After the successful launches of our business travel bags in 2012, some of our customers and friends started to ask if we would design bags for weekend trips. Living in New York City, more and more of our friends started to take weekend trips - to relax at the beach or hike upstate - to escape the city for a few days. Then that summer during a weekend visit with friends on Lake Michigan, I took the opportunity to ask them about the bags they brought, how they packed, and from there I put together some insights:
Around the same time, we connected with a mutual friend who freelanced as a handbag designer, and we began to sketch out some silhouettes:
When my brother Derek and I returned to that first factory in Asia for another multi-month stint, we had to change up our prototyping process for the Catalina. The factory owner, who had guided us through our earlier prototyping processes, abruptly left back to Singapore. Derek and I were forced to to be more hands-on in the process as we worked alongside the new factory partner, who had less experience working on product design. We asked to see what materials we could use from the library of materials in the sample room. Derek and I browsed the stack and found a roll of canvas, which reminded us of that summer beach life (vs. the nylon and leather we had developed for our first set of business travel bags). The cotton was also pre-washed and softer than what you’re used to seeing on big canvas bags. And we thought it would be a nice lightweight and foldable/storable alternative to a really stiff and heavy cotton canvas. We then found some materials for handles and got to work, excited for a visual of what the bag concept could look like.
Unlike the prototyping process for our first bag The O.G., which took seven rounds to complete, that first round prototype basically became the final design. We called it The Catalina, named after a street in Pasadena where our parents lived when our dad was on sabbatical at Caltech. We chose a slightly more substantial (but still lightweight) washed canvas so that we wouldn’t need a lining. And to be completely honest, we also picked this material because that material supplier didn't require us to order a large amount.
Now that our business has reached a certain scale, we can pick materials and suppliers who have more eco-friendly options since we now we have the volume to meet the minimum order quantities. It’s been very exciting to accelerate our push towards sustainable options for all of our materials and bag styles.
We launched our original Catalina bag in the spring of 2013, and we sold a few hundred bags in total for the entire year. There were some heated debates about whether or not we should continue making the Catalina, especially since it was not designed specifically for air travel and was a lot more casual in style than our original styles. However in the following year, we started to sell more and more quantities, and soon we started to see more potential and demand for products that were more designed for leisure travel.
CATALINA DELUXE (Summer 2016)
A couple years later, as we continued to see growth in the leisure travel category, we were getting some interesting feedback, which led to more design research and prototyping.
Some of our Catalina customers had asked about a back panel sleeve for luggage handles as they were taking the bags on air travel trips.
Bottom Tray Insert
During the prototyping process for the Rhodes men’s weekender style bag (and still using the Catalina), one of the things I got annoyed with was having the bottom compartment look frumpy unless it was filled with shoes or clothes. So I started exploring with the idea of inserts that could help to provide structure, be easily wiped down, and also provide some functional benefits, such as providing some protection from shoes getting crushed from the main compartment.
Heavy Bag Mode > Padded Messenger Strap
Some Catalina customers did call out that when the Catalina is totally stuffed, it can get quite heavy and uncomfortable to carry on the shoulder straps. So we prototyped a detachable messenger strap option with a memory foam pad to provide more comfort during extra heavy mode.
After launching the O.M.G. (the slightly smaller version of the O.G.), it was interesting that just a subtle size difference made a big difference for a lot of our customers, who obviously are taller and shorter in height. Similarly, we began to hear feedback from some customers’ that the Catalina was slightly too big, so we also explored a slightly smaller Catalina size. After having people of different heights and sizes test the different size bags, we decided to launch both the Catalina Deluxe Large and Small. From that we would test out the idea of discover pages on the website, which specifically showcased the size differences to help our customers figure out which bag and size might be the best fit for them.
CATALINA DELUXE TOTE (Summer 2017)
Encouraged by the success of the Catalina Deluxe weekender bags, we started exploring an even smaller sized version that could be used more for everyday use (e.g, gym bags). We knew that many customers really appreciated the bottom compartment for shoes, dirty clothes, etc., and keeping things more organized by separating the clean stuff on top.
The first prototype we made simply followed the construction of the Catalina weekenders, but once we saw it in person, the shape and proportion looked, um, not so great.
Updating the Shape
While at the factory in China, I sketched out a more conventional tote shape, while trying to keep the overall Catalina minimalist aesthetic that masks all the functionality inside.
The “Magic Bottom”
Tangent: around that time, my close friend, DJ Wordy* in Shanghai was ranting and raving about these new mini portable turntables that allowed you to scratch on the go. I soon bought my own portable turntable, which arrived in a relatively easy-to-carry protective case. I used to DJ with Wordy (pictured below) when we both lived in Beijing…before Lo & Sons!
After we got an early prototype, I started to user test the bag while taking the train from New York to visit our parents in Charlottesville, Virginia. Of course, I wanted to bring down my portable turntable, and I couldn’t wait to see if it fit into the prototype. To my chagrin, however, the carrying case would not fit in the top compartment of the prototype and easily zip closed.
What made it more exciting was seeing that the prototype overall was big enough to fit the case. I was trying not to increase the size of the top compartment, which would have made the bag overall much bigger. Instead I experimented with the idea where you could unzip and roll up the panel separating the top main compartment from the bottom compartment. On a return trip to the factory, I worked with their sample room to create what we call our “magic bottom.”
We did it! Same turntable case with the magic bottom update.
We are very proud to have introduced the Catalina weekender collection in 2013 and have evolved the line, which includes the current breadth and depth of offerings - to fit so many needs, body types and heights. And I guess we must be doing something right with this collection, because other brands have taken notice. In recent years (and more in recent months), we have seen some suspiciously similar bags come to market.
But for nearly 10 years, my mom, brother and I (and our entire Lo & Sons team) have maintained a strong commitment to quality. And while we've faced competition from cheaper knockoffs and pressure to find ways to offer this collection at affordable prices, we are committed to ensuring that our products are made from great materials. After originally launching the Catalina in a washed canvas, we have in recent years been focused on finding more eco-friendly alternatives, such as an organic cotton canvas and a durable recycled poly made from plastic water bottles. And we hope to make the entire collection eco-friendly in the near future.