Portland artist wanted better bag for cycling, launches new career
Colin Sullivan-Stevens patented his Anchorpak in 2015, and got a grant to find out what makes it so comfortable and whether there's room for improvement.
BY JENNIFER VAN ALLEN CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Necessity, it has been said, is the mother of invention. And for one Portland artist, it was also the beginning of a new career.
Unable to find a bag that wouldn’t hurt his shoulder or swing around while he cycled between home and work, Colin Sullivan-Stevens set about designing and sewing his own. It had to be easy to access, carry plenty and be comfortable enough to wear while biking and walking.
Sullivan-Stevens, who was working as an independent artist and freelance designer in 2012, started wearing his homemade bag, and having friends try it out. They raved about its comfort and fit so much that he had the design patented in 2015. Then he started making and selling his newly dubbed Anchorpak at area farmers markets. Now the bags are in production and Sullivan-Stevens is collaborating with the University of New England to further enhance Anchorpak’s ergonomic qualities.
“A lot of people understand that the bag they’re using is not working for them,” said Sullivan-Stevens, a Freeport native. “But there hasn’t been any even slightly better version to give them any hope that there might be something more comfortable, more practical, and better for your body.”
Anchorpak is carried closer to the body than a conventional messenger bag, so it doesn’t create the torque and downward force on the muscles and bones, or affect the wearer’s gait.
Sullivan-Stevens, who has sold about 2,500 bags, said he wanted to know more about why the Anchorpak was so comfortable, and how he could make the bag fit even better.
In June, he received a $7,320 matching grant from the Maine Technology Institute to fund scientific research that would answer those questions. Since then, researchers at the Motion Analysis Laboratory in UNE’s Department of Physical Therapy studied how the Anchorpak moved and impacted the body compared to the traditional messenger bag worn across the body.
With the help of cameras and sensors worn on the hip, neck, trunk and other areas of the body, UNE researchers assessed how the respective bags moved when a person moved.
Each of the five study participants carried the bags with a load equal to 6.3 pounds, while walking at a natural speed, then walking in various directions.
Researchers found that the Anchorpak moved side-to-side, and back and forward, much less than the messenger bags. And because the Anchorpak moved less, it applied less downward force on the shoulder, and had less impact on the upper trapezius muscles, which reach from the shoulders to the neck. That, in turn, would lead to less fatigue and soreness over time.
Tight upper shoulder muscles are less likely with the bags, research suggests. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer
They also found that when the study participants came to a stop, the Anchorpak stayed at the side, rather than swinging in front or behind the body, as the messenger bags did.
The research suggests that the AnchorPak may be less prone to cause tight upper shoulder muscles and possibly neck aches, said Michael Lawrence, manager of the Motion Analysis Laboratory at the University of New England’s Biomechanics Laboratory, who co-led the study with fellow researcher and physical therapist Katherine Randolph.
Sullivan-Stevens hopes to leverage the research to reach more customers, and market to those who carry bags or items for hours at a time on the job.
“Alleviating the pain as much as we have can go a long way towards using a bag for a longer period of time. It can be more useful,” he said. “To have an invention that could have a subtle but substantial effect over time will be exciting. ”
Momentum for Anchorpak really started to roll in March, when Sullivan-Stevens received a $4,563 matching grant from Maine Technology Institute to develop a business plan with a mentor from SCORE, and identify potential markets.
Retailers like Portland Dry Goods and the Close Buy Catalog were among the first of roughly 30 retailers that now sell his Anchorpaks. Sullivan-Steven has been commissioned to create bags for groups including the Yale Alumni Association, TEDxDirigo, and the Maine Center for Contemporary Art.
Kid-size bags start at $42 and then various styles for adults range from $60 to $140.
He contracts with home sewers and commercial sewing operations to make the bag, and now has two part-time employees. His mom also helps market the bags at craft fairs.
Customer response told Sullivan-Stevens that he had tapped into something big. Accessory bags are an $11.5 billion market, according to The NPD Group Inc., a Port Washington, New York-based research firm. Sales of messenger bags to men shot up by 20 percent in 2014, and inched up by 3 percent to women, as sales of women’s handbags fell by 5 percent.
Among his customers is Beverly Kocenko, who bought two Anchorpaks, which she uses for shopping and to carry her belongings on the daily 1-mile walk between her home and her job managing the Liberty Graphics store in the Old Port.
The Anchorpak has replaced the myriad of totes she was carrying before.
“I was hurting myself with those,” she said. “I wanted something to carry my stuff so I wouldn’t get any more back and shoulder aches. I wanted something that was super functional, good looking and subtle. Now I can walk that mile without any problem.”
Sullivan-Stevens said he plans to apply for additional research funding so that he can learn more about how the bag is best worn on the body, and where there’s room for improvement and innovation in product design.
“There’s always a little bit more to know,” he said.