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, andI were talking about ideas for the PopTech community and Timbuk2, a light went off. What if Timbuk2 partnered with Sheila Kennedy of thePortable Light Project to create a bag to serve both a first world anddeveloping market need–a portable, clean, and renewable energy source? It madeso 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 theworld, we flick a switch, and voila–light. We take light for granted in oureveryday lives but much of the developing world does not. Access to portablelight means savings for families who would otherwise pay for expendable lightsources, such as kerosene, charcoal, electricity, etc. Savings from portablelight means more opportunities for education, making a living, helping the sick, or seeing your kids laugh at dinnertime. Portable light can quiteliterally unlock people, allow them to move freely and make a better life forthemselves. This is what’s so special about the Portable Light Project andSheila’s inspiring mission. We got together with the Portable Light Project and came up with a plan tocreate a solar-powered LED light in the multi-use form of a Timbuk2 messengerbag.


Design team iterations at KVA MATx

Why Timbuk2? Simply put, weunderstand mobility. We’re rooted in the nomadic culture of bike messengersand urban people on the go. Timbuk2 thrives in motion and so do people; we deserveto be hands-free everywhere, all the time. Timbuk2 bags are built for functionand duration. If our bags don’t hug you, hold your gear, and stay on your backuntil you collapse, then we haven’t done our job. So we feel we’re naturallysuited to the challenge of creating a modular, durable, affordable, and highly effectiveproduct 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 collaboratedto design a modular and flexible way to incorporate a solar unit into the FLAP bagso you can charge up during the day for a light at night. We then partneredthem up with Jenny Carroll, Lizzy Bennett (from Timbuk2) and Cordelia Newlin deRojas (from PopTech) to work on the development strategy and get real prototypesout 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 classicmessenger bag and repurposed it. We’ve made a detachable flap that contains thesolar panel, the LED light, and a mini USB port for charging gadgets like cellphones and iPods. People have the option to use the portable light and USB portwith 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.