Problems + solutions: RiutBag material found + back on track!
The problem: Kevlar, the material with which we'd prototyped, is simply not available in China. It's so strong it lines tanks and it's so expensive to source in Europe backers would be left with only the base of a RiutBag and no other parts of the RiutBag, if you see what I mean.
Finding the solution: I found out shortly after the Kickstarter campaign that there really isn't anything close to Kevlar in China. This was a shock to the prototyping company, the factory and me. The factory checked all Chinese markets for alternatives and found manufacturers that used to make something similar, but low demand and high manufacturing cost stopped them making it years ago.
If we couldn't find a new base material, this could certainly knock the time plan, or even be a fundamental flaw to the project. I didn't believe that it would stop everything, but had to allow for the possibility.
My realisation and thinking in viewing alternatives: Kevlar is, in fact, unnecessarily strong and expensive for the base of a bag. It has been known to be a steel replacement in tires. Whilst it would be cool to have on your bag, what's actually required is a sturdy, waterproof and black base which is affordable for rucksack users. It isn't affordable or required for me, the RiutBag designer, or you, the user, to use this material.
The plan: Speaking to the factory I asked them to prepare samples of all the base materials possible for me to review, test and pick in person. My plan was to work on material choice for 48 hours, then for me to return the following week to review the final RiutBag with the new material. So I flew to China: London> Amsterdam > Beijing > Shenzhen > Jinjiang.
At the factory in China: when I arrived this week, I started to get a feel for what it's like at this end of the supply chain. Here, nothing is on or off the shelf. When you order material it doesn't exist; you're paying someone to make your Kevlar, foam, your Cordura, strap padding, buckles, zips and lining from scratch. That takes weeks. The world is no longer your oyster; the only manufacturers you can call are the manufacturers whose samples you have in front of you to feel.
Currently there isn't another way of managing this. The Internet and digital communication cannot give you enough of an idea what the look and feel of a physical material is going to be. The answer is not on Google.
But, I still didn't understand; I was still in consumer mode. It's not what I want here that matters. It matters just as much what is available, who makes what I want and am I buying enough to make it worth their while.
We called all but one, who wasn't available til the next day. Each in turn either wouldn't take my order because the quantity, at only 200 yards for 1300 bases of RiutBags, was too low, or they no longer make the material we had in front of us.
Not good. I will admit, I did not sleep well that night in my Jinjiang hotel. I wrote emails frantically to attempt to find other Kevlar suppliers anywhere else in the world. Those who held it were pricing it at £60+ per meter and those who didn't needed 10 weeks to make it.
After a sleepless night I headed to the factory at 07:00 the next morning.
We got calls back from two manufacturers who said they would make their materials in a larger quantity than I required - leaving me the possibility of paying for 300 extra yards - but not within the timescales. No.
I looked back at the samples I'd shortlisted. What about this one? My favourite one?
I almost didn't want this call to go ahead for fear of the final no. But it did. Daisy spoke in rapid Chinese. She came off the call.
What?! This material? My favourite? We have the BASE?!
So, with the final materials sourced, last details being changed and checked in the samples room at the factory, the plan is back on.
There may be other risks which rise to the surface and become problems. But for now, we're back on track. I'll be able to confirm this fully by the end of this week, 19th Dec when I'm back in the UK.