is the small white fluff that you might have seen at our Factory Showroom. He is usually either trying to get attention from the crew and customers in the Showroom or begging for food in the kitchen. I plan and prioritize all my activities around him (only slightly joking). I also love eating, outdoor activities like running/hiking/skiing, watching TV, and occasionally traveling.
Here's a photo of Daikon for reference, he takes his job at TOM BIHN very seriously.
What is your favorite TOM BIHN bag?
Well, admittedly, I don’t have a favorite because I have too many:
- For work, some days I use the Cambiata. Other days, I use a combo of the Synik 22 + Truck (I can’t seem to fit my lunch and snacks into just one bag!)
- For traveling, my go-to large travel bag is the Techonaut 30
- For walking Daikon, I like the Bummer
- For hiking, I like the Daylight Backpack
- For grocery shopping, I like the Monster Truck and the new bag that we’re working on ;)
- I also love all the Packing Cubes and Travel Trays, staying organized sparks lots of joy
- For everything else, the Side Effect is my best friend
We've been receiving lots of great questions and concern regarding the timing of the announcement and why it took so long to share this news with you all. We want to share the follow-up responses below from Darcy & Cindy:
"Thank you so much for your well-wishes. After seeing Tom work so hard for so many years, it makes us so happy to see him enjoying his retirement and spending more time with friends and family. I’m enjoying more time with friends and family as well, but my head is also filled with cover crops, soil health, and all kinds of things related to organic and regenerative agriculture!
I think, for us, because the transition is ongoing, and TOM BIHN headquarters is even busier than ever in so many great ways thanks to Cindy’s vision, energy, and leadership, the time has just been flying by. We were focusing on learning, getting up to speed, figuring stuff out, making mistakes, having successes, getting to know each other, all that kind of day-to-day stuff. It was on our minds though and we were discussing the announcement, which Cindy expected to make in early September.
And then it was made for us! It is understandable, and I am so sorry that the way this unfolded has caused so much concern. I am glad people are expressing disappointment, asking questions, etc.
One of the things we were so excited about after getting to know Cindy is that there was so much that wouldn’t change: the best quality bags made by the same crew in Seattle, with the values we all share. All of that great stuff, but with new leadership who is energized and ready to see it forward, to help the company continue its momentum…. while Tom’s off hiking with family and I’ve got my hands in the dirt!
Again, the disappointment you shared is understandable. Thank you for taking the time to share it with us. And thank you for wishing the best for all of us… we are excited to see the company continue on, as we very much care about the entire TOM BIHN crew, as it’s the whole crew that makes the company." - Darcy
"Thank you everyone for the great questions. Just following up on Darcy's message, I agree that we could have handled the announcement in a better way —I'm sorry for the confusion and doubt that we created. Our customers help make TOM BIHN special, and we hope to rebuild trust with more timely and transparent communication moving forward. We see there is a lot of speculation about what the future holds for TOM BIHN. I will say this unequivocally: we will not move our manufacturing out of Seattle, and we will not cut corners on quality. As for the employee experience, we invite you to come to our factory showroom and talk to any of our crew members to see what we have been up to.
Regarding our designs going forward, Tom will continue to advise the Design team on projects. At TOM BIHN, design has always been an iterative process and team effort between Tom, the designer(s), pattern maker, production, and customer service. The remaining core design team has a collective four decades of experience at TOM BIHN, in addition to Tom's ongoing involvement. Our continued commitment will be to design innovative, functional bags that will last a lifetime (sewn in Seattle)." - Cindy Guan