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Fashionably Functional Bags
by Jialin Luh on Apr 14, 2006
From its conception in New York in the 50s to present day, the messenger bag has evolved from a drab component of a workman's ensemble to a unisex must-have fashion accessory, all the while never losing its functionality. In 1989 San Francisco bike messenger Rob Honeycutt invested $200 for a used Singer sewing machine, fabric and buckles to craft 50 no-name black handlebar bags he dubbed Scumbags, which would later bear the brand name Timbuk2. Fast forward to April 2006: the first Timbuk2 brick and mortar store opens its doors to the public after more than 15 years of providing bags to a growing loyal user base.
Both the fashionable and quality-conscious can now get their fixes at the Hayes Valley boutique for Timbuk2's trademark messenger bags in one-of-a-kind incantations, as well as other exclusives not available at other retail outlets or even on the Timbuk2 web site. Though the brand's popularity is widespread today in a variety of demographics, the bags' reputation and loyal following started among hard working bicycle messengers and cycling enthusiasts who needed rugged bags in which to courier their goods. Despite being a ubiquitous fashion accessory for both men and women, many urban bicyclists still swear by the quality symbolized by Timbuk2's distinctive "swirl" logo and classic three-panel design. And a note to the hombres: these messenger bags won't detract from your manly look like many murses (man purses) can.
Touting their bags as the stylish yet functional alternative to the backpack and black briefcase, Timbuk2 products and messenger bags in general have caught on with students, professionals and hip urbanites alike. It's not uncommon to see a motorcycle rider flying up Duboce from the Zeitgeist with a Timbuk2 strapped securely to his back or a health-conscious gym-goer toting her workout clothes.
With Timbuk2's steadily growing product offering, the rugged and the feminine have lots to choose from: in addition to messenger bags, Timbuk2 now makes daypacks, duffel bags, laptop bags in several styles including the woman's Marina Computer Handbag, and various phone, iPod and accessory cases, all of which are available online.
Since a wealth of their products are available online including the easy-to-use custom bag builder, what's the draw to visit the store? For one, most of the bags in the store are one-of-a-kind, or at most two-of-a-kind and come in colors and fabrics not available for the bags online. Examples include Davina Melange wool, graphic prints and screen prints by artists, colored prismatic reflexives, and all-canvas bags that allow you to design and embellish your bag as you please.
After observing many users around San Francisco who decorated and personalized their bags, the masterminds at Timbuk2 decided to provide a true canvas. Combined with a desire to give back to the community, the Artist Canvas Bag Program was born. Reaching out to mostly local artists (and some based out of New York), the store has initiated a rotating display of six artist-designed bags where the canvas center panel serves as the starting point for creative exploration. This summer, the bags will be auctioned off and proceeds will go to local charity At the Crossroads, a street youth program that provides counseling and street outreach to help homeless youth and young adults.
Current bags on display are done by local artists Andy Kowalczyk, Yohei Hanazawa, Beau Adams, Julia Dery, Jor One and Jason Boenig. On exhibit in shadow boxes with artist bios, this campaign adds to the gallery/boutique feel of the store. Designs by other artists can be seen in The Artists' Gallery on Timbuk2's web site. With your newfound inspiration, purchase the "Do It Yourself" Artist's Canvas Bag and do it up with paint pens, acrylics, Sharpies, whatever!
If you're not so adventurous but still want a bag that you won't see on every Joe and Jane, visit the store to pick custom combinations of limited edition special fabrics for your bag. Once you've picked your fabrics, turnaround time is approximately five work days. Prices range from $70 to $250 and vary depending on the fabrics. The standard ballistic nylon and cordura bags are the most economical and at the higher end you'll find all wool laptop bags. In addition to messenger bags in the small, medium and large messenger bags, the store also carries Timbuk2's newest: the extra small messenger bag, which is not yet available online.
Admirably, Timbuk2 makes all of its custom and classic messenger bags in its San Francisco factory with a team of hardworking cutters and sewers. Interestingly, Timbuk2 pioneered the concept of the built-to-order custom bag in 1994 and in 2000 launched the first "Build Your Own Bag™" web site.
Be on the look out for more good things from Timbuk2: graffiti artist Nic Hill, director and producer of the graffiti documentary Piece By Piece is introducing Timbuk2 to artists at the Berlin hip hop and graffiti film festival so we may be seeing some sick (as in awesome) internationally flavored bags in the future. In the meantime, Timbuk2's passion for design and commitment to quality is evident in its products and philosophy. Stop on by for the store and see for yourself!
by Jialin Luh on Apr 14, 2006
All images courtesy of Timbuk2