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I was really impressed with Timbuk2, who make their custom bags in San Francisco. I bought one for a friend and while the design was fairly simple and the price was a bit high, it was solidly made.

Fast forward a few years, and I picked up one of their bags at a Mountain Equipment Co-op (not quite a chain store, like REI in the States). This bag also wasn't cheap, but when I checked the label it was made entirely in China. The quality is not bad, but I haven't had a chance to abuse it for a few years. I was mostly disappointed that they seem to promote the pro-American rhetoric while the majority of their channel goods seem to be produced abroad.

I'm impressed with those Tom Bihn bags, because they seem to be uncompromisingly made in America. I'm going to keep them in mind when I need a new bag.

Timbuk2 still manufactures made-to-order products in America, where just-in-time production makes sense. Who is going to wait six weeks for a custom bag?

Price-minimized, zero-margin, off-the-shelf crap for big box stores are a different story. Then they can trade on their brand equity built with embroidered logo bags and sell trash to the mass market.

OK, point by point:

- turn-around for custom goods from China is not 6-weeks. It took a solid 2 weeks to get the bag, which is what I would expect. The cost to ship expedited versus the labour cost is a wash, especially considering they stil had to post the bag to me anyways.

- The goods in-store are still marketed as premium goods; to use an HN appropriate analogy, this is like me telling you that your Mac is crap because you bought from a 3rd party retailer. For reference, this was $150 for a laptop messenger bag. Not a ton of money, but not cheap considering there's no leather, etc involved.

- If you look at the store I mentioned, they're not really big-box. They're in some awkward in-between yuppie place where everything is greenwashed. I still shop there, but I'm pretty disenchanted since this incident.

- This event has, in my mind, destroyed whatever brand recognition they had. The product is alright, but I'd rather support a company that does everything in NA.

The point being, the market're selling into would be more than willing to absorb the cost of local production. I suspect at a point during their growth they were unable to afford to scale up locally, and decided to contract volume manufacturing for the channel. Now that they're well established, I would hope that they would perform an exercise like the one in this article, and see if moving production back makes sense.

Unless you have it done by air, it's about five weeks to get things in from China -- four weeks of shipping, one week of customs.

(This is actually mentioned in the article)

I've had small parcels shipped by air from China (eBay, mostly). They typically arrive in less than a week. They could drop ship directly from China to the customer.

My point was, the cost of shipping by air versus hiring an American worker is probably a wash. I suspect they do their custom work in SF because it's a token gesture. Sort of local-washing, versus green-washing.

It's neither here nor there, but I'll happily vouch for the quality of MEC's backpacks, I've used them throughout a sizable chunk of my life, and find they require replacement owing more to folk with sticky fingers than wear and tear - and I'm not the kindest to my backpacks either!

I'm conflicted about just moving to MEC's house brand; I always hear awesome stories about how they source them to be indestructible, and treat their customers very well, but the designs are pretty basic, and they're a dime a dozen in Ottawa. I feel like I'd be at risk of accidentally swapping bags every time I set it down.

Timbuk2 Bags are amazing quality.

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