31 May 2017

INTERVIEW: RiutBag's Sarah Giblin

A couple of months ago we reviewed the RiutBag R10, a very clever backpack with the openings against your back. To find out how that came about, we grab five minutes with the creator, Sarah Giblin.

Hello. Who are you?

I’m Sarah Giblin.

And what do you do?

These days I design, manufacture and sell secure backwards backpacks called RiutBags.

Tell us how you got started in that.

About three years ago I had a pretty serious commute between my office job in Reading, England and Berlin, Germany. Every journey involved lugging a backpack packed with tech and belongings on trains, buses, trams and budget airlines.

I realised one day, in that squeeze to get off the plane, that all urban backpacks are the wrong way round. What I mean by that is: the person behind you can get into your rucksack more easily than you can. That’s fine if you’re up a mountain with your best friend, but not ideal for the 81% of us who commute alone in busy cities. I thought “I wish I had a backpack that was the other way round: no outer zips, just all hidden against your back. Yes, I’ll go and buy one of those.” On Googling this request, what I wanted didn’t appear to exist.

After a long period of realisation that I, a normal person, had had an actual idea, in March 2014 I left my job to prototype, crowdfund and create the RiutBag for me and all the urban travellers who are after a stress-free commute.

What is an average day like for you?

When a new RiutBag production run is being completed, you’ll find me on the southern coast of China working 10-14 hour days checking each RiutBag seam by seam in the factory. Otherwise, I’m in London for photoshoots of new RiutBag models, on a train somewhere reading RiutBag user feedback or sitting in an airport sketching new RiutBag designs. What is common is to every day is obsessing about urban travel, how people move in cities and what backpacks can do to help us adapt to urban life today.

Where do you see your industry going in the near future, and how might you have to adapt?

I make RiutBags for people who commute, travel and carry technology on a daily basis in busy towns, cities and internationally. For these people, the world is ever more mobile, tech-reliant and digital. Their needs change day by day, and the world around them changes all the time. It’s my job to communicate with my RiutBag users to find out: what is life like now? Over the course of six months, new technologies rise and fall, as do ways of doing things. We are still physical beings - we have bodies, we need to clothe ourselves and carry physical objects. In that context, it's my job to find out how to help RiutBag users adapt to their changing lives.

In our single-use/throw away world, we need reliable products that are multiple-use, last a lifetime and adapt to the range of things we need to do. I’m influenced by Skylar Tibbits at MIT on this. He looks at how materials and structures can fold away or grow to adapt to the demand on them. In a city context, he says: What would our cities look like if they expanded and contracted to meet the demand of its citizens over time, rather than the the relatively static design we currently have? He calls his creations to solve this problem: 4D printing.

Backpacks need to move into the 4th dimension too. That is, taking time into account. I’m looking at my RiutBag user feedback data to build a 4 dimensional backpack: one that changes over time to adapt to the range of things you have to do from day to day, and over your life time. My aim is that you have no more than one backpack and perhaps a very light daypack, rather than having a different backpack for every occasion.

What advice would you offer to someone keen to follow in your footsteps?

I really want to show other people that we - the world’s non-expert users - can have ideas and build startups to get our ideas to the right people. With the help of the internet, you can take that idea, prototype with survey feedback, and head to crowdfunding platforms to make it happen. I believe this so strongly that I named by company after this idea: Riut stands for Revolution In User Thinking. Rather than leaving innovation and problem solving up to a few large corporations, imagine if seven billion people were spotting problems and coming up with solutions. It really would be a revolution in user thinking.

People sometimes find it a mystery how you start your own company. Whilst it’s a world away from being an employee, it’s actually perfectly possible for us normal people to do. If you can spot a problem (i.e. complain about something), think of a decent solution, pay your bills every month and think about 6-12 months ahead, you’ve already got what it takes. If you’ve already got a product/service idea, this book will help you to stop worrying about the details and start doing it: “The Art of the Start” by Guy Kawasaki.

You cannot know everything at the beginning, so test your idea and your ability to run a business one step at a time. Use survey tools to build your prototype so you are building something that solves other people’s problems and not just your own. Test the market by going to a crowdfunding platform rather than just blowing your life’s saving on a production run. Then keep revolving your thinking around your users, solving problems and improving what you’ve made. I’d never designed and manufactured anything in my life before this. And now, there are thousands of people who are enjoying safe travel all around the world.

Apart from your own products, what kind of gadget would you like to see being reviewed on The Test Pit.

Less sensible review: roominabox.de. I want to know how stable these cardboard beds are. Can you jump on it? Can you tip it over in your sleep? How many people can jump on it? My main concern is jumping.

Sensible review: I love the idea of GPS trackers, but all the consumer-friendly ones have batteries that die after a year :( In reality most people won’t replace them - or I won't. I want to see reviews of decent, consumer friendly solar charging devices.

We'll get on that. Thanks so much, Sarah!

Find out more about RiutBag at www.riut.co.uk

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