With humble origins in cyclo touring, the idiosyncratic long-flap saddle bag has been recreated by many. About 15 years ago, we set out to put our spin on it. Employing modern materials, performance enhancing modifications and our distinctive Swift flair, we brought an even more capable product to the market: the Zeitgeist Pack. In this interview with Brand Manager and longtime Swift employee, Ilana Holmes, we get an insight into the design process behind the Zeitgeist Pack, its history at Swift and all the love that went into making it.
Hi, ilana! Thanks for taking the time to chat about the Zeitgeist. Before we get into that, do you mind explaining a little bit about your history at Swift? What you’ve done and what you’re doing now?
Sure! I met Martina and Jason back in 2010(ish), shortly after I moved to Seattle. I was neighbors with them, and was intrigued by all of the bikes and giant rolls of textile moving in and out of their house. I familiar with some of their first products which were for sale at the bike shop around the corner from us – 2020 Cycles. I talked myself into a job as a Production Stitcher and became their second ever employee! As the team grew I eventually took over as Production Manager of the small in-house team, then stepped into Product Design and Development, and as of November have taken on Brand Management. So I’ve been with Swift now for 12 or 13 years, but my job and the company are constantly evolving so it’s never boring and there’s always a steep learning curve.
This a two-in-one: What was the design inspiration for the Zeitgeist? There’s no doubt it’s become the leading staple of Swift Industries, do you have any thoughts on why that is?
The design inspiration for the Zeitgeist predates even me! When I started at Swift some of our most popular designs were already in their second iterations. Martina was designing everything herself, and was totally self-taught. She took inspiration from what was on the market, and then applied more modern textiles and a more ebullient color palette to establish what has become a trademark Swift aesthetic. All of the patterns were hand drafted, and each bag was cut by hand and made to order. The Zeitgeist in 2010 had leather buckle straps that we were cutting and punching by hand with leather hides purchased locally. The straps laced through holes in the bag that we were punching by hand and then cauterizing with a soldering iron, and looped around wooden dowels that we were also cutting and sanding by hand. It was an extremely labor intensive process. It was also lined with 16oz vinyl! A material I am so happy to not work with anymore.
Through all of its design iterations the bag has always been a popular seller, but it was originally made as a saddle-specific carry option. Somewhere along it’s journey we started noticing more and more customers “hacking” it as a handlebar bag, and we were loving it!
When I stepped into my role as Lead Designer, one of my very first design projects was to rework the Zeitgeist. Our objectives were to improve on the elegance and efficiency of the design, improve its functionality as a handlebar bag, move away from the heavy 16oz vinyl liner we were using, and to rethink the attachment system to get rid of the punches in the bag. We did a lot of iterating and product testing, and many people contributed feedback and inspiration. One of the best things about designing at Swift is the community of riders, both on staff and friends of the brand, that are willing to shred with the prototypes and give merciless feedback.
The result is what you see today! A much lighter weight design, with multiple exterior lash points for saddle or handlebar use, a removable HDPE insert to help with structure. Lots of little details, like the collapsible side pockets and the interior cinch strap, really push this design into the exceptional (in my opinion).
I think now it’s our most popular bag because so much intentionality and thought has been put into perfecting it!
The interior cinch strap and the HDPE insert was a huge game changer to overall design. I own a vintage Zeitgeist (circa 2018?), which I still use the hell out of, but I was super stoked to see these design changes. Was there a bag already on the market that you took to for inspiration? I’m not sure I’ve seen anything else quite like it on the market today.
We had been using that 16oz vinyl for a liner on a lot of bags, and over the years had gradually been phasing it out in favor of lighter weight, more sustainable options. With the Zeitgeist in particular we loved the structured look that the heavyweight, stiff vinyl gave to the bag, so in exploring options for lightweight liners it was a given that we were going to use some kind of insert to stop the bag from becoming too droopy. By that point we’d already released the Bandito with an HDPE insert, so it was an answer that existed within our own product line. I am all for designing bags that can be repaired, so having an insert that could be removed and replaced felt important.
With the Zeitgeist having a foot in the traditional, cyclo-touring realm, do you have any thoughts on its evolution to what it has become, a bikepacking do-it-all bag?
I love seeing the myriad ways that customers use this bag, and as a designer it truly fills me with joy to see something that we poured so much time into perfecting performing well in so many arenas. I think it also reflects the ways that our staff and product testers are riding. Swift has at its disposal a crew of extremely enthusiastic cyclists who are representing just about every style of riding imaginable. So the design team is getting feedback from commuters, campers, bikepackers and randonneurs alike.
Wow, that’s amazing. It really has become this do-it-all bag that can morph into anything you want it to be. Are there any design changes that you have in mind for future runs? Or anything you’d consider changing? Or is it as the old proverbial saying goes, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” kinda thing?
I have design changes in mind for literally everything all of the time, so YES. But it would be operationally irresponsible to let me run wild with updates haha. Basically I expect every product to function with absolute perfection for every single rider, which is literally impossible. If a customer sends a single bag back for a tire rub hole, my knee jerk reaction is “we’ve got to add an abrasion resistant patch to that area!”
There is one small update in the works! Over the next year or so, beginning with Redwood, we will be rolling out a new cordlock on the interior cinch closure. It’s the same one handed tighten and release cordlock that we’re using on our Gibby. A small change but one that is meaningful to me, as I’m in an out of my Zeitgeist all the time and find that hardware to be a nice upgrade!
Looking forward to those little updates! This is a good one to end it on, not so much about the Zeitgeist, specifically: Can you share any bag/bags coming out in the future that you’re particularly excited about? Can you give us a little sneak peek?
Oh fun question! We’ve got a lot of new designs slated to come out in 2024, and I’m excited about everything. But one bag in particular, the Capstone, has become my go-to everyday bag for fairweather riding. It’s a small (4L), soft mount handlebar bag with a boxy fitted flap that’s padded out with quarter inch foam to be camera-carry friendly. It’s cute, compact, and easy to get in and out of while riding. At this time of year I still need room for a rain layer, jacket, sweater, extra gloves etc, but once springtime is properly here I’ll be riding with my Capstone prototype on the daily.