My first correspondence with Chris Elfering, founder of Bond Travel Gear, was an email titled “Order Cancellation”. Bond gave The Perfect Pack members a smoking deal on in stock items and I made an impulse purchase that the next day I thought I would regret. By that time, my Attache 13 had already shipped and Chris asked me to try it out first and that he would cover return shipping if I changed my mind.
Three months later and I still have the Attache 13, and I use it almost every day alongside the Bond Escapade organizer. Chris was happy, I was happy, and we got to talking about Bond a little more in-depth.
Brandon: Tell us a little bit about how Bond got its start. What was the beginning like, and what motivated you to start your own brand?
Chris: I was in the US Army for six years before joining corporate America. I worked for a few years, then left to travel. On my travels, I met other expats and realized we all wanted the same type of travel gear. Lightweight, plenty of organization, and durable. At the time, I saw bags that had lots of features, but wouldn’t last more than a few months. I knew I could make something tougher. From my time in the Army, I was familiar with the materials and construction that would make a bag last a lifetime. I didn’t want the styling to be too tactical, though. There were plenty of bags like that around.
I was living in Vietnam at the time and started visiting factories to see if anyone could make what I had in mind. After plenty of trial and error, I found a solid factory partner and we’ve been making bags ever since.
Brandon: How would you describe your design process for future and existing products? How do you decide what to make?
Chris: I just make bags that my friends and I would want to use. It starts with the things we carry. The first pouch we made was for all of the electronics and gadgets we’d carry around to co-working spaces. Then there was a Dopp kit, bags for everyday carry items, notebooks, etc. I’ll lay all of the items out on the table, then brainstorm ways we could organize and protect those items. The features grow from that. Sometimes you need extra padding, other times it just adds unnecessary bulk. Water-resistant zippers can be useful, but not all the time. And so on.
We test a lot of stuff before putting something out. If there isn’t excitement around the product, we scrap it. I’d love to make all the things, but time and resources won’t allow that.
Brandon: One of your most popular pieces, the Escapade pouch, looks like it went through a little bit of a redesign since it was originally released. Can you give us a bit of a behind-the-scenes on that?
Chris: Of course! We always listen to our customers. The first batch sold well, but we decided to implement that customer feedback for the second batch. For example, we went with a lighter nylon (1000D was unnecessarily stiff), but thicker interior elastic bands that would last longer. We also added attachment points and an optional shoulder strap (sold separately).
The initial idea of the Escapade was to have a “bag in a bag,” a way to organize smaller items in a backpack. Most people used it for that, but others also wanted something that they could easily take with them when they didn’t want to bring their larger backpack. For example, when folks went to the beach, the gym, or just running errands. Interestingly, sling bags seem to be trendy now, which makes sense. We carry a bunch of stuff with us nowadays and pockets often aren’t enough. It helps to have a smaller bag around at times.
Brandon: The DASH Dopp kit seemed pretty synonymous with the Bond brand for a while. Where did it go, and are we going to see a return?
Chris: We like to test things constantly, and the DASH Dopp Kit was one of those experiments. It did well, but then we released a similarly-sized bag with a lot of feature overlap called the Venture Pouch. The Venture sold quickly and now we’re working on the next iteration. I don’t think the DASH Dopp Kit will see a comeback, but you never know. We still get requests for it, and if there’s enough interest, I have to give the people what they want!
Brandon: From your perspective, what trends are you seeing in the travel gear market right now? We saw a good handful of manufactures try to tackle the Dopp kit in recent history, including Bond. What do you think is the next big thing ready for disruption?
Chris: I think the carry market in general has seen a move away from overtly tactical gear. There are exceptions, of course, but I think there are plenty of folks that want that mil-spec gear while still blending in. Those are the folks we’re trying to serve. Also, as I mentioned before, it seems like there’s less of a stigma for carrying sling bags or fanny packs, which I think is a good thing. I’ve always believed in function over form, haters be damned!
Brandon: What’s next for Bond? Are you going to stick by the “Travel Gear” namesake? Are there any projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?
Chris: That’s a great point. Adding “Travel Gear” to our name really painted us into a corner. I’m actually working to pivot to a larger branding concept that will focus more on everyday carry items. This is just a continuation of what we’ve been doing.
Another update with the new brand will be a more heritage aesthetic, while keeping that mil-spec construction. You can expect to see more waxed canvas. Stay tuned and feel free to reach out with any feedback!