November 29, 2021

Q&A with Ben

Q&A with Ben

Tell us about your role here at TOM BIHN: how long have you been a part of the crew? What are your main responsibilities?

I've been with TOM BIHN since 2013. I am the Materials and Facilities Manager, meaning that I deal with most of the purchasing and raw materials that we use to make our bags and packs. This encompasses everything from projecting and ordering large amounts of either bulk or specification processed materials to unloading the shipments at the factory and converting the shipped goods into parcels and units that the sewers can handle and turn in to Tom Bihn products. As Facilities Manager I am responsible for keeping the factory up to and beyond city, state, and federal codes for safety and worker comfort.

Pre-COVID, that meant that I built or maintained the physical elements of the factory and retail space. During COVID, that meant building separation screens, air filtration units, having an additional hand-washing sink station installed, making everything possible hands free including faucets, and whatever else was needed to keep everyone safe so that we could keep making reusable cloth masks for people who needed them. 

Your bio on the About Us page is: "History major. Builds his own motorcycles. Was a Naval Aircrewman." How did you choose History as your major? Do you still build your own motorcycles, or what are you building/working on these days? Any standout stories or experiences from your days in the Navy?

I went back to school in 2009 when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition that was making more physical work impossible, so History seemed natural. Part of the reason I joined the Navy was to travel; to see the world and the people that made it. As an historian or a professor, I would be able to continue that journey.

By the time I graduated in 2013, I had proven the more negative doctors wrong and had rebuilt most of my physical strength, but family issues prevented me from pursuing an advanced degree. It is something I hope to re-visit at some point in the future.

I do still enjoy motorcycles, but most of my mechanic time is spent on the 1968 Mustang that my father and I rebuilt. I also bought a house about 5 years ago so there is significantly less time to play with partially built bikes. Or so I am told


Ben and Nik talking in the factory

In your role as Facilities Manager, you worked with Kim (Director of Administration) on our COVID-19 safety protocols. And we of course remember that as early as February of 2020, you brought the potential concern of COVID-19 becoming a global pandemic. What are your thoughts and philosophy on safety in the workplace?

Obviously, we have had to go above and beyond to keep the TOM BIHN factory safe through the last year and a half. The screens and the social distancing signs and all of that have been the simple part. But safety in the workplace means something different than it did before COVID.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, we have been approaching workplace safety as if lives could depend on it — because they do. We spend time every day looking for new information that might be the difference in keeping people safe. Even before masks were mandated anywhere, we were wearing masks in the factory because studies showed that they most likely help. We have gone well above and beyond recommended air flow exchange rates with fans, filters and open doors even though it is not fun during the winter in Seattle. We ordered battery-pack heated vests and heavy cotton TOM BIHN logo hoodies to offset that. People have been eating lunch in their cars since last June because we have identified eating as the most high risk activity in the factory.

But these things are necessary because without them we could not let our crew come to work and tell them they are as safe as possible. And because we did that we made 400,000 (eventually donating over 200,000) masks through the worst part of the pandemic with zero case spread. 

You've been in most (if not all?) of our April Fools debuts. The Flocculent Swift and the Extreme Security Organizer Pouch come to mind. Which was your favorite?

They were all fun. Obviously, the Modular Live-in Aeronaut was the best.  Even building that was fun.  Finding parts and materials to replicate something so iconic to our customers was a unique challenge, even if it probably (hopefully?) didn't actually fool a lot of people. In a larger sense, it is cool to be a part of something like that - people know it's coming but it can still bring them some amusement and show our appreciation for their support. 

At the time they didn't seem like a huge deal but now the idea of doing anything just for fun seems like a very long time ago.  Hopefully we can get back there soon.

Ben standing in the life-size replica of the Aeronaut he built.

Tell us about yourself outside of work! Everyone would love to learn more about you. What are your hobbies and what do you like to do for fun? Is there anything new you're learning right now?

As I mentioned above, I bought a house about five years ago so I spend a lot of time on that. Since my gym was shut down during COVID I built a dry sauna and am currently in the process of building a gym/yoga studio in a shipping container in my backyard. My big personal news is that my fiance Nickie and I will be getting married on December 23. We have been together for a while so it is a culmination more than a beginning. She is a huge Tom Bihn fan with or without me and has helped test and review many of the products and materials that eventually get used for new items.

Many of you may remember our Border Collie, Coco, from some of the Guides Edition photos in my old Samurai or as the puppy in an Azalea Cafe Bag.

Puppy Coco in the Cafe Bag in Azalea

Ben petting Coco in the back of the Samurai


Michelle Farkas - December 20, 2022

This was a great read! I appreciate your dedication to your team while keeping everyone safe with the extra Covid protection protocols. I would love to see a Border Collie interview with Coco! And I hope you get to work on that motorcycle! Cheers!

Anonymous - December 22, 2021

Aren’t Border Collies the best!?! I love how TB really helped take care of their employees during the pandemic and it was great to get additional insight into how much thought and effort went into that. Congratulations on your engagement.
TOM BIHN replied:
Ben says: Thanks

And we say: yes, Border Collies are the best. We realized Coco isn’t on the About Us page… gotta fix that!

NSH - December 22, 2021

Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!!
Thanks for all you do to keep the team/crew safe:)
TOM BIHN replied:
Thank you! (shared your comment w/Ben!)

BethC - November 30, 2021

This was really fun to read! And I still remember the “modular live-in Aeronaut” bit; that was just about the best April Fool’s ever. Please give Coco a pet for me :)

G42 - November 29, 2021

That’s a wide range of things to be responsible for, must keep your days very interesting. It’s also very cool to hear more about all the Covid mitigation systems put in place to keep everyone safe.
Best wishes to you and Nickie on your upcoming wedding!
TOM BIHN replied:
Ben says: “Thank you!”

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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.