September 20, 2022

Q&A with Jose

Q&A with Jose
Photo: Jose at the TOM BIHN headquarters.
Read previous TOM BIHN Crew Q&As ~ Ben, TianYingMattIrmaDiTamMatthew , Kat, and Cindy


Since you’re a newer face on the TOM BIHN team – tell us a little about yourself!

I’m originally from Lima, Peru. My family emigrated to the United States when I was 5, we lived on the East coast and in Florida for a few years, before settling in Seattle when I was 12. I’ve lived here ever since.

As a kid I spent my summers swimming at Mt. Baker Beach, playing soccer at Green Lake, and hanging out at the Northgate Mall.

Outside of work, I spend most of my time with my wife, my son, our little dog Eve, and our cat Frankie. I enjoy cycling, reading, drawing, cooking, video games, and watching my favorite soccer team Manchester United play on the weekends. I’m also a collector and I have been collecting action figures, sneakers, and vintage soccer jerseys since I was young.

Jose rocking the Bummer with his dog Eve
Jose rocking the Bummer with his dog Eve.

I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. When I was little, I dreamt of illustrating Marvel comic books! Though I didn’t follow that path, the skills I developed led me on the pathway to Design. 

Though I’ve always had an interest in clothing and design, spending 10 years working in retail clothing stores exposed me to all kinds of interesting designs. After my first year at Shoreline Community College, I decided to study Apparel Design at Seattle Central Community College.

I learned many things through the design program: sewing, patternmaking, grading, and design theory (to name a few!). As I developed my skills, I found myself focusing on outdoor apparel. My final line project consisted of creating three different outdoor jackets – from concept to final product! 

How cool! How did your Design journey continue to develop?

After graduation, I found an opening at Rainy Pass Repair in Seattle, where I was hired as a sewer. I spent the next three years learning how to repair and modify many outdoor products like tents, backpacks (my favorite were Dana Design packs!), drysuits, and outdoor apparel. 

Though I was not designing, I was exposed to many different brands and construction methods. This helped me understand how and why the products I was repairing were designed – and why they failed. The experience I gained during my time at Rainy Pass helped me become a better designer.

Since then, my design journey has led me to many exciting opportunities! I have designed technical outerwear apparel, outdoor furniture covers, outdoor cushions, and even streetwear. I’ve had the opportunity to see my designs on the national and international stage of industry tradeshows.

Work has taken me to amazing places in France, Germany, Switzerland, and even to factories in China to see my designs being produced. I cherish all these experiences and I’m grateful I get to design every day! 

It sounds like you’ve had some really amazing opportunities! What led you to become a bag designer?

I was ready for a new challenge.

In my design career, I have had the chance to design many different soft goods, and bags and backpacks always piqued my interest. I’ve worked on all sorts of different projects (from developing a cover for a huge cleaning truck to designing framed enclosures for riding lawnmowers!) and backpacks and bags felt like the next logical design opportunity for me to express my creativity.

While backpacks and bags are a new challenge for me, I welcome it!

How would you describe your “Design Philosophy?” What is most important to you when designing?

In my opinion, a new design should always be trying to improve the end user’s experience. I believe it’s important to put myself on the “user” side of the product and envision how every design choice will affect them. 

Features should be well thought out, products well constructed, and aesthetics great. I would describe myself as a “Less is More” type designer; I like to simplify my designs as much as I can. When designing I like to strip the design down to its basic form and work from there. I’ve learned that once you have a clean canvas you can focus on all the important elements: Features, Aesthetics, and Construction.

Sewing the first sample myself also plays an important role in my design process. Doing this helps me know if a design choice will work or if it needs to be improved. After working out any issues during the first sample, I collaborate with the production team on sampling, getting their feedback, and making any other adjustments.

I’m fortunate to work with an experienced production team and their suggestions are always very helpful!

Now that we know a little about your process…what inspired you to join the Design Team here at TOM BIHN?

I was drawn to the product.

TOM BIHN bags have great design and craftsmanship behind them. I can tell Tom really understood and cared about the design process, and how his choices would impact the final product and its user. During a recent conversation with Tom, he detailed to me his reasoning behind certain design choices, why he chose particular fabrics, and his construction process. I could tell how much thought went into every detail and how important these choices were to him. 

Also, I enjoy being able to work on every part of the development process, from product ideation to patternmaking, sewing samples, and working in conjunction with the production team. Being involved in every step of the process not only helps me develop my craft, but allows me to build a deeper connection to the product I design.

Cindy was also a big factor in me joining the company. I really enjoyed the conversations we had about her vision for the future of the company and product. Cindy is also very involved in the design process, she asks a lot of questions and is always eager to learn about all aspects of the process; she is the type of CEO I appreciate working with.

Rumor is that your debut bag is currently in the works! Care to give us any insider scoop on what to expect?

It’s something new for TOM BIHN!

I wanted to design a bag that could carry a lot, was comfortable, and had features our customers are familiar with. I commute to work on public transit and always carry a bag with me. I had my last EDC bag for 5 years and while I loved its features, I always felt a few things were missing. This new project is a combination of all the features I was looking for and the classic TB aesthetic. I shared a bag prototype with Tom and he was very happy to see that the new design draws from previous designs and that the “TOM BIHN” design language is present. 

I felt it was very important for the new bag to look and feel like a TB bag and it was great to hear it did from the man himself!

I’ve been testing the bag during my daily commutes (even during the crazy heatwave we had this summer!) and have been impressed by its performance. I’ve also been very thankful for the feedback from the design and production teams. Their suggestions have been incredibly helpful during development. Having access to their bag knowledge has been amazing. This bag also includes a feature some of our fans have been asking for and I’m eager to hear how it's received!

Overall, I’m excited to launch this bag, a lot of thought went into the design and development, and I can’t wait for our customers to experience it.

Can’t wait to see the final product!! In your About Us, you said that you love spending time with your family, watching soccer, cycling, and finding great places to eat. Do you have any food recommendations near the TOM BIHN factory?

Well, if you ever find yourself in Seattle’s International District, check out Tai Tung. I've been eating there since I was 12 and (to me) it’s the best Cantonese-style Chinese food around. Tai Tung has been around for over 70 years and it was Bruce Lee’s favorite restaurant. Their chef's special fried rice and Chow Mein are some of my favorite dishes.


Michele Frueh - September 27, 2022

Jose, thanks for sharing your story. Looking forward to seeing your debut bag!

Andreas - September 27, 2022

Dear Jose, many thanks for sharing your story; it means that your first bag will be even more special to me; finding the perfect EDC is like the holy grail, so I am really looking forward to seeing what you come up with – especially since your design philosophy ticks all the boxes for me – focus on end user experience + simple designs + hands on experience of the whole process. So many big companies outsource much of their work; part of what makes Tom Bihn so special is that team members can be involved in the whole process end to end.

Briz G. - September 23, 2022

Jose, welcome to the team. I’m new to Tom Bihn bags and have enjoyed the Pilot as my daily carry to the office. Soon I’ll have my hands on the Cambiata to assist in travelling, as well as a handful of organization accessories. I’m excited to see your first design and believe that your start in sewing, followed by your design experience, will be perfect for your new role. Wishing you the best.

Krishna - September 21, 2022

Welcome Jose, thanks for sharing. Excited to see your new debut design! Thanks for sharing your design philosophy and insights. All the best.

G42 - September 20, 2022

Welcome Jose! Thanks for sharing your background and design philosophy; I’m looking forward to seeing that new bag!
And thanks for the restaurant recommendation, it’s on my list for my next visit. 🙂

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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.