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April 18, 2014 6:26 pm
I have a dream. Not the Martin Luther King kind, I admit; more the nightmare-at-2am kind. In my dream, I am out and about reporting, reviewing or otherwise working, when I discover something big – something I have to tweet or write straight away, like that the Marc Jacobs IPO is set for next week (not really) or that Apple is appointing Hedi Slimane its creative director (also not true; these are just examples of what would make urgent fashion news) – and my BlackBerry (yes, I have a BlackBerry, and I like it) goes kaput. Runs out of juice. You know the scenario. And whichever smartphone you depend upon, I would bet you’ve had the same dream.
It is, as far as I am concerned, the modern equivalent of the dream where all your teeth fall out, or you show up naked to an important event, or you go to class and find it is time for an exam you forgot.
I have long wondered why, given the song and dance made seemingly every month about lifestyle, wearables and the fashion/tech revolution, the wired-in powers that be have not solved this problem. If our phones are increasingly embedded in our lives, would this not make them more crucial than, say, nerdy-looking glasses? And would it not be in the interests of both the fashion and tech worlds to come up with a solution?
You’d think. So when Aspinal, a British heritage leather goods company, announced it had created a self-charging handbag, how could I resist?
But also: how could I believe? A self-charging bag seemed too good to be true. Did it have solar panels concealed on the side? Did you have to plug in your bag at night? I decided to find out. Just before the recent round of ready-to-wear shows – ie the time when I use my phone to file reviews, to tweet when I am bored while waiting for a show to start, and otherwise to do everything between 8am and 10pm when I’m on the road and away from my desktop – the Marylebone Tech arrived.
It was black and capacious, shaped a bit like a bucket, with a combination of pebbled and flat leather on the outside and waterproof, inkproof lining on the inside. On one side of the interior were two large pockets, out of one of which protruded a USB cable. “The charger!” cried a voice in my head. I discovered that the cable led through a slit in the lining to a little black box (aka the “juice pack”) secreted in a hidden pocket. You take the box out at night, turn the cable around, and charge it via your laptop or desktop at night; during the day, you hide it again in the bag and, if your phone battery runs low, you slip your device in the pocket, connect it and, before you know it, bingo, full charge. It also works on tablets.
In other words the Marylebone Tech is not a self-charging bag, which implies the bag itself has a power source but, rather, an accessory itself accessorised by a portable charger. This makes it not that different from any bag into which a consumer might put their own portable charger (I have one in white and lime green called “MyCharge” that I am fond of because it talks in a computerised voice when in contact with your device), except the Aspinal charger is smaller and can be concealed so that the bag appears to self-charge. Plus, it comes in black, which from a goes-with-your-wardrobe point of view is a positive.
As a bonus, you can remove the juice pack for use in another bag, and though it might not match, it is easy to transport. Indeed, the juice pack is notably easier to transport than the Marylebone Tech itself, which is so big it invites filling up with lots of stuff, the weight of which makes it difficult to lug around during 12-hour days. During fashion week, I was able to stash: a Kindle, a notebook (or two), some snacks, a water bottle, about 10 large invitations (some made of wood), a wallet, an umbrella and a scarf. While this was great for any emergency that might arise, it was not so great for my back. Especially because the Marylebone Tech is a top-handle tote, meaning it does not have a shoulder strap, meaning I was constantly nestling the enormous bag in the crook of one elbow like an oversized baby.
On the other hand, the mental security provided by the assurance that I had juice, no matter what, also boosted my productivity, along with my attention levels, as I was not distracted by continually having to calculate whether I had enough power left in my phone to tweet, blog and then file copy. And for anyone who has to transport various business materials, it is not a bad solution: a contemporary briefcase, by another name. I would recommend it wholeheartedly to my lawyer/banker friends. But I’d recommend the juice pack to everyone. In the end, with this product as with most products, desire is not just about functionality and aesthetics but emotional security. That way, profits lie.
More columns at ft.com/friedman
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