Softgoods project: chef's backpack

This project was done sometime in March. Been lazy.

Group project (3 people) Sophomore year at CMU. Project brief was: a softgood that relates to EATING.

After brainstorming, our group decided to do a bag that helps chefs transport their tools.
Case brief/research

PDF link so you can actually read it:
Our research helped us discover that chef have this deep personal bond with their tools. We had this awesome quote where this chef said that he’d rather go through the trouble of lugging his stuff to his Dad’s for Sunday dinner than use someone else’s steak knife. Throughout a chef’s career, he will accumulate his own set of knives, and use them/treasure them. We wanted to help them facilitate this.

We also found that they not only transport knives with them, but carry all sorts of stuff from whisks, peelers, spatulas, to specialty items (if they were a baker: cookie cutters for example), dictionaries, spare underwear/socks, recipe journals, first aid kit. This is an example we found of this: Tools Of The Trade | "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellen… | Flickr

Current solutions are mostly knife rolls which tore easily/weren’t enough to fit all their stuff. Most chefs have resorted to using things like tackle boxes, which aren’t the intended need. Thus we set off to solve this issue.

Materials board

Early sketches practicing backpack sketching

Two early concepts. One for a disposable, biodegradable post-consumer military ration bag that is half hip flask half lunch box. Another for a collapsible water bladder.

A concept for a chef’s utility belt. Research shows that most chefs only use 1-2 knives concurrently. The cloth is for wiping knives, and acts as a fashion item.

A focus on improving current market solutions: knife rolls. The ones on the market now are too small and not durable enough.

A relatively thought out concept for a messenger bag which carries a cutting board that doubles as structural support. The design is inspired by a stove top, using stove knobs for buckles to open the bag, as well as a use of dining cloth red. However, the concept of storing a cutting board was scrapped as research showed that any board smaller than 15x20 was considered unusable by pro chefs.

Finally moving into the final concept. Suggestions from chefs that they wanted quick access to their most frequently used knives/tools and first aid. Also, modular storage for the chef to customize his own arrangement

Playing with integration of tightening straps so you could pick it up / carry from any side.

Form exploration

We eventually settled on this separatable backpack. The removable component is a knife storage bag which attaches to the main bag via its tightening straps. The straps can also buckle together to allow the knife bag to hang somewhere for easy access.

The component for all miscellaneous tools. We mocked up a bunch of stuff that average chefs would need, and came up with a general layout that can be customized with velcro separators (adjusting the sizes of each compartment or removing them as needed)

Overall ortho. Back padding pattern inspired by grills. Top has a zipper for quick access to first aid. Backpack straps are inspired by clean chef’s sleeves. Colors correspond to dining cloth red and white canvas white of chef clothes and professional black.

Knife palette. Customizable via clips (functionality worked out in the spec packet later in the post). Also sort of a way to display the knives that you are so proud of. Dividers also serve to protect knives from each other.

Final sketch

Final product shots
Our final product was targeted towards aspiring/professional chefs (young males, though not exclusively). Colors were chosen to appeal to the dining industry (described above in sketches section). Comprises two separatable components: knife bag + others. Modular velcro compartments, quick access first aid (indicated with a red zipper). Quick access velcro flap on knife bag for quick access, zip to expose both knife palettes for organization.

Final spec packet to be sent to manufacturer (Except we never did because of the economy)
These images are much too small to be read. The PDF is here:

Here’s the spec for the knife palette. It’s a padded sleeve with a bunch of slots. The clips slide into one of the slots to make compartments for each knife/steel/scissor to protect from each other.

I’ve yet to present this concept to a chef because I’ve been lazy, but hopefully this concept is something that could actually work. Sorry for the long pose. There was so much stuff that we thought about in the final concept that I probably forgot some other stuff. There were more sketches from the two other group members, but I only have mine.

This is one of the most thorough projects I’ve done and I loved it. The feeling of actually solving someone’s needs through a product was really gratifying. Not just some far fetched concept that depends on yet-to-be-invented tech. Hopefully someone actually read all of that and can give me some feedback for the future.

Great project. One small question, why red? A lot of chefs wear white and black (white top, black pants with checks or stripes). Red always connotes blood, and red and white together links to the Red Cross and emergency services.

agreed, great project. I actually did read all of it (a good sign there is something interesting!).

Funny Yo mentioned it, but also immediately thought the same thing about the red when I saw it. Makes me think of blood which is not a good thing when speaking of sharp knives… Maybe that black and white houndstooth like the pants they often wear would be better, though I think it doesn’t necessarily need to be so literal. even a nice silver synthetic or mesh could be nice to tie into the stainless steel of a kitchen…

I was also wondering how the knives don’t cut the slots they are in…maybe i’m not following the clip thing.

anyhow, nice job and a nice way of story telling showing the process.


I think for a sophomore project its fantastic.
I am very impressed by the quality of the model.

How long did you guys work on this project?

Thanks for the feedback.

Yes, we did come across this problem. The red for the zipper for the first aid kit does give this connotation. I was a little biased towards red because I thought it would be more noticeable in the kitchen and my excuse was that dining cloths at fancy restaurants used red (napkins, etc). If this were an actual product, I probably would’ve done some research to find out what color people would prefer. Also red/white/black sort of appealed to me as a “young male”.

Rkuchinsky: When we made the prototype, we chose a thicker cloth (duck cloth) that we layered inside to provide multiple layers of protection. The only part of the knife that could damage the bag was with its point to the bottom of the inside. That part would be padded more than the others to provide ample protection for the bag. Considering that chefs prize their knives, they would definitely take care in sliding the knife in, so we didn’t worry about high impact/stabbing inside. Also, the tightening straps work to “hug” all the contents (in the knife bag and in the main compartment) to prevent movement/friction between the tools.

