Today, a new line of bags drops from a startup called Bee & Kin. These colorful leather bags are equipped with “smart buttons” that you can program to do a range of tasks, from calling an Uber to launching a playlist to locating your phone.
The idea is for the user to personalize the functionality of the bag to suit her needs. Some early testers of the bag, for instance, have found that the button can be a clever way to get out of an awkward Bumble or Tinder date. When it’s clear that the conversation is not going anywhere, these women surreptitiously press the button inside their handbag, which they previously programmed to call their iPhone. So when their phone rings on command, they apologize, say they have an emergency, and leave in a hurry. “The use cases are almost endless,” says Tracey Hummel, Bee & Kin’s founder.
Hummel launched Bee & Kin after several years of working in shoe production at Tory Burch. As someone who has spent her career in the fashion industry, she’s well aware that the handbag market is crowded with startups, including Cuyana, Clare V, Mansur Gavriel, Jemma, Marcher, and Sofia Fima. But Hummel believed there was still room for bags that incorporate just the right amount of technology in them. Her introductory selection of bags, which include a $500 crossbody, a $595 bucket bag, and two tote bag silhouettes (from $600 to $725), come equipped with programmable smart buttons as well as lights that help you see inside the bag. “I knew from the start that the lights would be a must,” she says. “I have wasted so much time digging through my purse for my keys or a MetroCard. This was a relatively easy thing to add, but it would make a huge difference.”
Hummel chose the name of the brand because the word “Hummel” in German means bee. In keeping with the name, she has incorporated a hexagon motif that she weaves throughout all the bags, from the handle of the bucket bag to the shape of the crossbody. It immediately conjures a honeycomb and serves to make the brand easily recognizable, much as some other startups have done. Senreve, for instance, is known for its convertible Maestra bag, and Danse Lente has distinctive circular magnetic closures. Hummel has opted for vibrant colors in the collection, including orange, yellow, turquoise, and silver, alongside the more neutral black and blush. The bags are manufactured in India using Italian leather.
The aesthetic of the bags will draw in some customers. But others will be intrigued by the “smart button,” which comes in most bags. Bee & Kin uses a system designed by a Swedish company called Flic. An app lets you program the button to do various things, like find your phone, text your location to a predetermined person, start a playlist, send a pre-written email, or even order an UberX. “We wanted to make the technology as flexible as possible, because we realized women have very different needs,” Hummel says. “Our goal was to allow women to customize the experience as much as possible.”
Before developing the bag, she spoke to nearly 100 different women to better understand what their unmet needs were. Many brought up the same issues, like not being able to find their keys when digging through the bag at night. But there were also many needs that were very specific. Some women loved the idea of their bag calling a taxi, while others drive a lot and have no need for that function. The solution, Hummel believes, is to find ways to incorporate technology that can be easily personalized. “We’re going to continue to work closely with Flic to find ways to better respond to our customers,” she says.
When I tested the bag, I found the “find your phone” option very useful since I am usually in a hurry to locate my phone and stick it in my bag when I’m trying to get out of the door. I used a double-click option to send a “two minutes away” text to let my family members know to wait outside when I am about to swing by to pick them up in the car. And I set a “hold” button to order an UberX, though I did not have the opportunity to use that function during the testing period.
I found the most useful tech feature to be the simplest. I was surprised by how frequently I used the light switch: I used it to find my lip gloss in a dark movie theater, and to find my keys when I was at my front door late at night. Is that worth $500 when you could get a pocket-size flashlight from the hardware store for $5? Maybe not. But the added functionality of the smart button may be enough to lure women who love luxury bags and are tired of always digging through their purse for their phone or key card.
Bee & Kin bags are available on the brand’s website. Small leather accessories start at $75, and handbags start at $500.