When I walked into Rickshaw Bagworks, the first “person” to greet me was actually a big black Labrador named Burly. Burly seemed to be right at home in a room carved out of a large, airy, well lit warehouse. The warehouse looks like many others that you might find in a more industrialized area of a city. But to me, it has a warmth to it and to the neighborhood as well. Rickshaw blends in well with the neighborhood of tech and design firms, auto body shops and residential dwellings in the “Dogpatch” section of San Francisco. But Rickshaw wouldn’t have it any other way, this hip, up-and-coming company would simply not fit in within corporate downtown nor anywhere where there wasn’t a good buzz of activity of eclectic, energetic and diverse individuals and businesses.
After a few minutes of becoming good friends with Burly, I was greeted by his owner, Macy McGinness, Director of Marketing, at Rickshaw. Over about an hour, Macy walked me through the single building that make up Rickshaw’s corporate offices/store front/assembly line/warehouse. It was actually an amazing tour, loaded with buzzwords, product demos, fabric swaths and engaging conversation. After all was said and done, I walked away thinking “here is a company that is doing it right on so many fronts.” Here is why I think so.
According to Macy and their site, Rickshaw was “inspired by the creative energy of our city, urban cycling and an intense desire to make great products.” McGinness broke it down for me this way:
“Our bags are distinctively different than other messenger bags out on the market, we have great attention to detail in all of our products, offer fast customization (all bags are touched in San Francisco and built to order here), we have a lean manufacturing platform which gives us a low manufacturing footprint for our business, and we try to be welcoming and inclusive.”
Rickshaw has a couple of important buzzword that set their products apart from others:
- BTO-SFO â€“ Built to Order in San Francisco
- PCQ â€“ Passion. Craft. Quality. There will be a tag buried in your bag that shows a heart and the “PCQ tattoo.”
- 3-F’s â€“ Form, Function, Footprint
- Monopolymer â€“ a monopolymer is a product that is made out of only one type of material only. For example, Rickshaw’s Zero Messenger bag is 100% nylon which means that it would be easier to “recycle” or “up-cycle” into a new product (see “Cradle-to-Cradle” below).
- Bottles-to-bags â€“ All of the exterior fabric on the “bottles-to-bags” lines are made from 100% recycled PET (recycled plastic beverage bottles)
- PVC-free â€“ all of the Rickshaw bags are PVC-free
- Cradle-to-Cradle â€“ based on a system of “lifecycle development” initiated by Michael Braungart and Bill McDonough of the company MBDC, the idea is to challenge companies to re-think the way things are made. Ideally, all products should be made with a “cradle-to-grave” idea where the product can either be “down-cycled” (biodegradable) or “up-cycled” into something else.
Rickshaw has 6 full time employees and 1 part time and Macy proudly boasts that 86% are women. The company was founded in May 2007 by Mark Dwight, Macy Allatt McGinness and Rob Honeycutt.
They don’t have a storefront per se, but they do have an area in part of their warehouse where customers can looks at the different bags available and see & touch the fabrics first-hand. The picture below is from Rickshaw’s Grand Opening party:
Rickshaw offers a variety of products:
- Commuter Messenger (Skinny, Small, Medium)
- Zero Messenger (Small, Medium, Large)
- Baby Bag
- Bag Accessories
- On-the-Bike Accessories
- Moleskin Folio
Most recently, they introduced their Backpack, which I had the pleasure of customizing and see being built.
What is truly unique about Rickshaw is the fact that they don’t hold an inventory on site, only the parts to assemble the bags. When someone places an order via the online store, or even on-site, the bags are assembled in 15 minutes.
During my tour of the warehouse, Macy described the process that is used to make the Zero Messenger bags. This is by far, the coolest product they have. One sheet of material is used to construct this bag, with ZERO scraps left over. The bag is entirely manufactured and assembled in the San Francisco warehouse, using “domestically sourced” materials (which reduces the length of the raw material supply chain).
