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Inside PopTech's Solar-Powered Bag FLAP: Timbuk2 Tackles Durability and Portability

In the second installment of our story about a new product collaboration between PopTech, Timbuk2 Designs, and the Portable Light Project, Timbuk2's Kevin McSpadden talks about transforming the company's typical messenger bag into a portable solar-powered light source.

Inside PopTech's Solar-Powered Bag FLAP: Timbuk2 Tackles Durability and Portability

When Andrew Zolli, executive director and curator of PopTech, and I were talking about ideas for the PopTech community and Timbuk2, a light went off. What if Timbuk2 partnered with Sheila Kennedy of the Portable Light Project to create a bag to serve both a first world and developing market need—a portable, clean, and renewable energy source? It made so much sense—Portable Light Project makes portable lights and we make portable bags.

Thus, the FLAP—Flexible Light and Power—project was born.

So, what’s all the FLAP about? Every day in most of the world, we flick a switch, and voila—light. We take light for granted in our everyday lives but much of the developing world does not. Access to portable light means savings for families who would otherwise pay for expendable light sources, such as kerosene, charcoal, electricity, etc. Savings from portable light means more opportunities for education, making a living, helping the sick, or seeing your kids laugh at dinnertime. Portable light can quite literally unlock people, allow them to move freely and make a better life for themselves. This is what's so special about the Portable Light Project and Sheila’s inspiring mission. We got together with the Portable Light Project and came up with a plan to create a solar-powered LED light in the multi-use form of a Timbuk2 messenger bag.

Design team iterations at KVA MATx

Why Timbuk2? Simply put, we understand mobility. We're rooted in the nomadic culture of bike messengers and urban people on the go. Timbuk2 thrives in motion and so do people; we deserve to be hands-free everywhere, all the time. Timbuk2 bags are built for function and duration. If our bags don’t hug you, hold your gear, and stay on your back until you collapse, then we haven’t done our job. So we feel we’re naturally suited to the challenge of creating a modular, durable, affordable, and highly effective product such as this.

Heather Micka-Smith makes a FLAP prototype

Our design director Tae Kim, the Portable Light Project's Sheila Kennedy, and the Portable Light FLAP Team's Heather Micka-Smith and Charles Garcia collaborated to design a modular and flexible way to incorporate a solar unit into the FLAP bag so you can charge up during the day for a light at night. We then partnered them up with Jenny Carroll, Lizzy Bennett (from Timbuk2) and Cordelia Newlin de Rojas (from PopTech) to work on the development strategy and get real prototypes out in the field—to really figure out how to connect with the end user.

Then there was light...the lantern stands

As a result, we’ve taken our indestructible classic messenger bag and repurposed it. We’ve made a detachable flap that contains the solar panel, the LED light, and a mini USB port for charging gadgets like cell phones and iPods. People have the option to use the portable light and USB port with or without the rest of the bag attached.

I'm really excited to spark a grass roots movement! I hope you'll join us.

FLAP launches at PopTech on October 22, but stay tuned for the next installment of our story from Shelia Kennedy of the Portable Light Project next week.

PopTech's Solar-Powered Bag FLAP

Kevin McSpadden is the Chief Marketing Officer at Timbuk2 and oversees both the marketing and product strategies for the San Francisco-based bags and accessories company.