I’ve got a thing about bags - all sizes, shapes, functions, fashions. I’m always looking for the perfect carry-all, something between a trendy hobo sack (where things can get lost for days) and one of those uber-utilitarian models that only suspiciously organized people and Europeans use.
That’s probably why Beyond Her has had so many totes in the past. There’s no danger of that behavior stopping now.
This fanatacism reaches new levels when it comes to shopping for purses. Anyone who has known me for more than a month has suffered through a purse-hunt period, in which I beat my chest and bemoan the state of fashion design.
Purse shopping is not something I take lightly. It is a mission, really a spiritual quest.
It doesn’t seem to me that I am looking for anything that unusual, but here is where purse designers and me disagree. All I want are:
Straps that put the bag somewhere between my armpit and knees
Lining that allows me to locate my worldly goods -- or at least notice any deteriorating food items.
Some way of organizing my stuff, beyond a great gaping fabric hole.
And, a bottom that lets me at least rest the bag somewhere for a dang minute without exposing my life story to everyone within speaking distance.
And then there’s the size issue.
There was a time, after my kids were little and quit needing things like diapers, kleenex and binkies all the time, when my purses got down to a nice little manageable size. That lasted about five years.
Then we entered the Age of Eyeglasses -- reading glasses, driving glasses and a pair of sunglasses with a case the size of a smart car. My volume requirements grew exponentially.
It was a slippery slope, and when it comes to purses these days, bigger is definitely better. I have wasted so much time looking for keys, phones, pencils, lipstick -- I’m beginning to suspect it is a plot to distract us from the war in Afghanistan and the state of the US economy.
I even heard of one type of purse that has a built-in flashlight. Doesn’t anyone see anything wrong here?
It goes back to my same old song -- isn’t design supposed to make things easier? Things like getting through the regular old, where-did-I-stash-my-parking-ticket, kind of day?
My Bag: Beyond Her Totes
After much R&D, Beyond Her introduced our own brand of totes in Fall 2013. Using specialty waxed linen and canvas fabrics -- and our own designs -- we added pockets, key fobs, magnetic clasps and shoulder length leather straps to make something wonderful. More coming. Stay tuned!
"Design is so important because chaos is so hard." --Jules Feiffer
As far as I'm concerned, truer words were never spoken.
If I added up how many times I say "goddammit!" in a single day -- in frustration over things that don't work, don't make sense, or are more trouble than they're worth -- well, I bet it's in the double digits.
I'm just happy that I have industrial designers to blame.
Take this from someone who can spend an entire afternoon deciding where to put a hook on a dishtowel - and still get it wrong - there are no small decisions.
It just amazes me that so many ill-designed products can make it onto the open market without a reality check.
I mean, where are these teams of steely eyed professionals with clipboards working on product design and testing?
I would like just the briefest opportunity to ask, for example, who was doing the thinking:
On my car, which does not offer a single flat surface, inside or out, on which to place a cup of coffee while I find my keys? Or one bag of groceries while I load another?
On my coffee pot, which uses a red light to mean "start" and a green light for "delay?" Shouldn't it be the other way around?
On my hairdryer, whose extra-long cord might be great if I had to plug it into the house next door, but since it stays in the bathroom, manages to wrap itself around and upset every single product in its drawer. Same complaint about my iPod -- life-changing device -- but, seriously, I have to undo macrame to get the buds in my ears?
On portable phones, whose tiny little buttons handle the most powerful transactions, but for some reason cannot be bothered to be in the same place from one model to another. Why do I ALWAYS have to hunt for the "flash" button? Shouldn't there be an international standard?
On credit card swipers, with their seemingly unlimited routes to take us through the same process. Always, the questions and awkward moments: Do I sign or don't I? Do they hit the button or do I hit the button? And will somebody please tell the checker to quit rolling her eyes?
I'll admit, I can be slow on these things, but wouldn't a store want to make purchasing a pretty straightforward experience?
This is the point: design is not easy, but it can make life easier. So if you have something that actually gives you a hint of what it's for, makes itself easy to use, does its job and maybe even starts a crooked smile on your face, you can kiss a designer for that.
And as for those designer guys in the lab coats, I'm suspecting they want to keep us confused and our lives chaotic. That's just when they come up with another time-saving appliance!
Tea Towels - Unplugged
According to Beyond Her, it's important where the hook goes on a dishtowel. You've got to make it small enough that it stays on the hook when you use it, and shows the design in the most flattering way.
High and Dry. Our new oatmeal colored linen towels measure 16 x 26 inches, silkscreened with eco-friendly water-based inks, which are soft, yet durable. Great for the kitchen or the guest bath. Like most BH fabrics,these get softer and dearer with each wash. Iron only if you must. $16.00 each. Find them at the Beyond Her store.
And now, from the "If You've Got a Minute" department . . .
