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Pacsafe combines secure luggage with conservation mindset

When I went to Outdoor Retailer this past summer I was blown away by the sheer number of vendors promoting nutrition products, sports gear, hiking equipment, camping gadgets and virtually anything you might need for an adventure.

I picked up samples of protein bars, sunscreen, bug spray and more, some of which were high quality and others still needed work in the development stage. As I walked around the Denver Convention Center, I was drawn to one particular brand that definitely stoked my interest because of its support of conservation efforts.

Pacsafe, a company that was founded 20 years ago, has its own fund to protect turtles. I quickly learned that the Pacsafe ECONYL Collection turns ocean plastic into anti-theft bags for consumers. Additionally, $1 from every Pacsafe ECONYL bag purchase goes to the Pacsafe Turtle Fund.

I learned that from Jeff Nielander, who is the director of sales for Pacsafe. We chatted about his company, my running and more at Outdoor Retailer. For full disclosure, Nielander also agreed to send me the Venturesafe EXP45 backpack to test. It’s large enough to securely transport a lot of gear but small enough to qualify as a carry-on for an airplane trip. I’ll be using the Venturesafe on my upcoming travels to races and write a full review later.

In the meantime, here is a question and answer with Nielander about Pacsafe, its unique security features, conservation efforts and more.

Question: Tell me generally about the philosophy that drives Pacsafe.

Nielander: Pacsafe was started by two Australians who still own the company and run it out of Hong Kong, which is where our global headquarters are. Rob Schlipper and Magnus McGlashan wanted to protect their belongings when they were traveling. Our North America office is in Seattle. The idea started with a metal mesh bag protector that would allow them to secure belongings when they were sailing, hiking or doing other adventures around the world. And it basically morphed into what we are today.

Question: What does the metal mesh bag protector do?

Nielander: It is called eXomesh. It’s made out of a stainless steel, and it’s encapsulated in virtually every product that we make that's a bag, whether it's a small cross body bag or whether it's a backpack or whether it's a large piece of luggage or a larger backpack as well. The purpose of eXomesh is to keep the bag from being able to be slashed. So if someone has left their bag in a hotel, at a hostel, an airport or a camp area before they go out for an adventure, or even if they're just walking in a crowded street in Rome, someone can't walk by with a knife and slash the bag and have all the contents fall out of it, which is actually something that happens quite a bit. It's called slash and grab.

That's one example of how we protect the bag. And we're also protecting everybody's identity that uses one of our products. If you're familiar with what RFID is, each bag will have a compartment within the bag that will keep someone's passport, credit cards or identifications from being able to be scanned.

Question: The locking system is also a deterrent to thieves. Describe that to me.

Nielander: Protecting your belongings is also one of the benefits of a Pacsafe product. The zippers have a locking system that allows someone to just temporarily lock access inside the compartments. Just two simple, easy steps can lock the zippers to a central locking system. So if someone's walking with a backpack through a crowded street, airport or train station, someone can't go by real quickly and get access to the bag. Most thieves try and find a zipper that they can open with one finger because it's really the only way that the backpack wearer won’t feel that someone is trying to get access. So most of our locking systems take two fingers or two hands to be able to manipulate fairly quickly. But, if you're the owner of the bag, it's just a two-step click process to get access to the bag.

Question: Anything else on security that you want to mention?

Nielander: One of the other really nice features on a lot of the backpacks and medium-sized bags that we have is a system called PopNLock. This feature actually allows the strap on the backpack or the bag to be disengaged with a locking system, and then you can wrap it around a chair or a table or a fence post. Assume you're at a cafe in Paris, just enjoying a coffee, and you don't want to sit there and hold your bag in your lap the whole time. You have the ability to disengage this PopNLock, wrap it around the chair or the table that you're sitting at and re-engage the lock. And then someone can't run by full speed and grab your bag and run away without you being able to catch them, unless they're trying to drag the chair or the table down the street as well, which obviously would not happen. Again, the best example of our products in a nutshell, it's about protecting your bag, belongings and identity.

