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This flat purse is designed for the end of retail as we know it

This flat-pack purse is designed to be shipped.

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Ikea built an empire out of a simple idea: furniture designed in such a way that it could be flat-packed to ease shipping costs and eliminate the need for a delivery truck. Today, that same innovation comes to purses, as the Milan-based bag label Up To You Anthology has created a flat-pack purse. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, along with leather and felt options. And yes, just like Ikea furniture, you have to assemble it yourself.

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Designed by the prolific Japanese firm Nendo, known for taking surprising approaches to the design of everyday objects, the bag is called the Mai. Laser-cut from a single piece of leather, you fold the bag in half to assemble it, fitting the rivets into precut holes. And within about a minute of work, you have a fully functional, 3D purse.

[Photo: Akihiro Yoshida/courtesy Nendo]
As COVID-19 keeps most of us home and puts tens of millions of people out of work, fashion retailers are in a lot of trouble. J. Crew just filed for bankruptcy, and many direct-to-consumer companies are finding themselves underwater. Even for companies that bounce back, retail is going to be upended. And many physical retail stores may not come back.

Mai wasn’t developed in response to COVID-19. Up To You Anthology tells us that development actually started on it last year. But it was created specifically to be a bag sold through e-commerce. “Each bag had to be delivered to the customer’s house, so they designed a bag that could be delivered flat, to simplify this process,” a spokesperson explains. “And the customer would assemble the bag themselves. It can be fun!”

[Photo: Akihiro Yoshida/courtesy Nendo]
Indeed, the slight work of assembly could give the buyer more ownership over the bag—much like the old adage that Betty Crocker cake mix could have been formulated in a way that removed the need to add an egg, but that this modicum of effort makes it feel like you actually baked something. But ultimately, this bag isn’t just flat to ship but 20% smaller in overall volume when deconstructed than it would be if mailed fully assembled. It costs money to ship air!

For a purse that runs around $300, saving the $8 between a USPS flat-rate envelope and a small flat-rate box might not seem like a lot. But especially as you get into international shipping, the difference jumps closer to $35. The fact of the matter is, competitive online companies are forced to subsidize or eat their shipping costs entirely, making it a huge expense for every online product company that doesn’t have the leverage of Amazon. And if these businesses are to survive the next two years, every dollar counts.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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