Front Royal entrepreneur creates anti-purse

By Ryan Cornell

What do you carry in your purse?

When that’s asked of a woman, it’s a perfectly reasonable question — an icebreaker, even. The average handbag might contain an iPod, a wallet, some chewing gum and a bottle of hand lotion.

But for a man to be asked that, it’s a downright attack on his masculinity. Men who carry a bag in the U.S. may be seen as effeminate. And so the cell phone, wallet and car keys are either jammed in pockets or dropped into nearly empty backpacks.

Aaron Tweedie, 33, has discovered a solution. The Front Royal native designed and created the Man-PACK, a messenger bag for men. More compact than a backpack, but large enough to store essentials such as notebooks and a tablet computer, the Man-PACK won’t be mistaken for a purse by anybody.

When Tweedie unveiled the Man-PACK at this year’s Apple Blossom Festival, he sold 88 units in two days. “People would come up to watch and then walk away because there was a line,” he said. “I was actually losing sales.”

Tweedie was building houses as a contractor when the inspiration for his invention hit him. He said he carried tools in a small promotional bag given to him by a cabinet company, and when the bag broke, he went back to the company and asked for a replacement.

After busting through four bags and, in the meantime, being teased by the other guys on the construction site, he decided he needed a tougher bag, both in terms of material and appearance. The problem was, he couldn’t find anything that met his standards. So he quickly went to work designing a bag that could.

That was two years ago. Today, Tweedie is rolling out the Man-PACK Classic 2.0 with the support of Kickstarter.com, a website that raises money through crowd funding. His campaign reached the halfway point Thursday with nearly $25,000 raised. His goal is $40,000.

If the campaign meets its goal by July 25, Tweedie said the bag will be available for preorder in early August and customers can expect to receive them in November.

The Man-PACK Classic retails for $44.95. Tweedie said he plans to sell each Man-PACK Classic 2.0, available in black, olive drab and brown oilcloth, for $59.95.

The new version has a zippered pocket for a standard tablet computer or a concealed firearm, neoprene padding and MOLLE webbing. The cell phone pocket was expanded to fit larger smartphones and was given a button clasp. And the big embroidered Man-PACK branding is no more.

“Once you wear it for a month, it’s just like putting on your favorite pair of jeans,” Tweedie said. “Because it’s canvas, it conforms to your body and it’ll stretch in certain places.”

Tweedie, who graduated from Randolph Macon Academy and returned last year to serve as its cadet development officer, is married to Heather Tweedie, and they have three children: Elvis, 9, Gabriel, 6 and Reagan, 5.

Tweedie runs the company out of his basement and said he works next to a pallet of cardboard boxes filled with 650 to 700 Man-PACK bags.

Lately, he’s been contacting bloggers, from gun enthusiasts — he’s in touch with the editor of Downrange.tv, a firearms website — to mommy bloggers who might be interested in buying their husbands a masculine-type bag.

“From a dad’s perspective, there’s nothing more embarrassing than picking up your wife’s bright pink diaper bag,” Tweedie said. “Or if you’re going to an amusement park for a day and if you have to carry around fruit snacks and toilet paper and all these different things for your kids, you don’t want to carry your wife’s bag.”

In the film “The Hangover,” Zach Galifianakis’ character recites one of the more memorable lines: “It’s not a man-purse. It’s called a satchel. Indiana Jones wears one.”

Tweedie echoes the quote. “It’s not a purse,” he said. “It’s not a backpack. It’s a Man-PACK” (he owns the trademark to the name).

Asked whom he would pick as the company spokesman, Tweedie said he’d probably choose “Man Vs. Wild” star Bear Grylls. Although, the Man-PACK already has had a bit of a celebrity endorsement from Matt Shotwell, a marijuana dispensary owner in Discovery Channel’s “Weed Country.” Shotwell has been photographed sporting the bag.

Tweedie has shipped to customers in Malaysia, Luxembourg, Belgium, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands. He’s also received an email from someone fighting the guerilla insurgence in the hills of the Philippines who was interested in buying two bags.

The Man-PACK might be advertised exclusively toward the red-blooded American man — and is reminiscent in many ways of Dr Pepper Ten commercials — but it’s being used by more than the 18- to 55-year-old male demographic it targets.

“If a woman wants to buy one, of course I’m not going to stop her,” Tweedie said.
“I can’t tell you how many comments I get from women telling me they like it, but ‘Does it have to have the word, Man-PACK on it?’ and ‘Can I get it in breast cancer pink?”

He said one of the first women who bought the bag uses it for her diabetic supplies.

Although he said he’s never gotten a Man-PACK back from a customer, he’s received plenty of pictures from owners, including one who wore the bag to the Bonnaroo Music Festival, and another who took it with him to the Winchester Medical Center when he got his appendix removed. “Convalescing in style,” the man had captioned the picture.

One reason why the Man-PACK has proven so popular is how quickly it can be repurposed. “One day you’re going hunting, the next day you’re going to the theme park, and then you’re unpacking it the day after for the office,” Tweedie said. “It’s sort of a lifestyle thing.

“If I hadn’t designed this, I would still be fumbling around trying to find the right bag to use,” he said.

So what does Tweedie carry in his purse? “A great big can of whoop-ass,” he said.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com