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October 18, 2005

Notebook Totes Get Glamorous

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Last week, I realized that there was a black hole in my closet.

I've been a technology editor/writer/trade show attendee for more years than I care to admit, and so I've accumulated an impressive number of promotional tote bags, messenger bags, cloth briefcases, and backpacks. Most of them got thrown into the back of my closet, on the theory that at some point, I would probably use one or more of them. Someday.

So when I became the proud owner of a brand new Sony VAIO, I knew I had to have something in that closet I could use to keep it safe. Except that, staring at the mound of bags on the floor, I suddenly realized that I was looking at a nearly endless mass of black. For a moment, I was afraid that if I got too close, I'd get sucked into some kind of science-fictional space-time continuum.

This is the result of what I consider a major misapprehension among the manufacturers of notebook bags. Until recently, most of them seem to have imagined their potential customers as today's version of J. Pierpont Finch (of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying fame): starting their rise up the corporate notebook ladder with a plain black canvas laptop bag, graduating to a name-brand bag with the first substantial raise, and then ascending to leather about the time they get their own office.

What these same companies were not taking into consideration is that today's corporate high-riser, whether male or female, is likely to have a lot more imagination, and is a lot less likely to want to simply blend into the crowd, than in, say, the 1980s. Forms of life such as IT staffers, Website designers, and other creative types are even less likely to fit into the fade-into-the-background mindset—their only reasons for using a plain black notebook bag would be because they wanted to make some sort of retro statement or because (like me) they got it at a trade show.

Things are changing. We do have a choice. The young IT guys who crowd the NYC subways every morning are heavily into messenger bags and backpacks, most of which are a variety of colors. Women who need to schlep around notebooks tend to go with similar fashion statements. However, as I found at the Digital Life show in NYC last weekend, there is a thriving side market in female-directed bags.

At the show, which highlights consumer technologies, one aisle boasted five or six vendors who were touting their own women-centric technology totes. Two companies, Casauri (started by two young women as the result of a project at the Columbia Business School) and Case Closed Bags, concentrated on utilitarian, well-designed cases in bright colors, with contrasting trims or patterned linings. (My male companion insisted that most of the bags were perfectly suitable for men as well, with the possible exception of those featuring the color pink.) Another vendor, Delarew Designs, featured a line of "Delapod" pocketbooks with see-through pockets for iPods, including one faux leopard-skin number that looked straight out of Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Things are looking a bit brighter these days for notebook toters. Me? I abandoned the pile in my closet, shopped around, and found myself a vivid red, gender-unspecific laptop bag with enough pockets for my A/C cord, mouse, headphones, and USB drives. Practicality is primary—and so is the color.

Barbara Krasnoff is Reviews Editor for TechWeb/Pipelines.

The TechWeb Spin TechWeb's editors are busy assigning and editing and linking and otherwise creating the content you see on and the Pipeline sites, but we wanted the chance to tell you what we see and what we think about it directly. So, each week, The TechWeb Spin will bring you the informed insight and unique perspective of a different TechWeb editor: Fredric Paul, Scot Finnie, Tim Moran, Stuart Glascock, Alexander Wolfe, Val Potter, Barbara Krasnoff, and Cora Nucci. We hope you like it, and even if you don't we hope you take the time to tell us what you think about it.

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