Af­ter 23 years, the Banker bag grows up

The Pak Banker - - COMPANIES/BOSS -

Doc­tors wear scrubs. Cops carry guns. Lawyers wear suits. Bankers carry the bag. You know the one. It's nor­mally a muted green, blue, or gray. You may not no­tice it un­til you've seen it a hun­dred times on the sub­way in New York Ci­tythat per­fectly sized can­vas bag with two rib­bons em­bla­zoned with the name of a bank. It's a sub­tle sign that the car­rier is a mem­ber of a trade. He has been a firstyear as­so­ciate. She has stared at an Ex­cel spread­sheet for a full 24 hours straight. You are look­ing at a banker.

Tra­di­tion­ally, banks sup­ply each of their new an­a­lysts with a bag, usu­ally on their first day of em­ploy­ment. At one point, it was as com­mon as get­ting your first busi­ness cards. Show up for ori­enta- tion, fig­ure out where the bath­rooms are, take a photo for your se­cu­rity badge, and get handed a small can­vas bag with the name of your bank em­broi­dered on it.

Oh, that bag. Yeah, you've seen bags that look like this. Oh, that bag. Yeah, you've seen bags that look like this.

Con­sid­er­ing its ubiq­uity, the history of the bag is murky to most. How did these small can­vas totes be­come the go-to satchel of the Street? The tra­di­tion started 23 years ago, with Lisa McCul­lagh, a new mom with a back­ground in advertising pro­mo­tions who saw an op­por­tu­nity. When it came to pro­fes­sional pro­mo­tional mer­chan­dise, "there was the very high end, like Tif­fany's, then junk," she says. "I thought there was a mid­dle ground."

She de­cided to fo­cus on a ver­sa­tile, ev­ery­day bag; some­thing peo­ple could use at the gym or as an air­plane carry-on. It had to be large enough to fit the essen­tials for a whole week­end, but small enough so that peo­ple would want to carry it ev­ery day.

McCul­lagh took over a cut and sew fac­tory, de­cided to call her com­pany Scar­bor­ough & Tweed, and set to work. "JPMor­gan was my first client," McCul­lagh says. Some styling op­tions for the banker bag.

The bag was an overnight suc­cess. "I be­came known as 'the bag lady.' Or­ders started com­ing in on hand­shakes," McCul­lagh says. She sold more than a mil­lion dol­lars' worth of bags in her first year, on her own. With a baby. To­day her com­pany em­ploys 40 peo­ple.

When you look at the bag, it doesn't make to­tal sense. They're wildly im­practi- cal for busi­ness use. The straps aren't ad­justable. There are no zip­pered pock­ets, no lap­top sleeve, no in­te­rior struc­ture at all. (They're no mod­ern-day Trap­per Keep­ers.) One won­ders how they ever con­quered the world cap­i­tal of fi­nance.

"It was sort of an awk­ward, saggy thing," says Eric Shapiro, a for­mer in­vest­ment banker who re­cently left a ma­jor firm to join a hedge fund. "Peo­ple were bring­ing work pa­pers home in gym bags."

Prac­ti­cal­ity aside, there were other rea­sons to love the bag. Over the years, it be­came a badge of honor. "I al­ways found a cer­tain level of ca­ma­raderie with any­one else that's been a ju­nior em­ployee at an in­vest­ment bank be­cause of the in­sane work-life bal­ance," says Michael Bo­ord, a for­mer SunTrust em­ployee. "There was a cer­tain level of con­nec­tion that you make im­me­di­ately just by hav­ing that in com­mon. If I saw some­one on the sub­way, I'd think, ' That's some­one who's go­ing through the same thing as me.'"

More than two decades later, the orig­i­nal bag has spawned im­i­ta­tors and inspired oth­ers, but it doesn't have the same hold it once did in the Fi­nan­cial Dis­trict.

"We don't give them out in mass num­bers any­more," a spokesper­son for Gold­man Sachs said. "The class of 20082009 was the last time they were given to the whole class. How­ever, peo­ple can still buy them on the in­ter­nal web­site."

Per­haps as a re­sult, the bag is be­gin­ning to ex­plore sec­ond ca­reers in other fields. McCul­lagh has be­gun mak­ing the bag for tech com­pa­nies, col­leges, and pri­vate events. "It's pop­u­lar with law firms as well," she says.

The suc­cess of the bag has al­lowed McCul­lagh to start to give back. Next month, Scar­bor­ough & Tweed is launch­ing a pro­gram that will al­low cus­tomers to sup­port se­lect char­i­ties with ev­ery pur­chase they make. "Ini­tially, ev­ery bag pur­chased from our sig­na­ture bag col­lec­tion will buy one meal for a per­son in need," through a part­ner­ship with the World Food Pro­gram McCul­lagh says. As the pro­gram ex­pands, sales from spe­cific prod­ucts will go to­ward spe­cific causes.

It's even spawned an up­scale im­i­ta­tion. Af­ter spend­ing four years at Op­pen­heimer as a se­nior di­rec­tor, Grant He­wit launched Hud­son Sut­ler in 2011. The com­pany makes a line of lux­ury bags that will im­me­di­ately look fa­mil­iar to any Wall Street vet­eran.

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