Interview with the Founder: Sarah Giblin of Riut

Sarah Giblin - credits Graham FlackOur editor Rheanna-Marie Hall speaks to the Founder of Riut, a company which produces ‘backwards’ backpacks designed for commuters, long distance travellers, and festival-goers alike.

So how do you build a bag empire from scratch? And what top packing tip do we really need to know?

“I think it’s really important that everyone feels really confident when they’re going to places. It’s very difficult to prevent bad things happening but you can yourself feel more confident when you’re there. That’s what I try to do via design.”

I’m on the phone with Sarah Giblin, Founder of Riut. It’s the second phone call; she is currently in Berlin, and so the line is crackly and the signal has already cut out once so far. This time though, we haven’t had a hiccup, so I cross my fingers and proceed to ask her all about designing a revolutionary new type of bag.

For those unfamiliar with Riut, prepare to be converted. A frequent traveller and commuter herself, Sarah decided that conventional backpacks were the wrong way round. For security, it seemed to her that it would make far more sense to have the zips against your back, rather than exposed to the crush of a crowd and opportunistic thieves. Unable to find what she wanted online, Sarah left her job to design and build Riut.

Four years on, and with five bags of varying size and design under her belt (not to mention awards and accolades for her innovative product), Sarah is as passionate as when she started about keeping people’s stuff safe and easing worry.

“Because I travel so much on my own with all of my stuff… I really hate worrying about stuff and if I could I would travel with nothing at all, but you have to travel with at least one laptop, and your smartphone, and all of your extra stuff,” Sarah tells me. “In the surveys I do over 50% of people carry between £1500 and £3000 worth of stuff on them every day and that is so much and that is without even considering the data that our devices access. And so as professional businesswomen we’re carrying around a vast amount of value and so it kind of makes sense that everyone is worrying where their wallet is, worrying where their phone is, and what’s going on with their zips.

“I do think it’s better for all of us if we’re not thinking about any of that, and the design helps to get rid of that worry. And then you can start focusing on: Where am I going? What am I actually doing here? What meeting am I going to? And focusing on the things that you’re there to do.

“If I wander around airports looking lost and worried then it tends to be that people try to take advantage of me. If I walk through an airport looking really confident and knowing where I’m going then it’s a quite different world that I’m wandering around in. That’s what I hope the design will actually do.”

I confirm that RiutBags certainly have that effect. On a recent trip to London I had taken the R10, the smallest capacity RiutBag designed for commuters, with me to review (read it here). It made all the difference to my confidence on the tube.

“The tube is the perfect testing ground for a RiutBag,” she agrees. “You’re just like ‘Bring it on! All of you people, squeeze up against me!’ Because it doesn’t matter.”

RiutBag R10

Aside from the security elements of it, I love the RiutBags for their sleek and sophisticated design, something which I compliment Sarah on. These days, it feels like the majority of rucksacks on offer are either sporty and plain, or shiny and tiny. Finding a multi-use rucksack that looks good on is a challenge.

“My intention was to make it smart enough that you could wear with a suit, but make it not look so officey that you couldn’t wear it on holiday,” she explains. “When I surveyed people originally, they said ‘I want a backpack that I can use for work and on holiday, without looking like I’m using my work rucksack.’

“I remember meeting my dad somewhere, and we were meant to be having a holiday but he had his serious business Samsonite bag with him whilst wearing a pink t-shirt. It just didn’t quite work for me. [Laughs] One of the important things for me was that you could wear it casually but also keep it so that it’s smart enough for work, with a proper suit on.”

After being left so impressed by the R10, I tell her that I’m off to Prague with the R25 shortly (you can read the review of my time with the R25 in Prague here) and Sarah sounds delighted. As the largest capacity RiutBag, it’s the perfect size for international travel, and was designed to comply with maximum hand luggage requirements for UK airlines.

“My test with the R25,” she tells me, “was I took it on a 30-day trip from Berlin to London to Beijing to New Zealand with no check-in luggage. I remember getting to the airport in London and they were like ‘And your luggage to check-in?’ And I said ‘Ah no, I’m actually only taking on-board luggage.’ They were like ‘Uh, aren’t you going to New Zealand?’ [Laughs] I was like, ‘Yep!’ They said, ‘We’ve never had someone not checking in luggage before’. Never in her experience had she ever had that.

“And so I rammed in the R25, full of all of my stuff – and it was very full I’ll admit – but I managed to get it on all the flights. It was enough! I even packed too much.”

R25 side on

RiutBag R25

Hearing that Sarah managed with one large backpack for a 30-day, multi-city, round trip, I feel both envious and hilariously embarrassed, as it has become abundantly clear that I have a long way to go with my own packing. I confess to her that my trip to Prague is to last all of three days. I don’t confess that before we had spoken, my decision to take only the R25 had seemed like a challenge, but I do ask her for her top packing tip. It seems I need the wisdom.

She pauses a moment at my confession, and then laughs, assuring me that I’ll definitely be fine. As for advice: “In terms of the RiutBag, it lays out like a suitcase, and I would say when you’re packing it, think about the time element. The things that you really don’t need until you arrive can go right in the bottom at the back of the bag. The things that you’re going to want to access during your journey, make sure that those are closer to the top. You might want to use the top pocket and the D-pockets for those things.

“For actually reducing your packing… I remember reading a blog once about outfits, and how you can pack so that you’ve got maybe one pair of trousers and three tops for example, and that will pretty much cover a few different varieties of meetings.”

Maybe, however, I’m not doing so bad. “Since I started my own company I no longer wear very smart clothing and that’s made my packing a little bit easier,” Sarah relents. “I’m probably a very bad example of how people should pack”.

She may only be sparing my packing pride, but I appreciate it. And speaking of  starting her own company, I want to quiz Sarah about the ins and outs of building a business, at the same time as designing a whole new product.

When I ask Sarah about what it’s like to completely run a business and how she has found it, I can almost feel the energy whizzing down the phone line. I’d put money on that she’s broken out into a grin.

She tells me about a key moment for her. Her sister handed her a stack of ‘project cards’, questions which she had to answer yes or no to in respect to her business. One of them was the question: Is this project aligned with you as a person?

“That was the first time that I realised that this company is exactly shaped like me. It only uses the things that I can do. Anything that I can’t do, I work with another company to do. I get better and better at the things that I enjoy doing in the company. These RiutBags came right out of my head and they now exist in the world, and at the point I designed each of them and they were manufactured, they were exactly what I wanted them to be.

“I get to go and talk to other people – I did a TEDx talk at the end of last year – and I got to go and tell other people how I had this idea, and how I run Riut,” she continues. “And I’m not just telling people about something they ‘should’ know that someone else said that they should know, and I don’t really know about it. I really really know about this stuff and I get to share all of that and it’s the best, best thing ever. It’s my number one job. I love it.”

Her energy and passion for her business is infectious. I’m feeling inspired! I tell her, laughing, that I’m looking round the room for ideas as we speak. I don’t know what my business, or my idea, will be yet, but inspiration could strike from anywhere.

“This is the whole point!” she replies, both excited and serious in what she says. “You don’t have to have been a designer before you come up with your idea. And your idea will most likely be based on something that you think is annoying or rubbish with something that is in the world. And if you think one step further, which is ‘How would I fix this?’ – that is all you have to do.

“And if you can come up with a thing that fixes something that you experience every day that’s a bit annoying, the chances are other people will find that thing annoying and love you for actually creating a solution for it. That’s the revolution in user-thinking; that’s what Riut stands for.”

To read more of Sarah’s story and discover the different Riut bags, including the newly-launched Riut Crush, head to www.riut.co.uk

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