To see someone else's take on what's broken in the business world and how to deal with it, click to watch the 20-minute video "This is Broken" by the always-entertaining Seth Godin on the TED (Ideas Worth Spreading) site.
Ideas are never a problem around here. Reining them in, bringing them to fruition, turning them loose, letting them die a slow death . . . these are the types of problems we face.
In the course of making Beyond Her (and I say this laughingly) a business, I have had to consult with a few professionals. Without fail, every one of them has boiled my problem down to a few words: too much creativity.
"Isn't the idea to make money?" asked the person who reproduces my mugs. She posted the question after I brought yet another new design, triggering slew of start-up costs. "Why don't you just sell the ones you have?"
That, in any other world, is a perfectly fine question. But in Beyond Her world, the idea is to have a set of many mugs, one for every mood, every occasion, every outfit.
I've put my life into my mugs; there's a lot more to them than hot beverages. When one of my daughters was knee-deep in a crisis, there came a time when my wells of wisdom just ran dry. I sighed and simply said, "Go look at your mugs. What do they say?"
So that's really the answer to the mug vendor's question. Life is too complicated for me to just sell the mugs I have.
When he first started setting up Beyond Her's finances on accounting software, my bookeeper was shocked and appalled at how many products I had, each of which had to be coded, entered, accounted for, etc. etc. etc. At one point he put the papers down and blustered, "Paule, don't you understand that the real profitability here is for you to make the exact same product over and over again?"
Umm, I guess I missed that day in business school.
And so it continues. Beyond Her is the opposite of a mass production operation. Could it be that there is a future in that?
FROM HER "FINE LINES" COLLECTION OF QUOTES
"I pressed down on the mental accelerator. The old lemon throbbed fiercely. I got an idea."
--P. G. Wodehouse, Jeeves Take Charge
My parents were products of the Great Depression. They took it out on us kids.
“Turn it off, use it up, wash it out” -- we heard versions of this throughout our lives. My dad would blow a gasket if we left a light on in the basement while we ran upstairs for even a minute. “What do you think we’re running here, Pauley (this is what he called me) -- a bank?”
Waste, in our household, was a serious crime.
My parents saved everything: bottles, newspapers, cans, leftovers, rubber bands, packaging, clothing, hangers and paper sacks. And not to get picked up by a carbon-spewing truck, but to use right there in our house.
I remember having to use torn sheets of misprinted invoices from my dad's gas station as our only home notepaperfor decades. On both sides.
Obviously, this was a humiliating way to grow up in the 1950‘s in the USA. I so wanted to be one of the students whose teacher notes were written on paper clearly intended for that purpose. People who actually bought stationery.
Oh, I thought, when I grow up I will never live such a miserly existence! I’m going to buy my rubber bands from a store! I’m going to throw newspapers in the trash! I’m going to let the porch light burn all night long!
But . . . ahem . . . guess who, it turned out, had the sustainable lifestyle?
So here I am, in my mid-fifties reconciling with my eco-friendly past -- which, of course, was not so much about saving the planet as saving money. But, as it turns out, they’re one and the same.
I realize that there are a host of green products and technologies nowadays. But there’s a lot you can do by just living like Alice and Mitch.
Here are some green living tips they taught me:
Cook your own food. Not always, but most of the time. Alice & Mitch hated the packaging that comes with take-out food, which produces a mountain of trash, usually not biodegradable. Plus they hated the wasted huge portions and the processed food offered at traditional restaurants.
Turn out the lights. Okay, you’re just one person, but -- the more electricity you use, the higher your power bill, the more those generators run, the more carbon we burn. You don’t have to live by candlelight, like Abe LIncoln and me, but you don’t have to light up your house like a Christmas tree either (guess who I’m quoting here?).
Re-use your old plastic bags. As a proud citizen of Houston,Texas, I respect the average polymer. And I’m am not about to give up my zipper bags, either. My point is that you don’t need to pull out a brand new bag for your sandwich, leftovers, or wet swim suit, and especially not for your garbage. Use up the all polymers you’ve got.
Use rags instead of paper towels. And by rags, I mean the odd bits of cloth you reclaim from old sheets, towels and clothing. The natural fabrics are super-absorbent, and they offer a nice little trip down memory lane on cleaning day. I love mopping up with my kids’ old pajamas -- if only to remember the superheroes of the 1980’s.
Cut bad bits off fruits and vegetables. If you’ve done any natural gardening, you know that a Snow White apple is rare -- and really the work of agribusiness. Most un-sprayed, un-fertilized produce has little specks, and dents, and even a wormhole or two. Don’t insult Mother Nature by throwing imperfect produce away. Work around it. Like we do with people : )
Probably because of my background, I still hate wasting anything, especially time and energy. I like to believe that keeps me focused. And for this I thank you, Alice & Mitch!
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