From boarding yachts to sitting on the subway, bags serve many purposes. They transport our lives for an hour, a day, a weekend, or a long-awaited trip. They carry books and presents, diapers and toys, gym stuff and tools, electronics and lunch. Bags are our companions. They get us from place to place in as organized a way, or not, as we want. We buy them, but they become part of us. Dings and scratches on a bag say that we’ve been places, we’ve seen things, and we’ve lived.
What we put in bags says a lot about who we are and what we value. Yes, bags hold our stuff. They hide surprises and keep our secrets. They tell others that we need things, but that we’ve planned ahead, and that whatever loot we’ve put inside is dust free and ready, whenever we need it to fulfill our purposes.
Bags are functional, yes, but they also serve another purpose. They’re emotional.
When we’re about to buy a bag, we touch it. We open it. We turn it inside out. Our fingers run along the fabric, test zippers, check pockets, and all the intuitive details the maker arranged, waiting for us to find for our own personal hidden treasures. And, that’s when it happens. We’re instantly taken into our heads and start to imagine. What’ll we pack? Where will we go? With who? This is the beginning of making a bag our own.
But, how do we choose a bag? There are as many ways of choosing a bag as there are people. Beyond the function, details inspire us. They say something personal about us. Many common things run through our heads: the usefulness, the brand’s integrity, the image of how we’ll look carrying the bag, how it fits into our lifestyles, or not. We compare tactile qualities, finishes, hardware, and the way a particular bag or bag maker’s philosophy connects with our needs and our ideal of our quality of life and the goals to which we aspire. Bags have always fed our imaginations. They’ve inspired us. They’ve helped make our lives happen.
Bilio Group is located in Oakland California. CEO is H. Billy Smith IV
Today, there are many more important questions being asked by purchasers of consumer apparel and accessory products, including bags, than there have been in the past. Besides the price and styling, consumers want to know everything about how well things are made. By well-made, consumers are demanding mindfulness of product manufacturers in making their products as environmentally and socially responsible as possible. More often than not, they desire to know the story behind a product. Buying into a brand is no longer a given loyalty.
Shoppers today research and compare product features, pricing, but more importantly require transparency of materials as well as the hard facts about each product’s future. Does this product have another life, being made into something else? Can it be recycled? Or is it going to end up with no other choice but a landfill? Are people exploited or animals harmed in any way? What is the real carbon footprint of this product? Does the brand and people that made this bag send a message that reflects a positive view of humanity, and is this a view I want others to associate with me personally?
Consumers are voting with their wallets and many times it’s the small artisan maker winning out over big brands. Because they’re smaller, likely means they’re more agile and have far closer relationships to end consumers. Every happy customer is not the end. Every happy customer is an opportunity to grow the brand’s digital presence with digital word of mouth reviews and praise.
Truthfulness in branding is becoming more and more critical to market survival in our digital world. No longer can the mega brands rely solely on brick and mortar retail image, or on their own marketing departments that have been finely tuned to reach retail buyers and brick and mortar consumers, through print ads and sponsorships. Marketing today is in real time. In our connected world, bad news travels at the speed of fiber optics. Good reviews create product evangelists and true believers; attract influencers, who tap into viral status as people scramble to belong to the movement and have some of that specialness rub off on them.
There was an article recently, about the New Yorker tote bag and how badly designed a bag it is, and how it doesn’t carry much, but so many people carry it around because it says some very positive things about them: that they read a posh magazine without many pictures, and are therefore belong to an intelligent group of people with sophisticated tastes. It’s a freebie, given away with a subscription to the magazine. It’s a bag which can’t close and has straps that are too short, but it says the people who carry it are deep thinkers, with attention spans beyond 140 characters.
The fact that this is a go to bag also says that they care. They care about urbane and refined ideas, cutting edge technology, and opinions that provoke real discussions. They’re erudite. They’ve mastered ‘adulting’ and are concerned about things beyond them, like the planet and are part of a growing mentality of consumers who reuse, recycle, and repurpose. They care about sustainability. Proof that what a bag means is as important to a user as how or where it’s made, or what it can carry, is the New Yorker tote bag. For all its faults, the New Yorker tote bag is constantly on back order.
Sustainability is one of the biggest challenges for small makers, as well as big apparel brands. Is sustainability in making things a realistic goal? Here’s where the buzz word we keep hearing gets tricky. Sustainability, like our individual perspectives in selecting bags, can mean a variety of things to different people and how it’s spun in a variety of circumstances. Being sustainable can mean an economically justifiable solution. It can also mean a financially viable decision. It can also convey being environmentally balanced, meaning no impact on the environment.
Staying absolutely true to the mission of sustainability many times is cost prohibitive or just not possible in manufacturing, let alone on a small scale. There are few products that can truly say they’re designed from the get-go as cradle to cradle and work out as planned. But we, as designers, engineers, manufacturers, - creators of products can still be very mindful in all aspects of planning and executing a product plan and assure consumers that the trust they put in us, is met with the honesty and transparency that we’ve done our best to meet all their expectations, no matter the size of the company. The New Yorker tote also proves that sustainability (reuse, repurpose, and recycle) is only part of what consumers are looking for in a product. It’s a huge part, an emotional part, but it’s not everything. To be an extraordinary product, a product needs a soul, a spirit, an intuitiveness that speaks to the consumer.
As 3D knit aficionados, we’ve seen many attempts at making knitted bags from small companies, artisans, and machine builders alike. Some speak to function and others speak to aesthetics to inspire. Most of what s in the market today uses cut and sew technology to interpret knitting into a bag. We’ve seen only one company build a range of bags from the fiber up, using knitting as additive manufacturing, with nearly zero waste, and get it to commercialization.
Billy and Nick Smith of Bilio set out in 2016 to make a small luggage line, with zero sewing. They had many demands for these bags, before consumers even saw them. The bags needed to be aesthetically fantastic and ergonomically designed, but also be recyclable, and have no post-production waste. Bilio wanted them to customizable in colors, and have places for many types of branding and private label options. Along with customization, Bilio stacked the already tall order with another request. They wanted all the production to be agile enough to deliver consistent beautiful products on demand, so there was no perishable stock of products or roll good materials that had to be warehoused inventoried or marked down. With their cutting-edge industrial design and construction skills, they worked with Fabdesigns, Inc. to create something really unique and new in agile on-demand manufacturing techniques, but all the end consumer would see was a terrific bag that was made just for him or her.
In 2017, Bilio Group had not one bag, but three, and by 2018, the Bilio team had a range of 3D knit to shape products ready for mass production, with less than 3 grams of post-production waste per unit. Using recycled material yarns to make the bags, which are themselves recyclable, closes the loop. 2019 brings passport holders, key fobs, wine bottle holders, back packs, weekend bags, and duffels, are all made with integrated closure systems, handles, flaps, and pockets to squirrel things away in their proper place, and all made by the knitting machines. Bilio manufactures all products in the USA, and assembles their bags in their Oakland, California facility with their own secret sauce and a lot of love for the planet.
Connie Huffa – Fabdesigns, Inc.
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