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Talk, Trends, and a One Chance Meeting
Once The Show began in earnest on March 4 the virus seemed to be collectively set aside, and people got down to business. They hugged and shook hands. A few began substituting elbow rubs and fist bumps. There was the now familiar scent of hand sanitizer in the aisles.
The Show went on, and for the people present it was incredibly successful. It seemed like those who’d made the decision to travel were collectively determined individuals, there to do business. It was an attitude that applied to retailers and exhibitors alike. And business got done.
As people settled in and prowled the aisles, these are the product and industry trends that bubbled to the top.
This year’s color trends weren’t so much about specific colors, as feel. And except for the usual bread and butter palette consisting of black, white, red and blue, colors seemed to fit two trends: Bright and fun, or utilitarian and non-gender.
Gray, last year’s color trend, is still relevant. Lighter shades like heather and ash are dominant in hard and soft goods, but near-black charcoals are also conspicuous. Interestingly, gray’s continuing trend might have something to do with gender influence: Justine Benzinger, a designer with Naftali, observed that gray fits the trend of gender neutrality, noting that gender-neutral displays maximize retail floor space by appealing to all, rather than just half the population.
Walking the aisles at The Show, the color spectrum appears split. Pastels and bright colors are still hip, but on the flip side earth tones and muted hues are also very strong. Most brands tend to fall in line with one camp or the other, with a selection of almost Easter-like brightness, or partaking liberally of greens, browns, beige and gray.
A 1967 Star Trek episode introduced an innocuous pocket pet called a tribble, which multiplied like a supercharged rabbit, overwhelming the Enterprise by sheer numbers. In the travel goods industry, travel pillows are very much like tribbles. Every few years, including this one, they seem to overwhelm The Show.
There were eight travel pillows in the New Products Pavilion alone, all of them brand new designs. They were joined by dozens of others popping up on The Show floor. For some brands, like Cabeau and Cocoon by Design Salt, travel pillows took center stage as their signature item. For others, like Design Go and Travelon, travel pillows were an accessory that complimented their star products.
Among some of the more interesting takes:
In the casual workplace, two business case types dominate: Backpacks and messenger bags. There are strong reasons for both. Backpacks are better for lengthier carry, but may be perceived as less professional in some environments. Messengers provide easier on-the-go access but aren’t as comfortable for longer commutes, particularly on standing-room-only public transit.
While companies have attempted to create bags that can be cross-configured for both backpack and messenger carry, we’ve never seen three executions debut at once.
Hillside Industries’ Meridian V2.0 Leather Bagpack can convert while you’re wearing it, transitioning from over-the-shoulder carry to backpack, thanks to a unique single strap system threaded through four oversize rings, one at each corner.
KeySmart, which launched in 2013 on Kickstarter as a pocket knife-like key holster, brought its URBAN Hybrid Messenger Bag to The Show. It’s capable of being carried over the shoulder, crossbody, as a backpack and as a grip handle briefcase. The well-constructed detachable shoulder strap and tuck-away backpack straps aren’t unlike what you’d find on some travel backpacks.
paq one, which was a Launch Pod company at this year’s Show, was built around a revolutionary snap-together buckle that permits 360-degree rotation. The signature buckles are used to attach the shoulder straps and waist belt, which permits removal of the belt and reconfiguration of the shoulder straps to become a shoulder sling. It’s not something that can be done quickly, but once the bag is configured it looks good and carries well.
Silicone – and silicone-like materials such as polyurethane – is on the rise, being durable, pliable, typically food safe and manufacturing friendly. It’s gradually displacing some clear plastic/vinyl pouches.
Matador’s Packable Water Bottle and Hydration Reservoir, designed specifically for travel, make use of ultrasonically welded urethane. It’s supple and pliable, and won’t take a “crease” or fatigue like typical plastics.
Travel PAKT’s signature pre-PAKTS come in 100% silicone zip-top pouches. Jessica Cummings with Travel PAKT says of silicone, “It’s durable, it has an environmentally friendly feel because it’s reusable, and it meets TSA regulations as a clear, see-through bag. They’re popular with customers and people we’ve done roundtables with.”
Brookstone came to The Show with a brace of silicone items. Probably the most novel was its Travel Styling Mat for curling irons and flat irons, which wraps around the business end of your styling implement. You can even apply it while the iron’s hot – the material withstands up to 500°F, and changes color to white to indicate it’s hot. Other silicone items in Brookstone’s stable include 3-oz travel tubes for liquids or gels, plus holders that snap around the business end of a razor or toothbrush.
