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TGA Product Awards

Show-Stoppers from New Orleans and The 2020 Travel Goods Show

No one travels alone. We might venture forth without a companion, but no one journeys unaccompanied – we always bring stuff. This is the foundation of our business, the travel gear that enables us to bring our essentials – and by extension, shapes the way the world travels.

The Product Innovation Awards recognize the new items that are poised to make the most impact for travelers, and stand out on the sales floor. Products are vetted from exhibitor rank submissions found in the New Products Pavilion and are analyzed and discussed by the Product Innovation Awards Committee’s six retailer members. The criteria are simple: Will the item have a positive impact on travelers, and will it sell at the retail level?

Show exhibitors submit items for consideration in their categories:

  • Best New Design – Luggage
  • Best New Design – Backpack
  • Best New Design – Accessories
  • Best Use of Technology
  • Most Eco-Friendly Product

The committee evaluates, discusses and muses – its members include independent stores, online vendors and national chains – and based on what they feel will generate the most excitement and sales-floor snap, they vote on the winners.

A winning lineup: Product Innovation Award winners. From left to right: Lisa Ligon of AeroPress, Muri Mahmoud of Standley, Eyal Azoulay from Rollink Smart Products, Product Innovation Awards Committee Chair Jerry Kallman, George Wheeler of Lightload Towels and Jason Wang and Angela Tien of UNO Voyage.

Best Use of Technology:

AeroPress Go

The modern era has conditioned us to equate technology with electronics, but it takes more than wires and electrons to make the world spin. Sometimes it’s not information or virtual connection we crave, but the comfort of a hot beverage.

The AeroPress Go is a travel-optimized version of the AeroPress coffee brewing system that’s enjoyed a cult following among coffee aficionados and caffeine addicts since the original device debuted in 2005. (AeroPress inventor Alan Adler is a retired Stanford University engineering instructor whose previous claim to fame was the Aerobie, a hyper-efficient reimagining of the Frisbee that holds the world distance record for a thrown object – one traversed Niagara Falls in 1988.)

It’s disarmingly simple, but fans swear by the original AeroPress. When paired with an appropriate coffee grinder and hot water source, the AeroPress affords an extraordinary amount of control over the brewing process to produce intensely flavored coffee with low acidity and bitterness. There are countless “recipes” online for brewing the perfect cup via AeroPress, but the principle variables are water temperature and timing. Basically, if you can pour water you can brew coffee.

The $36.99 AeroPress Go is slightly shorter than the standard AeroPress, with an 8-ounce capacity instead of the customary 10 ounces so it fits inside the included 15-ounce travel mug for compact transport. It brews 1-3 espresso-style shots that can be diluted to create Americanos, poured over ice or served up any way you might dish up espresso. Which lets you make anyplace, anywhere, feel comfy, like home.

Best New Design – Luggage:

Rollink Flex 21”

The concept of a collapsible, folding suitcase is an idea that never goes away. But while the concept has undeniable appeal, the execution has been elusive. Until now.

First-time exhibitor Rollink Smart Products debuted its Rollink Flex 21” suitcase in New Orleans, and it was an instant attention getter. The design is best described as a hardside/soft case hybrid, with polypropylene front and back panels spanned by polyester fabric that enable the case – nominally 21.6” x 15.7” in profile – to collapse from its 7.8” fully packed thickness to a slender 2”.

At 2” thickness, the Flex 21” easily slides under beds and even into gaps like that wasted space between the wall and dresser. It’s only a 2-wheeler, not a spinner, but makes up for it with its clever fold-up feature. To fold you simply unzip, open, reposition the four hinged panels within and the Flex 21” collapses to minimal width like a house of cards.

It’s also admirably light, with 2,440 cubic inches/40 liters of capacity but weighing in at 4.8 lbs. It comes in a fun array of colors: black with yellow, turquoise, pink, mint or gray.

And with an MSRP of $80, the Flex 21” fits slender budgets as well as it fits in tight quarters.

Best New Design – Backpack:

Standley LeanBag

Along with messenger bags, backpacks have become part of the urban denizen’s uniform the world over. But what if a backpack could do more than just carry stuff?

That’s the question posed by the Standley LeanBag’s crew of Danish inventors, who added a rigid aluminum brace and a padded seat cushion to a more-or-less standard backpack, allowing it to function as a seat with backrest.

The $89 LeanBag was introduced as a potential product on Kickstarter in 2018, when it made its funding goal. It’s one of those “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?” items, something so blindingly obvious when seen for the first time.

This seems like a natural for festivals and beaches, letting you sit up to see the sights while being protected from grass stains and wet-bottom syndrome. The 10-mm thick sit pad’s attachment to the backpack anchors it in place, so the backrest stays put when you lean against it.

The 15-liter backpack has padded space for a 16” laptop and weighs in at just 2.3 lbs.

Best New Design – Accessories:

UNO Travel Pillow

Travel pillows are a crowded space, but the UNO Travel Pillow managed to stand out and wow the Product Innovation Awards Committee with a number of small innovations that add up to a real advantage.

Cool gel-infused memory foam is key to the UNO’s comfort difference. According to the company it’s also twice the density of standard foams for more support, but still scrunches down to a fourth of its volume for space-saving packing.

The gently curved shape is intended to better fit the neck, shoulders and lower jaw, with a cinch strap that lets you rotate the u-shape pillow around for more side support if desired. Or fasten the strap and deploy the UNO like a regular pillow, with the donut hole making a comfy nest to cradle your head.

The UNO’s washable, Spandex pillowcase is resistant to dust mites and comes in Rough Slate, Dark Forest, Ocean Wave and Tropicoral colorways.

The $49.99 UNO Travel Pillow comes packaged in a reusable mesh laundry bag, for minimal packaging waste. Think of it as a bonus packing accessory.

Most Eco-Friendly Product:

Lightload Beach Towels

As any experienced traveler knows – especially those who are also fans of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – a towel is an indispensable travel item. And while microfiber and cotton are the typical go-to standards, Lightload Towels upends this paradigm with its super compact, ultralight lyocell towels.

Lyocell is naturally antimicrobial and super absorbent, with the ability to soak up more than 9.5 times its weight in moisture. That means the 5-ounce Beach Towel will absorb six cups of water (or for those of you who are metric-minded, 1.4 liters).

What’s more, lyocell is plant-derived, which makes this material sustainably sourced. It’s hypoallergenic, breathable, burnable, and an appealing alternative to microfiber, which is being increasingly viewed as a pollutant in the earth’s waterways and oceans as a source of micro plastics that are entering the food chain for countless creatures, including humans. It’s also more absorbent and ecofriendly than cotton, one of the most chemical- and pesticide-intensive crops in the world.

Lightload Beach Towels are truly beach towel-size: 36” x 60”. But they come in a compressed, vacuum-sealed pouch measuring just 7” x 4” x 1” so they’re literally pocket size. They retail for $14.99.

The Buzz Award:

Rollink Flex 21”

Rollink Smart Products was able to double dip at this year’s TGA Show awards, landing the Best New Luggage prize with its clever collapsing luggage. And it took home the Buzz Award, voted on by attending retailers and media, as the most attention-getting item in the New Products Pavilion.

The Flex 21” was helped, no doubt, by its intuitively understood benefit – tiny storage volume – and its fun array of available colors, which made for an eye-catching backdrop in Rollink’s booth.

If this was able to catch retailers’ attention, it will likely work the same magic with consumers who get to witness its shape-shifting transformation from easily stowed 2”thick storage mode to cabin-size carry-on. And if consumers buzz about it, they’ll hopefully buy as well.

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