I'm Sarah, creator of the RiutBag. The latest RiutBag R15 and R10 production run is being made right now, by hand, by 18 people in a small and outstanding factory in Hui'an in southern China. As Riut's fourth production run is completed this May, I'll be at the factory posting videos showing you where RiutBags are made, by whom and how I check them one by one to make sure they are exactly as I designed them for you.
In this blog I'll explain whether this production run is on track, how RiutBags are made, what's happening now and why RiutBags are made in China and not, for example, the UK.
We're currently on track to complete production, quality checking and freight on time. This means shipping from England is due to begin in the first week of June 2016. You'll receive your tracking email after your RiutBag parcel is sent. Once your parcel is on its way, expect UK delivery to take 2-3 days, EU deliveries to be 4-10 days. Everywhere else in the world expect your RiutBag to be with you by the end of June. A lot has to happen to get you your new RiutBags. Here's the latest update.
Where are we now?
Two months ago your RiutBag didn't exist in any recognisable form. Before I start a new production run, there are no RiutBag parts or materials in a shop or warehouse; everything is made to order for each production run. This is great for RiutBag users. Every buckle, zip, zip puller, piece of foam and every roll of Cordura is made from scratch for you in the weeks before production begins.
Within 3 weeks all the core materials are created and delivered. Yards of beautifully finished waterproof 1000D Cordura lined with 2mm EVA, lining and TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) arrive and are ready to turn into the core ingredients of your RiutBag. Bags full of buckles, zippers and zip pulls arrive. Some materials are sent off to the printers and whilst embroidery for logos and woven labels begin nearby. Everything is completed by expert stitchers working by hand at machines.
The factory makes metal moulds to cut out each panel of the RiutBag I've designed for you. The cutting machine cuts through about 100 pieces of material at once and is controlled by hand. Given the RiutBag is made from just over 100 different components, and this time we're making over 1000 RiutBags, there is plenty of cutting to do. The materials slowly are cut down and prepared for the next stage.
The straps, side panels and 15" laptop compartments are currently being stitched together. As the production moves on swiftly, your RiutBag will be completed, checked, all threads cut away and they will be ready for me to check. I check every seam, zip and the overall strength of each RiutBag. This way, when you use it, you'll know it's ready for you to use and it's been signed off my me, the designer.
In May, I will check each RiutBag one by one. I can look through every seam and finish on a RiutBag in about 2 minutes. It takes two weeks of 10-12 hour per day work, but it's worth it. This way, I know when I send you your RiutBag the exact quality and finish you will receive. It also means you know I'm creating my design with textiles experts and working with them to ensure the quality is to my high standards. I also get a really good work out checking, moving and signing off on over a tonne of RiutBags.
Why do I manufacture in China?
Finding a UK factory
When Kickstarter backers supported me and gave me the chance to create the first production run of RiutBags in January 2015, I had already contacted many factories to find the right manufacturer. As a creator of an urban backpack trying to solve the problems of travel in our busy cities, I dreamed of having RiutBags made in northern England where the industrial revolution was founded on textiles from the 1780s onwards. I called any rucksack factories I could find all over the UK and Europe. However, with no track record in design or manufacture, none of the factories I spoke to took me seriously. They refused to talk about details, materials, costs and timescales. I had the feeling they didn't want to work on a new backpack with a different - and therefore challenging - construction, that they didn't want to make RiutBags in the numbers I needed and they didn't take me seriously as a young, single-person startup.
Why China, not the UK?
I spoke to my UK prototyping company about it. Having helped many people to take their ideas to prototype stage, and on to production, they know the struggle finding a UK textiles manufacturer. When I told them that I was not yet able to find a factory in the UK or Europe, we discussed why this might be. In reality, whilst the UK's economy was built on textiles, UK the UK is now a service economy. It is not a global textiles manufacturing power. In their experience, UK textiles services have been poor quality in comparison to those in Asia. When creating a product, you need experts who are experienced in making high numbers of - in this case - rucksacks day in day out. They must have access to markets for parts, buckles, zips, cloth and local labour with stitching and production line management skills. This is the case in China; I have not yet found this in the UK. We need people, factories and infrastructure set up to do this well. Manufacturing in a place that sounds good but where the RiutBag cannot be created to a high standard on time will not provide a good outcome for you, my customers.
NB If there is a serious textiles manufacturer in the UK or Europe who believes they have the skill, production expertise, capacity and will to make RiutBags, I am more than happy to visit you and see your work.
I work with my factory in China because they are experts in making complex textile backpacks and because they took me seriously when I had this idea - unlike other factories - and worked with me to move from the first ever prototype to the finished RiutBag.
I must state the obvious: Without an experienced factory to make RiutBags, none of them would exist. Without an excellent factory, the RiutBags that do exist could not be as excellent as they are. It is definitely more work for a factory to partner with a first time designer. However, they put in the extra time and effort. They know the design inside out and have helped to improve construction every production run. This factory has made every RiutBag in existence and, as consequence, your RiutBag benefits from the great relationship we have built over the last 1.5 years.
Built in Hui'an, not China
China in recent decades has become the world's manufacturer of textile and electronic goods. Their factories build, assemble and make everything according to their clients' budgets, designs and specifications. I went to my factory with a high budget per RiutBag to be made, I worked with the factory to ensure they understood the design and check every RiutBag to maintain communication about what is and what is not acceptable. However, I do not think of RiutBags as "made in China". They are made by one remarkable factory in Hui'an, Fujian province. About 100 people work on sewing machines, stitching rucksacks every day. A further 50 people are involved in quality checking, packing and prototype making.
I get on very well with the people who work there. The people who run the factory are in their 30s and 40s. They worked on the production line after they left school and now are directors of the production line. I sit and work with the same women who have checked all the RiutBags to date. We work together, eat together and make RiutBags together. This manufacturing relationship works because I give it my all, I have high expectations, I ask them to use complex construction methods, high quality materials and I provide the budget and quality checking to allow them to produce RiutBags to the highest standard.