Question: I'm curious about how Pacsafe actually tests its products for security. Good design is one thing, but the practicality of it when a customer has his or her bag and it works is quite another. What testing does Pacsafe do before it puts something out to market?

Nielander: Our company is full of travelers. We all take our travel very seriously. We've got an incredible design team that's in Hong Kong that has many years of experience, not only in the travel industry but also in the surf industry, believe it or not. And everything that we do from a technology and a features and benefits standpoint is tested significantly before it comes to market and a lot of it is done by employees. As I said, we've been around for over 20 years and we had very different locking systems back then than we do now.

Many of our locking systems that are used on the vast majority of our bags today are designs that just within the last couple of years have come to market. The one that I mentioned earlier, the PopNLock, just started about two years ago. And we did have similar technologies prior to that. One was called TurnNLock and it's still on some of our bag, but it's just a little less sophisticated version. Unfortunately thieves are very good at what they do. And so we try and always keep a step ahead of them and create technologies that will definitely take them a little bit longer to figure out.

We've got some of our hang tags that explain these systems. Our website has really good information and videos that show you how to use our features. (Pacsafe’s YouTube channel also has a good collection of explainer videos. It's not necessarily straining or intimidating for anybody. It just takes a little bit of time to figure it out.

Question: Great. Let’s move on to Pacsafe’s conservation and environmental efforts. Talk about those.

Nielander: Our founders' charity is called The Turtle Fund, and a large percentage of our proceeds every year go to help endangered turtles around the world. We're very proud of that. In July, we launched a new line of products, and the bag that we sent you is actually one of these products. It's made of a material called ECONYL, which is an Italian company. The ebony yarn is manufactured using discarded fishing nets that are taken out of the ocean, along with other ocean plastics. It is then repurposed and made into just an absolutely beautiful material and yarn, which forms this collection of products that we have in the marketplace.

We chose two different partners to launch it; in the U.S., it was REI and in Canada, it was MEC. REI gave us an end cap, which we've never had in their stores before, which could showcase the products for customers. REI allowed us to include graphics that tell this story about taking these discarded fishing nets and other plastics out of the ocean and repurpose them into this material. The initial reaction to the product, as I'm sure you can imagine, has been just absolutely fantastic, not only from the story of the materials, but also the great security features. Many people don't really know a product like Pacsafe is in the marketplace, but now we've got a great story about the environment as well. The rest of our retail base is getting access to the ECONYL product starting in

October. As you can probably attest to the bag that I sent you in the ocean blue colorway, is a beautiful.

Question: While that part of the company’s mission was envisioned by Rob and Magnus 20 years ago, it also must have evolved over time. Is that accurate?

Nielander: Yes, there is a huge problem in the world right now with ocean plastics in general. But I think the one that hits home the most for people is the recycled water bottle message because a large percentage of the people in the world are using just a ton of single use plastics, whether it's water bottles, whether it's materials that are used to contain food products. So we're doing everything we possibly can to try and reduce single use plastics in the marketplace. The fact that we've been able find factories that have been able to come up with a material that is utilizing these recycled water bottles, is just a great story for us. Each one of the bags has a different number of water bottles that are used in the production of building them. So it's a great story that we can tell in our trade show booth. At Outdoor Retailer, we told the ECONYL and the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) stories and they resonated with a lot of people that came by. The evolution came from a few years ago when they really started saying, "Hey, you know, we need to start walking the walk."

Question: What’s next on the environmental side?

Nielander: We've made a commitment that by 2025 everything in our process of bringing products to life, whether it's in development, whether it's in manufacturing, whether it's in the materials we use, or whether it's in the packaging that we send along our products in, will come from recycled products and will also be able to be recycled in general. So from a material standpoint, we've evolved even more into our 2020 collection. There are a few other collections of products that we're launching that also have that PET story. One of them is a collection called Vibe and we also have some of our smaller carry pouches that are also made out of the PET recycled water bottle material.

