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Aussie start-up transforms luggage into art

January 28, 2017 Travel Goods No Comments Email Email

We’ve all been there before.

You’re standing at the baggage carousel, hoping to get on with your holiday or just get home, and every bag looks like yours – or someone else’s.

“Is that our one? The black one? Or that black one over there?” is the soundtrack to the familiar carousel experience no matter which airport or where in the world you are.

They all look the same.

But an Australian bag has changed all that, with travellers now able to acquire customized luggage using artworks commissioned specifically for the luggage. Whilst only in carry on size for now, having luggage that doesn’t look like everyone else’s en route will certainly diminish any chances for mix-ups or mistaken identity at the various transport interchanges or hotel luggage storage rooms.

The Aussie start-up’s first collaboration is with Californian native artist Sarah York. “She’s supplied floral country destination designs that will appeal predominately to women,” says Catherine Bell, Founder of Carry On Watson. “But the plan is to recruit more artists, including some who will appeal to the other half of the population.” The luggage, which is in carry on size only to start comes in black and white with the choice of five country inspired artworks from Hawaii, Australia, China, Japan and Mexico.

Bell has travelled widely since her teens and spent much of the last 20 years living and working in South East Asia. Appropriately enough, her journey from globetrotting executive to baggage entrepreneur began in a Singaporean shopping mall.

Frustrated by the lack of real choice and variety Bell says “I was searching for a new travel bag. Everything was black and nondescript, as tends to be the case in luggage stores the world over,” says Bell. “There was nothing that reflected my personality or that could differentiate me from the next traveler”.

This was around the time many businesses were starting to allow consumers to customize goods. So Bell got to wondering why she couldn’t create her dream suitcase; one with eye-catching artwork plastered across it. “Suitcases have a frame-like shape and make perfect mobile billboards,” she points out.

Before long, Bell walked away from her corporate career, set up Carry On Watson and set about turning her vision into a reality. The business’s name derives from a Sherlock Holmes quote and reflects its founder’s philosophy: “I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life.”

Bell soon discovered producing unconventional luggage was no simple task. The first challenge was finding a manufacturer willing to work with a start-up requiring small production runs. Then came the issue of how to print an image onto the polycarbonate that hard-shell luggage is made of. After that, it was a matter of sorting out the actual bag. The case is carry-on size (20 inch), has a TSA-approved lock, four high-grade swivel wheels, an aluminum telescope handle and comes with a storage bag. “Inverting the traditional priorities of luggage makers, the focus is on form not function,” Bell says. “It’s all about the aesthetic impact rather than pointless doodads.”

Fashion-forward types wanting to buy a first-edition Carry On Watson bag can head to carryonwatson.com. There they’ll be able to choose from 12 possible artistic combinations which can be viewed using a 3D rotate tool.

“At one end of the luggage market you’ve got the cheap and nasty suitcases. At the other you’ve got beautiful but pricey prestige brand products,” says Bell. “By offering my bags at $389, I’m targeting those who want a travel companion that will make them feel special without swallowing all their holiday money. Not to mention those who never want to waste another minute trying to work out which bag is theirs at airports, train stations and bus stops.”

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