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.

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


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.