Bag Assembly Process
The Rickshaw Backpack is assembled in San Francisco. The parts, however, come from China. The backpack has two areas that are customizable: the binding and the flap. When I toured their warehouse, I looked at a lot of different fabrics and colors and opted to stick to the colors of my blog (dark red and black). However, for the flap, I wanted something that was a bit different than just plain old nylon. I opted for an “X-pac” material which is actually a light-weight sail material which is extremely durable, waterproof and lightweight.
The backpack comes in different pre-assembled pieces. They are easy to ship overseas in bulk and can be stored in the San Francisco warehouse for immediate assembly.
Here the back section is measured against the custom flap.
The custom material for the flap cut to sizeâ€¦
â€¦and stitched to the backing of the flap.
The flap is then joined to the bottom section.
The red binding is sewn in.
More binding work.
The backpack is almost finished.
The final product.
Review of Rickshaw Backpack
The backpack has not been out in the market very long. Rickshaw did produce 2200 of these for the recent Ted conference. They actually produced 1100 unique pairs for the conference. The material used was a 100-percent post consumer reclaimed beverage bottles (Coca-Cola was a sponsor) and used 10 different colors to create 11 body colors and 10 binding colors.
I used the Rickshaw backpack for 2 weeks of commuting and a 1 week road trip. For the most part, the bag was really great.
The backpack comes with a nicely padded removable protective case for a 15″ or 17″ laptop. The padded case is attached via Velcro. Careful attention was made when designing this so that if the case is removed, the Velcro that remains is the “non-scratchy” side so that if you throw a sweater in the backpack, it won’t get caught.
On the main flap of the backpack (as well as on other Rickshaw products), they have created a removable magnetic clip to close the flap. The tag actually says “SHHHHHH” when the magnetic side is facing out. If you remove the magnet, the reverse side of the clip says “RRRRRRIP”. This is a great feature as you don’t bug your friends, family and co-workers each time you open your bag.
All zippered sections have plenty of pockets and places to tuck-away odds & ends, pens, gadgets, cables, etc.
The backpack comes with plenty of hooks, clips and ways to attach other accessories.
I quickly filled up my front pocket section with cables and other high-tech accessories.
Even in the front pocket section has a removable pouch, attached by Velcro as well.
The Rickshaw backpack is great addition to their already solid product line. Messenger bags are not that trendy any more, they are much more utilitarian. Rickshaw has re-energized them by making them fashionable and environmentally safe. The backpack addition was needed to round out the offerings. As a first edition product, it is pretty good. The materials chosen are of high quality, the assembly is good and the design is well thought out. I do think, however, that the backpack is a bit large for a daily commuter bag. I would say that this bag is a “large” and that there should be a “medium” one offered as well. It could have the same dimensions (fitting the 15 and maybe 17 inch laptops) but not as deep. I would think a few inches could be taken from the depth and possibly the height as well (perhaps removing the 17 inch sizing option). At $200 for the backpack, the price is not out of range for what you get, but it is on the higher side. If a “medium” size was created, I believe a good price point would be about $160-$175.
Limited Time Discount â€“ Readers of this article can use coupon code “HTD15” to receive 15% off any Rickshaw product until April 30th, 2009!
Update (4.29.09) – Rickshaw has graciously EXTENDED the end date to May 15th! This is perfect for Mother’s Day or other occasions coming up.
Another thing that would really personalize the experience beyond the ability of choosing the colors and fabric for your bags would be to get pictures of your bag being assembled, much the way I had the luxury of doing. Perhaps this could be a premium service, or just something that would be a “nice touch.”
As with many of their products, much thought has gone into their design and creation. From the detachable lanyard for keys, to the Velcro being placed where they won’t hook contents in the backpack, the “Shhhh” clips to the ability to select the fabric that you want, Rickshaw has carefully crafted a line of products in a way that you can truly and honestly love.
HTD Says: If you have a chance to get a tour of the Rickshaw Bagworks warehouse, do it! They are a company that cares about the environment, all the while creating high quality, stylish and useful bags.