Blog

17 comments

Introducing Navy Soft Shell Minimal Wallets

Ever since I first introduced the Soft Shell wallets, I’ve wanted to add additional colors. But since I have this material custom produced, this introduces a couple of challenges…

First is the requirement that I order A LOT of it. Unlike most traditional fabrics where a distributor sells a few yards or rolls to product manufacturers, I have this material custom produced so need to buy the whole production run or literally a “lot" ;) 

The second challenge is that I can’t see what the colors will look like before I produce the material. Usually you can order swatches, which are small pieces of a material in the colors which are available. Then you just pick the color you like. Instead, I need to define a custom color to be produced. When I did this for the first time producing gray, it was a bit nerve wracking, but once I began to understand the process it actually was pretty cool to basically create exactly what I want.

As I started considering colors, I wanted something subtle and sophisticated, yet with just a bit of a pop of style. As it happened, I was really drawn to the blue of the shirt of one of my favorite tennis players Kei Nishikori so I special ordered it from Japan.
Kei Nishikori

As described in this post about defining our Charcoal color, I have the opportunity to send the factory physical objects as reference colors, then thy'll will produce a “lab dip” based on their color formula which most closely approximates it. At first glance it looks like a normal dark blue, but there are hints of other colors, which are brought out when accent stitching is applied, especially orange (like the collar of the shirt). So I sent this shirt in and waited for the lab dip results…

If you’ve ever tried to color match something, even just with an eye dropper in Photoshop, you know that there ends up being a range of colors so two lab dips were produced to cover this range and I was able to choose between them. Once I put my orange accent thread down on one of them, I knew I had a winner.

The Navy/Orange Soft Shell wallets are now in stock in both Original and MICRO sizes. MICRO RFID and Original RFID are also available for pre-order. They’ll ship out by Oct. 12th or sooner.
Or you can win one NOW for free! Just enter below and we’ll select the winner in a week.

Navy Giveaway 2

I’m really happy with the new Navy addition to the Soft Shell line… and I was careful to select the tone so it also goes well with the current Charcoal and Black products so you can easily mix and match with the Slim Pack.

Would you like to see Soft Shell come in additional colors? Let me know in the comments below!
4 comments

Slim Pack project complete!

It started with a simple question from my wife- What do you want for Christmas? When I couldn’t find a backpack I liked and heard from previous backers that they were also looking for a minimal backpack, I decided to make one.
Initial Slim Pack Sketch
After 2 years of designing and prototyping, I launched the campaign and the response was fantastic. But while folks loved the concept, there were also lots of suggestions for additional features and design elements. One of the great things about Kickstarter is that it facilitates a discussion directly between the customer and creator. When you walk into a department store, you can’t know who the designer behind a brand actually is, much less have a conversation with them. 
The first suggestion was to add just a bit more color… but not enough to distract from the minimal style. So I added two main elements: A bar tack accent stitch on the bottle pocket and some top stitching portions on the shoulders of the bag.
Bar tack close up
On the black bag, these top stitches are also black so it makes it more of a textural element than an overt color contrast. 
Close up of top stitching
The next main suggestion was to consider a charcoal backpack. As it so happened, I was already imagining this as a potential possibility down the road. It’s kind of a big deal to make a new color of Soft Shell since it needs to be custom manufactured and color matched, but I thought that our previous gray wouldn’t look as good for a backpack. So during the design phase of the Slim Pack, I defined a new darker gray and had already ordered it. It came in during the campaign, so I created a prototype Slim Pack. It looked so good, I decided to make this available during the campaign so folks would have the bag they most loved. And the Charcoal/Orange color combination ended up being incredibly popular.
Charcoal Slim Pack
There were also several functional elements that entered into the discussion… is there a clip for keys? What’s the handle like? Based on this feedback, I added a highly functional key clip with a rotating head so it doesn’t get tangled up and long leash so you can unlock a door without actually unclipping it.
Key clip addition
I also upgraded the handles to use an overmolded rubber grip, which is super comfortable in your hand.
Overmolded handle detail
Lastly, folks asked about the stability of the bag if they were active, such as while hiking or commuting on a bike. Some wanted a chest strap but others implored me not to add one since they hate how they dangle. So I came up with something I call Minimal MOLLE, which leverages the spacing of military webbing and allows things like a sternum strap to be added. Other things such as sunglasses or small pouches can also easily be attached.
Sternum Strap
By the end of the campaign, we had over 1,000 backers… which meant 1000 bags to make! This has been by far my most challenging project yet, from both a design and logistics point of view. Each bag ended up taking three times as long to make which also made the cost much higher. Even though we did all we could to make the process efficient, they’re made in a very small shop in San Francisco so are still essentially hand crafted one by one.
Slim Pack Components
The project has had more ups and downs than previous ones, but I can definitely say I’ve learned the most from this one. Sometimes I guess you learn more when things don’t go that smoothly. One of the things I learned was how supportive and understanding my backers have been throughout the process. With all the behind the scenes updates, folks began to feel like they were on the journey with me… and it was their comments along the way that encouraged me as well.
Kickstarter comment
Kickstarter comment
It took a bit of help from everyone to get the project done...
A little help from your little friends
But when folks got their bags, the positive feedback made it all worth it:

"Just wanted to send a quick thanks/kudos for the slimpack…. the air pressure from the plane popped open the person's water bottle…n Everything inside the other bag (nothing important fortunately) was also soaked. Slimpack contents though, including my laptop, were bone dry. So, thanks! Sure glad it arrived before my trip. :)"
- Nathan (Canada) 

"This backpack feels like the last backpack i'll ever own. Its attractive and understated, and i get compliments from people regularly, only to wax "and it's totally waterproof!” Anyway, i just feel like this is an incredibly functional object that makes essentially no compromises. Its the perfect backpack for me. Thank you so much!!"
- Greg W (Brooklyn, NY)

"My wife and I both love our backpacks! Mine works great when on my motorcycle, too. Love the fact that it rides high, not down on my waistline. Whatever difficulties you had in producing this project, just keep it up. This is the best minimalist backpack on the market, by a long ways!!"
- John M (Hixton, TX)

"Hi Dave: I don't like my bag. I absolutely LOVE it. It's so incredibly thoughtful in its design. Minimalist in appearance, but so functional, so light. Beautifully designed with function at the forefront, and yet so robust in its material and construction. You've done a marvelous job. I'm so impressed. This thing is beautiful. I was at the Airport earlier today, and I had 5 different people walk up to me and ask me about your bag. I unwittingly became a Slim Pack evangelist."
-Pablo (Durham, NC) 

"Hello! I took my backpack to our Canada Day Celebration in Ottawa and it poured rain all weekend. Everything in the backpack stayed dry as promised!"
-Evelyn (Canada)

"Hi Dave, I got your backpack and its amazing. Very light and stylish. Thanks a lot for this beautiful bag."
-KLEOPATRA V (Greece)

"Hello Dave, Just want to say, thanks for the bag and wallet, great products."
Alex A (Netherlands)

"Dear Dave, I just wanted to say thank you for creating the SlimPack.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that it has changed my life for the better: Since it’s arrival in late May I’ve used it as a daily commuter pack, used it as an on-board pack on international and domestic flights, used it as a conference bag, and it’s held up brilliantly—including soakings in foul weather where the contents remained toasty dry! I’m carrying both a Macbook Pro and a large iPad with far more comfort, and better posture, than with my previous backpacks."
-Andrew W (Australia)

"Will say, have never received so many compliments on a backpack before!"
-Amanda H (Massachusetts)

Now that the kickstarter bags have shipped, it’s a great feeling to have the project complete but I’ll also miss the process of creation.
Which leads to another question… what should I make next?
0 comments

New Black Tyvek Print Run: Challenges and Solutions

If printing on Tyvek were easy, I probably wouldn’t have a company. Not because of the competition of everyone doing it, but because I would have been able to make just a few wallets in the beginning. 

Since the material is essentially a sheet plastic, it’s really hard to even put ink down on it and get it to adhere at all. Special commercial presses are required so right away you’ve got to print many thousands of them even if you want just one.

To get the printing quality I wanted, I had to produce so many that it made sense to sell the extra ones... so SlimFold got it's start.