The main function of the clips was to organize and separate. They are coated with a thin film of rubber or with cloth and act like a hairpin, pinching the slots in the back (see last page of the spec packet, the layer with a bunch of slots like |||||||) with the top layer together. It’s hard to describe and I guess I should’ve made better schematics to explain this function.

Bepster: Thanks, the model took ages. Via handsewing and really old industrial sewing machines (wayyy better than the modern Singer crap they put out these days). The other softgoods that our class made were pretty fantastic too. There was one backpack made for childcare that, when you rested it on the table you could transform it into a baby-changing station (before the baby got bigger than the backpack, that is).

The project lasted from 2/17 to about 3/29, so about… 6 weeks?

very good - i like!

Very nice indeed. Where did you get the old industrial sewing machine, did it belong to the school? That’s gold right there.

I Like:

thoroughness! Research, interview, ideas, working prototype. Excellent!
small detail, I like consistency in the sketches, the colors used to accentuate drawing details.

Not so keen:

it’s boring and square. Unless this was intentional styling choice. The bag market is dense with styles, most seem very body conscious. A square box seems wierd.

Color options are definitely required. Even could be used for different sizes, styles.

Any thing that holds working tools for a travelling professional will get really beat up. I would think leather sheaths might be good for the knife blades?

There’s a Singer’s factory/store around Pittsburgh, and the repairman who came in to do maintenance on our modern machines lent us 2 old industrial machines.

it’s boring and square. Unless this was intentional styling choice. The bag market is dense with styles, most seem very body conscious. A square box seems wierd.

Color options are definitely required. Even could be used for different sizes, styles.

Any thing that holds working tools for a travelling professional will get really beat up. I would think leather sheaths might be good for the knife blades?

The choice of a rectangular shape was to maximize area and was an aesthetic choice by the sketcher (me). Wanted to try out some simpler shapes for this project. I agree it’s a little weird.

Yes, we did consider leather. However, for some reason I was really bent on using canvas that was similar to chef’s clothes. But yes, the knife sleeves could be in leather, especially where the knives contact the bag on the inside. In terms of sheaths for individual knives, that may prove to be cumbersome (and potentially dangerous… continual sheathing/unsheathing may slice through the leather into your hands). Chefs use cloths to wrap their knives to protect them as sort of a do-it-yourself.

Thanks for the suggestions!

This project looks familiar…

Your generation sketches are great, I don’t know why but the chef sketch makes me laugh. Must be the proportions and the skinny little legs.

Hahah thanks. I did show it at an interview with Bright Innovation a few months ago. Those proportions were influenced by some Syd Mead videos I watched.

I showed this result to some chefs. Only got 2 responses so far, though. Both of them did say that backpacks were “strange” and they couldn’t imagine chefs wearing them. I don’t know how I should view these responses. I’m pretty sure there have been a lot of products that people couldn’t imagine using before, but are now normal (Bluetooth headsets for one).

I could understand that. Really, maybe aside from student chefs, do you think anyone over the age of 20 would wear a backpack? I believe most chef’s knife carrying things are currently more briefcase style, are they not?


PS. Bluetooth headsets are still not normal. They are dorky.

It’s true, WIRED said it was so.

Haha sort of I guess. I’m pretty used to them in the Silicon Valley since we’re only allowed handsfree calling while driving and there’s a crapload of techy/business people around.

Thanks for taking the time to help, I really apprciate it.

Cool idea and great sketching! Also Congrats on the Core77 feature.

I’m not a professional chef (although I know a few and have dated one), but I see something I think this concept could use. It seems to me that most restaurant kitchen floors are tile or similar with drains and get very messy when open and hosed down/mopped every night. I think it would be interesting to incorporate a little stand to lift the soft part of the bag off the floor a few inches so water/spills could go around it without making the bag dirty. This way the chef could keep the bag near by while cooking or leave it on the floor somewhere out of the way if there is nowhere else to store it. Research would tell if this is actually something people might want/use, but it just seems to make sense to me.

Heres a quick sketch of whats in my head:

Also in response to what yo and rkuchinsky were saying about the colors: I think they do need some work but I would be hesitant to jump into black/white checkered (or anything that closely resembles chef garb). I think its important that the colors don’t look out of place when the chef is wearing his/her street clothes. Of the chefs that I know, most are hesitant to be in public in the chef cloths and I don’t think they would want a bag that resembled them. Especially for times when traveling to friends/families houses, they most likely would not be wearing chef attire. Maybe take inspiration from the tools they use: high end knifes/kitchen appliances etc. Just a thought.

You can tell it was a busy day at work :stuck_out_tongue:

All the best with your idea,


Hi. I found this through surfing from

I am a retired chef of 30 years.

I have a knife roll for my most used knives and steel.

Everything else, tools for garde manger, specialty tools, etc. Go into a heavy duty tool box.

is an example of contents.

Due to the size, a wheeled cart, such as used by court reporters or flight attendants, is far more along what I would use. This is perfect for an aspiring student commuting to school, but not for a professional who takes his entire system with them.


What is the proper chef training if you want to become a chef? I’ve been thinking about starting a career in the culinary arts field. I’ve enjoyed cooking and baking my entire and I want to know what is the training to becoming a chef?

Go here;

I think genifery’s first post may now rank as the weirdest “first post”.

And thanks for the lead Taylor.

Since the economy is in the tank, the 6,000 hour training I went through to become an Operating Engineer isn’t panning out… maybe I could …? Whaddaya think? :wink:

That post was spam. It’s gone now.