The Process Of Progress
The simple and direct ethos of BAGSINPROGRESS is that a bag should be a tool, used to navigate everyday life – in the words of the brand, ‘minimum form, maximum functionality’. Whether carting books to a lecture, packing the 4th outfit change of the day for your baby, or even simply somewhere to house your keys and phone, a bag is an essential to navigating our schedules. Seasonless and sturdy, BIP is the epitome of a wardrobe essential – the only question is, where are we going next?
We spoke to the Chiharu Hayashi, designer and owner of BIP, about what inspired the beginnings of BAGSINPROGRESS, and how the design process plays out for a product that is minimal, stylish and incredibly functional…
Hi Chiharu, let’s start at the beginning… what inspired you to start BIP?
My brand is inspired by the various details I discover in everyday life. I first launched BIP out of my own experience using no-name vintage, military, and industrial bags. I was really into collecting bags that had some style, size, details, or functionality that just grabbed me. The more I used them, the more I started to find little issues here and there - things that could be improved upon… like ‘if only the pockets were a bit different...if only it had straps...if only it had a more rectangular shape.’ There were so many things I just wanted to tweak a bit. The main reason these bags were lacking was that they were made in another time, and adapted to lifestyles of those days. They didn’t really match the way we live today. But I still really wanted to improve upon them, so I found some local factories to handle sewing and started drawing up samples of what I wanted. This led to more and more ideas and then to launching the brand.
The brand has a military-esque feel to it - hard-wearing material and maximum functionality - was the military a source of inspiration for you?
Yes, absolutely. When you look at military bags, their design is the result of an emphasis on functionality. The structure of those bags is all about eschewing unneeded parts and highlighting only the most essential components, giving pockets pride of place, and so on. Many of BIP’s products take deep inspiration from military bags.
You describe BIP as a lifestyle rather than just a product - ‘where form meets function’. How important is that message, especially in today’s society?
I consider it very important. BIP has various criteria it uses when developing products; one criterion is making items that can be used for years to come. My utmost joy is for customers to actively want to use these products on a daily basis. Therefore, I consider it my responsibility as a brand to make the products meaningful and useful. People have lots of bags in their collection, but they tend to gravitate towards one for daily use, right? Making that ‘go-to bag’ for someone requires that the product reflect the lifestyle and habits of the person. So, I explore what functionality is most relevant in people’s lifestyles, and this leads to insights about the form, design, and details. It’s also important to me to not create flash-in-the-pan items that people later discard. The result is simple, timeless, and robust bags that aren’t swayed by trends and that last the test of time. Bags are an organisational system that you carry with you -- I think of them as ‘tool bags’. Exploring what types of ‘tools’ modern people carry with them on a daily basis deeply informs my process. I believe the resulting products are a mirror onto people’s lifestyles and reflect their needs.
All products are manufactured in the US. Is that an important aspect of the brand?
The key here is not whether products are made in the US or not, but that they be socially and environmentally-conscious, and relevant to our brand as a whole. American-made products turned out to be the best fit for us from that point of view. Today, Japan has grown to become a major market for BIP. For consumers in Japan, American products are on the more expensive side, and shipping them by air further adds to the cost, as well as has an impact on the environment. Given these factors, starting with the F/W 2020 collection, we will be producing items in Japan. This evolved naturally as a result of considering where our users are located and what the best process would be for them. While made-in-USA and made-in-Japan both have their own advantages, I think it’s important to ensure the right balance when considering where to manufacture while maintaining the quality.
What is the design process like?
My design process is like reverse engineering. I begin by observing people. I intently study the items people wear and carry, how they go about their lives, et cetera. This gives me insights about what functionality they might need or be lacking, and then I begin fantasising about what the ideal bag might be for that purpose. For this reason, the subway and street art are treasure troves of inspiration. I take this initial concept for a bag and develop it into a design and a set of specifications, then prepare the first sample. Once I have a sample ready, I use it for several days to find what needs improving upon. I then iteratively create samples with these changes until the design is finalised.
And when that design is finalised, the result is a bag so practical and attractive that the ‘handbag-swap-over’ will quickly become a thing of the past in favour of your ‘everything-already-has-a-place’ staple – your BIP that fits every circumstance you find yourself in.
Thank you to Chiharu for taking the time to talk to us.