I didn't start off wanting to make a backpack. I just wanted to buy one which met my needs and I enjoyed owning.
The story of how I came to make the Slim Pack Minimal Commuter Bag really began two years ago through the combination of two events...
1) What do you want for Christmas?
It’s the classic question families ask each other each year. When my wife asked two years ago, the answer came pretty easily for me. I wanted a backpack! Knowing how picky I am about products, she said she would get me any one I wanted, but I had to send her a link to what I wanted santa to bring.
Thus began the search for the perfect backpack. My main requirements were:
- I usually just need my computer, notebook, and maybe a camera, charger, and other accessories.
- I’m not a big fan of huge logos or busy designs.
- I like comfort and features, but didn’t want a super technical or military looking backpack.
I also had lots of specific preferences which also often ruled out backpacks:
- It had to have a pocket to carry a water or coffee bottle
- Needed to be able to carry my 15” MacBook Pro Retina
- Professional enough looking that I could bring to a business meeting and look sharp
- Shoulder straps needed to be full-size
- Unlike what is found on some “minimal” bags
- Light weight instead of being over-built and heavy
- Versatile enough for travel or a day hike
- Preference for seat belt webbing instead of cheaper strapping
- Preference for a weatherproof bag
- But without being vinyl or rubber looking
- Efficient loading and unloading
- As opposed to top-loaders or roll tops that bury stuff at the bottom
- No “military” style extra loops
- Although sometimes available in all black, they usually have too much extra strapping
See… picky, right? As my Evernote list of potential backpacks grew, no clear winners emerged. While some of them would have one element I liked, each of them had multiple things I didn’t like and at least one deal breaker.
I finally settled on one that seemed pretty good, and sent the link.
Christmas arrived, I feigned ignorance as I unwrapped the backpack size box, though truly looking forward to finally seeing this backpack I had spent so many hours researching online. I took it out of the box, slid the zippers back and forth a little, and swished the material between my thumb and finger in several places.
I’m not sure what exactly my tell is. Perhaps I bite my lip a bit… or slightly squint my eyes. But she knew right away it was going to be returned. While it met many of my requirements, in the end it just felt very cheap.
It turns out that not only are most bags made overseas these days, but they’re made at just a handful of factories. Once I started on the Slim Pack project and researched it more deeply, this started to explain why most bags were designed in the same way and ended up with the same characteristics. Even for Kickstarter projects, it’s the factories who are doing the bulk of the design. In a confluence of efficiency and labor savings, the same factory may be producing bags for one international brand one week and their competitor the next week. The logos change and perhaps a few of the decorative elements, but the bags from different brands usually have more commonalities than differences.
2) Survey says!
Shortly after the Christmas backpack experience, I surveyed previous customers about what I should make next. To my amazement, along with the usual various varieties of wallets they were interested in, “minimal backpack” came back as the #1 request! Once I knew my customers shared my same problem, I was even more motivated to solve it.
On that Christmas morning, I realized that if I really wanted to have the backpack i imagined, I’d have to make it myself. From then on, my sketchbook has been dedicated to capturing everything I wished a backpack could be.
Slim Pack becomes a reality
Oddly, much of the design process has felt like waiting for Christmas when there’s something you really want to get...
And ever since I've have a sample that I can use as my backpack, the process of bringing the product to Kickstarter has felt kind of like giving a surprise gift that you hope someone will like.
I’m thrilled that the Slim Pack Kickstarter was 300% funded on the first day of its release, which means that I’ll officially be producing it. Now I’m looking forward to putting the finishing touches on the product, shipping them out, and waiting for backers to unwrap their backpack size boxes which arrive in the mail.