Throughout multiple identity changes—San Francisco’s that is—bag company Timbuk2 has managed to persist, in the spirit of the bike messengers for whom it was created in 1989, dodging hazards and potholes along the city’s streets and alleyways. Patti Cazzato, the company’s first female CEO, explains why it was never about bags, but, rather, what the ultimate accessory made possible.
“Thirty years on, we’re still in San Francisco, we’re still manufacturing in the Mission District, and we’re still inspiring people to go out and outsmart the challenges of the city,” says Cazzato, who assumed leadership in 2014.
What direction is the company headed?
This is a pivotal time for us. We’ve opened over 20 Timbuk2 stores domestically and internationally in the past five years, redesigned our e-commerce site and recently secured Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters as wholesale partners. We want to expand where we’ve already found success, like growing the scope of our women’s line and capitalizing on collaborations such as our Grateful Dead line with BEAMS; a partnership with New York-based street artist Dave Ortiz; and with designer, philanthropist and globe-trotter Phoebe Dahl, just to name a few. We want to take what we’ve done for the urban nomad and inspire them further with new travel innovations that weave in our expertise on custom and intuitive design.
How do you remain profitable in a mass-manufacture bargain-minded era while appealing to the luxury consumer?
When I first came to Timbuk2, our wholesale-to-customer schedule didn’t allow us to do a lot of testing of our products, and it made us take huge bets. We were able to flip to a calendar with inception-to-delivery in six months for our entire line, [affording us] the ability to respond to our consumers’ needs much quicker. We’re a passionate group of creatives coming from diverse backgrounds. We have designers from Vivienne Westwood and Coach, but we also have people with backgrounds in industrial and gear-focused design. Some brands are really great at function, others are well-known for aesthetic and style; we do both.
What distinguishes Timbuk2 as a workplace?
We are incredibly proud of the fact that we can walk from our desk straight to the factory floor. Our creative and design team … can fix a stitch; they can change a color, add a buckle—all in real time. All of our custom products are made in San Francisco, so our factory is one of our main points of differentiation, something we take pride in as a central theme of our story as a brand.
What is your proudest achievement as CEO, as a company?
My proudest moment as CEO would be launching our Life Cycle Program, encouraging customers to not only reuse and recycle their Timbuk2 bags, but also to repair and reimagine them. Since its launch, there have been zero bags sent to landfill! When you look at our product lineup today, it’s quite extensive and much more fleshed out than the messenger bag our founder, Rob Honeycutt, stitched up in his garage in 1989. But what I think makes us so special is that you can find the spirit of that garage and that bag in all of our products.
Is there a demographic not yet tapped?
Our customer is somebody who is incredibly mobile, whether it’s within their own city or tackling adventures around the world. This is the next generation. We are the brand for the space in between, and we will always design products that keep you nimble, fearless and always moving forward.