Hello from our Portland Studio! Spring is here, although it's a spring unlike any we've experienced before. Wishing you all well during this crazy time and hope you are all healthy and faring well.
The spring is always a busy time for us, as we're usually deep in product design and development this time of year. This year is no different, although I've certainly had to shift and be a bit more nimble than usual. My days certainly look different right now, as I am homeschooling my daughter and juggling new challenges, while trying to finalize our new designs. And luckily my studio is located in my house, so I can continue to design and prototype while keeping our family safe at home.
What I've Been Working on This Month
At the beginning of the year, we had planned on working on a new shoulder tote bag, as well as a new "Do-it-All" bag inspired by our friend Mel, based in London. Given all the changes and challenges these past 6 weeks, I've put all my efforts into to finalizing new shoulder tote bag and planning to re-group on the Mel bag in May and June.
So…about that shoulder tote bag. As many of you know, our products are all inspired by real women who give us feedback on what they need from their bags. This new tote bag is no exception and is inspired by our friend Isabella.
Isabella is an Interior Designer and lives in NYC with her family of 4. She is constantly on the go in the city (and beyond), meeting with clients, going to showrooms, and doing site visits. She carries A LOT with her when she goes about her day and needs a shoulder tote to take everything with her. A shoulder tote is the ideal silhouette for city living, as it’s so easy to sling over your shoulder while on the go.
Designing and Making the Isabella Shoulder Tote
Based on what she needs to go about her day, I went to work on some ideas. I always start with rough sketches (although, let’s be clear: drawing is not my strength) to determine general form and some initial design lines. I knew this tote should be a North/South style (which means more vertical than horizontal), as I wanted it to be more ergonomic and form the body more. I knew it needed to be tall enough to accommodate a laptop, ideally up to a 15” laptop. And I knew it had to have LOTS of pockets.
After some the initial concepting and sketching, I went right into making a prototype. I love to start making and experimenting not long after I have ideas initially concepted. Proportion is so critical with bag design and I find it easier to jump right in and see the dimensions and design elements in 3D. Once I can see how it’s coming to life, I can make changes and tweak things like top opening, pocket height, and strap width.
For this bag, we’re looking into making it in both a canvas version and a leather version. And as canvas is a bit easier to work with (and cheaper!) than leather, I made a canvas version first. This canvas version was a great way to test the overall proportions and make sure I was on the right track. I didn’t even attach handles, I just wanted to ensure the body shape and proportions were looking good.
After seeing the initial canvas version, I decided to move onto a leather option, and make a lining for this version. Adding the lining is a much more labor intensive process, I don’t always make a lining for the first few prototypes. However, I wanted to test having a bit wider width at the bottom of the bag, so I re-drew the pattern and went to work cutting the leather pieces, as well as the lining.
As we’re now all in #quarantine, I did have to get resourceful…I didn’t have the right thread color for the leather I wanted to use, so I had to come up with a plan B and use another hide I had as a back up. I had a dark brown hide and matching dark brown thread, so I went to work with what I had on hand. This is not the leather we currently use for our bags, but it’s close enough that I will be able to determine proportion and overall form. It also wasn’t my favorite color (or leather/lining combo color), but as Tim Gunn says, “make it work!”
It took me several days to pull it all together, as between the pattern drafting, cutting, skiving, and sewing…it’s A LOT of work. Prototype making always makes me appreciate our factory and talented artisans more! One of the final touches was attaching the handles before sewing it all up. These handles ended up being a bit too narrow, but it was good to see them placed to determine how I wanted to tweak them.
And here’s a quick peek at the interior of the bag – testing out the idea of these big side pockets!
I finished sewing up the bag and took a few measurements for the final tech pack – then shipped it off to the factory for review.
Next Steps for Our New Isabella Tote
Making our first few prototypes in house means we can speed up the product development process. Now that this prototype is off to the factory, they'll move forward with a much more polished factory sample. And since I've finessed all the proportions, design lines, and interior construction, the factory sample will look pretty close to our final product. AND, since we make our bags in the U.S. in small batches, we can get them to you within a few months.
So the good news is we should soon have a beautiful, polished factory sample of this new and versatile tote. And shortly thereafter, we'll be launching a pre-order sale for those of you interested in purchasing the Isabella Shoulder Tote!