Call them what you will – train cases, cosmetics cases or hardsided handbags – hardsided personal cases continue to be a trend.
Triforce was on this trend early and seemingly doubled down with an even larger selection this year. Account Executive Chris Doval noted that last year the company did $2 million in these tiny hardsides, on one account alone. And that was just in the month of December.
Others on board with this trend included Solite and numerous fashion brands. The small cases seem to do well as part of a personal carry-on that can double for everyday use.
No matter the brand, these are definitely style items with look-at-me appeal. No black, no low-profile gray. It’s about flash, prints and shiny textures.
The growing emphasis on eco-friendly materials and manufacturing continued building steam in New Orleans, as more companies showcased new items with “eco-friendly” and “recycled” as product highlights.
And it’s no longer just the products themselves that are being considered, but packaging as well. Companies are designing packaging that does away with difficult-to-recycle plastic blister packs, opting for minimal-footprint cardboard hangtags.
Briggs & Riley’s Solo showed off its Re:cycled Collection of three backpacks, as well as a duffel, tote, briefcase and laptop sleeve of recycled PET polyester, sewn from a proprietary fabric. Each item is tagged with recycled, biodegradable labels denoting how many bottles were diverted from landfill for its construction. Even the string tether on the tags is made of recycled, stranded paper; and for every bag sold, the company plants a tree in a U.S. National Forest by partnering with the National Forest Foundation.
Solo’s big-picture environmentalism was eclipsed by LiteGear Design’s own recycled line (eco-friendliness was baked into LiteGear’s DNA from its founding in 2013), and its “Day Without Plastic” global initiative. Unfortunately, the planned April 21 rollout was delayed. The goal, “to open our collective minds to change our relationship with plastic” is still vitally important, but pales next to the existential crisis brought on by the novel coronavirus. The company hopes to restart this global initiative at a later date.
Before the industry’s collective light-weight fixation, which reached its zenith in the post-2008 recession era of heavily policed overweight baggage fees, suitcases had built-in organization features like shoe compartments, pocketed dividers and the like. But as manufacturers tried to one-up each other in pursuit of being the lightweight champ, those features fell by the wayside. Not anymore.
This year’s luggage crop saw more baked-in organization features reappearing in bags. Carry-ons probably feature the most compartments, with dedicated power bank pockets with cord pass-throughs being among the most popular. Others include wet compartments, shoe pockets, document slots and laptop/phone ports. Some organizers were minimal. Others, like Aleon’s Domestic Carry-on and Vertical Business Case, provide organizational aids that let the cases function as de facto dressers or desks.
Matador upended the traditional one-cavernous compartment duffle bag with its SEG42 segmented duffel, a 42-liter duffel with six discrete compartments that help you pack belongings by day, size, type, or cleanliness.
And newcomer Zhampagge (it’s a portmanteau of hamper and luggage) brought its All-in-One Organizer Bag, which is less of a bag with built-in organization than it is an organizer that becomes a bag. It can be suspended from a hanger to become a 5-pocket closet organizer, used as a suitcase insert, or cleverly folded over itself and snapped together to become a cross-body day bag.
Ready-made kits continue to be popular for travelers and retailers, as easy add-ons at point of sale and genuine problem solvers for travelers on the go. No less than three such offerings were on hand in the New Products Pavilion, with many others offered by accessories purveyors on the exhibit floor.
Travel PAKT’s kits are customizable, TSA carry-on compliant pouches that can be loaded with any number of travel-size products. For retailers, it allows you to pick the items you feel your customers will most need. For consumers, they can pick what they need and Travel PAKT will build that kit just for them, shipping it to their home or destination.
The company offers a variety of singles such as Emergen-C, showerless body wipes, analgesics, and makeup/beauty items. Or load up with pre-PAKTS, intended for sanitizing, hangovers, beach treks and the like.
Welly’s Quick Fix Kit is like a personal ouch! technician, with single-use antibiotic ointment and hand sanitizer packs, plus an assortment of flexible fabric bandages, all packed in a metal tin.
Potty Packs, which was a newcomer to The Show last year, returned with its signature Potty Pack, a Sh!t Kit, event pack, first aid kit, tick kit and more.