A smart-looking handbag can make you look good, but a smart handbag can do much more for you.
The 314, a luxury handbag made in Italy with technology designed at MIT, is both good-looking and smart – and is poised to hit the market soon. The bag can charge your cellphone or any other USB-enabled device, and light up when you are rummaging through its insides. Plus, it can order a power pack refill before the system runs out of juice. And no, you don’t have to plug in your handbag every night.
Theodora Koullias, 24, is founder and chief executive of Jon Lou, the startup behind the bag. Koullias, who completed her undergraduate degree at MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 2013, wrote the business plan for her company in her New Enterprises class. Sloan professor Bill Aulet, who co-caught the class, recalls her passion for entrepreneurship and a willingness to learn the soft skills of working in a team. “Often this is hard for undergrads because they’ve been trained to do individual, deterministic tasks well,” he said.
This January, the alum was an invited speaker for the Start6 Program, the institute’s two-week workshop designed to teach its innovators to become entrepreneurs.
So how did Koullias break into luxury fashion?
The Greek native had studied Italian while studying as an undergrad, and says she was dying to visit the country. In 2011, she took a summer internship with Brunello Cucinelli, the Italian cashmere brand, where she says she learned about the fashion industry at the company’s factory in Umbria.
As Koullias watched the technology being used to manufacture the products, she realized that technology could also be incorporated into the products themselves. She decided she would develop accessories geared towards powerful businesswomen.
“We really view the handbag as a tool for empowerment, one that can facilitate and enhance the way in which women work and communicate,” she said.
Manufacturing a product that seamlessly fuses technology and fashion is not easy, but with 314, she hopes to prove it is not impossible, either.
“This is a problem with wearables today,” she said. “When people complain about the fashion missing from the tech, and the tech missing from the fashion, it’s because the two sides most likely haven’t created the product in sync.”
The young entrepreneur, whose startup has offices in San Francisco, New York City, and Milan, will not divulge too many details about the proprietary power system installed in the bag. The wireless charger is simple, intuitive, and non-intrusive, she said, and the 314 will use artificial intelligence to learn the behavior of its owner to order refills of the power-pack shortly before it needs replacing. These refills, she notes, also create a recurring revenue model for a luxury good, which until now have been thought of as one-time splurge purchases.
But Jon Lou’s 314 isn’t the only smart handbag coming to market soon. A Kickstarter campaign by New York-based startup Leoht Inc., recently raised over $160,000 to create a handbag with charging capabilities that are similar to 314.
Those who want to wear a 314 on their arm can join a waitlist and pre-order the bag. If all goes according to plan, Koullias said customers will receive their handbags by Christmas.