We also have another collection called Cruise, which is basically replacing a line of products that we've had for about five years now called Citysafe CS. CS has been a phenomenal selling line for us. But we decided it's time to revolutionize this range a little bit, not only from a look standpoint, and it's not a huge departure of how the Citysafe CS collection looked, but it was just enough of a change. The materials are absolutely beautiful. They look fantastic. The locking systems are evolved, and then it's also made from the PET material. Cruise is coming out in three different colors and we think it's going to be a tremendous seller for us and a great collection in early 2020.

Question: When we met at Outdoor Retailer, you had told me you left a corporate job at a big major retailer for Pacsafe. Remind me about the details and what inspired you to latch on with Pacsafe.

Nielander: I started my career with Adidas back in the early 90s in California and ended up moving to Colorado with Adidas back in 1999 with my family and stayed with the brand until 2005 on the athletic footwear business. And then until 2016 I was on the golf side of the business with TaylorMade and Adidas Golf. A friend of mine went to work for Pacsafe about four to five years ago as the president of North America. We stayed in contact and he kept talking to me about the product and I kept thinking, wow, I haven't heard about this, but it's really unique. It was about two and half years ago that we agreed upon an opportunity for me to come over here in a sales role.

As much as I loved working at Adidas, I felt like it was time for a change to get into a different industry. I've been very lucky that I've been able to work for companies that I've been very passionate about. And I truly am very passionate about the Pacsafe product. I love it. I hope you can tell when I talk about it that I believe in it. It's a really unique product. It's a small company. I feel like I'm a part of design and development. I have the ear of the founders every day. We're a very family oriented business and I really enjoy being here. It's been a great move so far that I do not regret at all.

Question: Since this is a website related to endurance sports and athletes, give me a little bit of your athletic background. And if you're participating in any sports now, what are you doing?

Nielander: Sure. I was an athlete my whole life. Baseball was my biggest focus all the way into my freshman year of college. I started playing golf at a young age and tennis even earlier than that. I still continue to play a lot of tennis and golf. Still play a little bit of volleyball as well. Started playing that in high school on the beaches in Southern California. I'm unique for a Coloradan now. Even after living here almost 20 years I'm one of the few who does not really partake much in the winter sports. I'm much more of a summer sports fan. But I love getting outdoors, doing anything that is athletic with the family and with friends.

Question: In the about section of the Pacsafe website the founders ask, “Where's your next adventure taking you?” So, Jeff ...

Nielander: Well, I actually have two adventures that are coming up fairly soon. Our global headquarters are in Hong Kong. I had the pleasure of going there in April, but I had absolutely zero expectations on my trip to Hong Kong. I wasn't really excited about it for whatever reason. But once I got there, engaged in the company, the family atmosphere at our headquarters there, and then just the general culture and lifestyle within Hong Kong, I absolutely loved it.

The financial district near the harbor at nighttime is just absolutely gorgeous. A lot of people compare it to New York City. In my opinion it is very similar to the New York City skyline and how that looks at nighttime, but Hong Kong just does a way different feel to it when it comes to lighting up the buildings. Then on the opposite side of the island, a short drive away, you have small little beaches that remind you of a little surf or fishing village in Mexico. You have just a totally different dynamic in a very small geographical area that I just found very compelling. I'm going again in three weeks and I'm really looking forward to exploring the island a little bit more.

Then my next adventure is in October. My wife and I are going with another couple that we're really good friends with to celebrate both of our 30th anniversaries. They're friends from college. We got married about a month apart. We spend every Thanksgiving with them and their family and our kids and we're like a big, huge family of 10 people. This trip is just going to be the four adults, and we're going to Punta Mita, Mexico. I'm really looking forward to some water sports, golf and tennis when we're down there. It should be a fun time.

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