Process

The process of printing on Tyvek actually has a lot of variables. First, there’s the type of Tyvek to choose. It comes in a fabric style, which is what clean room “bunny suits” are made of, and also a paper style used for FedEx mailing envelopes. I use the paper-like one but even then, you can get a variety of thicknesses, coatings, and even textures.

Next is the ink. This is one of the keys since they have different properties. The ones that will stick to Tyvek at all can only be applied with a commercial press. In addition to adhering to the Tyvek material, it also needs to resist the abrasion of taking it in and out of the pocket.

Finally is the press itself. Some inks and processes can only be achieved with specialized equipment. Just like laser printers and ink jets, the ink and the printer needed to apply them are completely different.

The issue

One thing that’s very difficult to account for is how things will wear over time. This is especially true of things which whose wear patterns differ from customer to customer. Let me ask you a question: How long do jeans last? Well, although denim is very durable and stays functional for a very long time, it may not stay looking new for it’s entire serviceable lifetime. So you may need to buy new "work jeans" fairly frequently if you work in an office. But if you work in construction, it may not matter how they look but because of how hard you use them, you still may need to replace them more often.

Similarly, Tyvek wears in over time and looks less new. Most of the time, folks are amazed by how long their wallets last and we’ve got tons of repeat buyers who get fresh ones once their old one no longer looks new enough. But then we had several folks reach out who weren’t happy with how the printing wore. As you can imagine, this was extremely difficult to troubleshoot. How were each of the people using it? How many cards did they have? And if something wasn't right with the printing, how can we even tell which print run their wallet came from?

Solution

Luckily, it was the feedback from customers which ultimately helped us figure out what was going on. The first trend we noticed was that it only seemed to only affect black wallets. With all the variables involved, could the ink color also be one? Or was that just a function of the fact that it’s the one we sell the most number of?

My approach to creating products is to put in the hard work of designing it right in the beginning, partner with local vendors to fine tune production, and add a product to my line. When I’m getting close to running out of stock, I go back to those same vendors to produce more. When I talked to the printer, it turned out they had modified their press just before my most recent run. This should have theoretically improved things, but the new press modification also used a new ink. They said there are a variety of black inks available from different manufacturers, each with slightly different properties depending on their formulation. As discussed in this post, there isn’t really a way to “proof” things on Tyvek to make a test print. So how could I know which was the best to use?

To test them, we essentially had to do a mini print run using all of the different blacks on one sheet.

Tyvek Print Test

After the print run was done, I devised an abrasion test: a 320 grit fine sandpaper attached to a cylinder with a specific weight. I then dragged it parallel to the surface, allowing only the force from the weight of the cylinder to transfer to the surface. Okay, that’s a fancy way of saying I taped some sandpaper to a roll of duct tape, but it was a little scientific, ok?

Testing Abrasion of Tyvek Printing

It let me see what the wear was at 10, 20, then 40 rubs… and then compare that to another sample print. While this wouldn’t give us an absolute measure of abrasion resistance, it was good enough to show which printing method was best. I also compared it to sample press sheets from each of the previous 7 print runs we’ve done. Interestingly, this also confirmed the trend of previous print runs being better and the latest one not being quite as good.

Just to be sure, we then also sent all of the print samples to DuPont, the manufacturer of Tyvek, where they had a sophisticated abrasion testing machine. The lab results matched what I had found with my simple sandpaper test so we had a winner.

Conclusion

Ok, you may be asking yourself, “Why even go though all this trouble of printing on Tyvek at all?” I began asking myself the same thing and so released the white version… the color natural Tyvek starts out as.

Or why not make wallets from something that stays looking new for longer? How about custom making a material that stays looking new for years, outlasts leather, and is still super thin? No worries- I’m on it.

Thanks to all the customers who provided images of their wearing patterns and several who even sent theirs back to us for inspection. There were a few repeat customers whose feedback was especially valuable because we could look back in time to see what their first one looked like compared to the more recent ones. They essentially provided data for a “within” subjects study with more powerful insights from just a few people. The richness of those information from those customers was ultimately what led us down the right path.

This is a reminder that making products isn’t always a steady upward path of progress… even when you’re just trying to make more of something that was previously produced.