Being a Smart Alec about Sustainable Design

I have somewhat of a bag habit. I like buying bags, I like traveling with bags. I like selling bags on ebay when I lose interest in them. Yet I have had one bag, the Tom Bihn Smart Alec, for over six years. Every time I think about getting rid of it, I end up finding another use for it. I love the clean lines of the bag, the design of the straps, and how it embraces its own aesthetic. There really isn't anything that looks like it, and that is good.

Tom Bihn Smart Alec in Black/Steel/Wasabi

Tom Bihn Smart Alec in Black/Steel/Wasabi

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The Smart Alec has been written about a lot in the last few years. It has become something of a "status symbol" in a lot of the tech blogging community:

I have not used the Smart Alec consistently. It stays in the closet a lot. I grew tired of the steel grey on black color scheme a while ago. The front panel is scratched up a bit. But it comes out for big trips. It has travelled all over the world. It is great to stuff things into. It is great to stuff under an airline seat or into an overhead compartment. It has been used as a computer bag, a work bag, a toy bag, and a diaper bag. It is incredibly comfortable to carry.

(Quick aside: I acquired two Tom Bihn Aeronaut bags a few years ago. One of them is in black, and other one is in steel. We use them all of the time. We take them all over. They are great for international travel. They are great for road trips. They fit into all overhead compartments. Check out the Aeronaut here. Back to the Smart Alec...)

The new Smart Alec (3rd Gen) came out a few months ago. It looked so cool, especially in all-black. I liked it so much I made a drawing of it.

My pencil drawing of the Tom Bihn 3rd Gen Smart Alec in Black/Steel (maybe someday I will design my own bags)

My pencil drawing of the Tom Bihn 3rd Gen Smart Alec in Black/Steel (maybe someday I will design my own bags)

Others thought the bag was cool as well, because it immediately became backordered. But I finally ordered one when they were in stock. It's a really cool bag. It's upgraded. It has a new mesh back. It has better pockets. It has a bunch of tabs and loops on the back and top so you can attach stuff to it. But it's the same architecture as the original Smart Alec that I have. And the black-on-black looked really cool.

So I contacted the Tom Bihn company, which is just up the road in Seattle, and asked if my current bag could be "upgraded". Could the scratched steel panel that I have grown tired up be replaced with a new black panel? And it turns out, since they make all of their own bags in Seattle, they will be happy to do that (for a totally reasonable fee, of course). Some other lucky customer will get the new 3rd-gen Smart Alec that I returned. I am really looking forward to my upgraded "Vintage" Smart Alec. I will post about my Upgraded Smart Alec (USA) when I get it back from Tom Bihn.

I was inspirted to write about this, because A) this is a cool company that cares about its products and its customers and B) I think this is an example of the sustainable characteristic of elegant design. I like the idea of reusing stuff. I like the idea that products that last along time. I started writing about elegance and sustainability here.

During our six-year stint living in Northern Alabama, during which time I originally acquired the Smart Alec, pretty much anything could be left on the curb for pickup on trash day. In Oregon, leaving any trash on the curb that is not fully contained with the (default) comedically small trash can costs a lot to have picked up. So, when I recently had a lot of trash to throw away (mostly broken furniture from the move), it was suggested that I drive up to the local landfill, where for $30 I could dump up to 1000 lbs of stuff. I guess seeing the landfill, smelling the landfill, and feeling the landfill, made me start to think a lot about sustainability. I mean, how could I not?

The Coffin Butte Landfill - "Don't be a coffin-butt Stuart, think more about sustainability!"

The Coffin Butte Landfill - "Don't be a coffin-butt Stuart, think more about sustainability!"