Adaptive Thinking

How one British-German designer’s problem-solving acuity opened the door to Europe for selling Covid-adapted backpacks

 February, 2021

Sarah Giblin is a great example of the entrepreneurial ingenuity small business owners have shown during the pandemic. Her company RiutBag (Riut: Revolution in user thinking) was born out of a simple observation: that many travelers held their backpacks awkwardly, slung across their chests. She concluded that rucksacks were constructed the wrong way around and that wearers actually felt more secure when the zip was against their backs.

Giblin quit her day job in a law firm and threw herself into producing prototypes and designs, inspired by online surveys she made for her customers, while raising capital on Kickstarter. A finalist in the 2015 British Inventors’ Project and winner of a 2016 travel luggage design award, she spent three years working non-stop to build up the company. Then in spring 2020, after producing several different RiutBag models for customers all over Europe, the crash came. The RiutBag was targeted at commuters and travelers, but suddenly people were working from home and holidays were dramatically restricted.

© Gordon Welters/laif

Out of the emergency came the next inspiration. One of Giblin’s customers – a Mexican doctor – got in touch with a problem: He was frantically treating Covid-19 patients but wasn’t allowed to bring his backpack into the hospital. Could Giblin help?

Fast forward to September, and Giblin – now based in Manchester and Berlin – was again stress-testing materials, running social media surveys and producing various prototypes with the help of her workshop in China. After another successful Kickstarter campaign, she produced a new tarpaulin RiutBag including attachments on the straps for face masks and hand sanitizer bottles. Its easy-to-disinfect material gives anxious travelers extra peace of mind – this time concerning hygiene, not theft. “People want to minimize risks,” says Giblin, “and backpacks go everywhere and touch everything.”

Now, in the wake of Brexit, Giblin is embarking on the next part of her journey: looking for a logistics warehouse in Germany to distribute her new design throughout Europe.