Thursday, April 25, 2019

A front pack takes Louise where she wants to go

By Louise Kinross

Louise Sertsis never saw herself as an entrepreneur. But that was before she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and began using a wheelchair.

It bothered her that to carry a purse or bag she had to hang it on the back of her wheelchair, out of sight, and ask her husband—or a friend or stranger—to pass it to her.

“I felt very dependent on others,” says the Whitby, Ont. resident. “It gave me the idea of redesigning a knapsack that attaches to the front of the user, to promote independence and safety and the feeling that I can do this myself.”

For the last couple of years, Louise has developed prototypes of what she calls the Handi Pac, which is two bags in one, separated by magnets. She started a business, called Advanced Freedom. Next month, she's launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of the first 300 bags.

One part of the Handi Pac sits on your lap and is attached with a waistband secured behind your back with magnets, Louise says. “You’d put anything you’d normally carry in a purse on a daily basis in it”—like a wallet, keys, tablet, phone and sunglasses. “It’s attached to you, so there’s no concern about the bag falling off when you go over a bump. That’s what used to happen, when I placed my purse on my lap. And because the bag is attached, someone can’t take it from you.”

The second part is worn from your knee to the top of your foot. It carries 15 lbs—the equivalent of a carry-on bag at the airport—and is the largest wheelchair bag on the market, Louise says. It attaches to the users’ calves with a magnetic system. “It’s great if you’re travelling, or going to school or going to the gym.” 

The pack is made of water-resistant, durable cordura nylon. The large bag sits on your feet, so if carrying a heavy load, you may need to take a break.

Louise says she knew nothing about business—she studied science and psychology at school. “I had to learn everything from the ground up. I’m a sole proprietor.”

Online, she made a chance contact with a manufacturer of traditional backpacks that are sold in stores like MEC. “When I told him about my idea, he thought it was amazing,” she says. “I was missing the business side, and he mentored me. He’s made all of my prototypes.” 

The current design is sized for an adult, but Louise says a child-sized version is in the future.

Louise says the first time she tried a prototype she “jumped for joy. I was ecstatic because it worked so well for me that I knew it could help a lot of people. It was so gratifying to see my solution in physical form.”

Louise plans to sell her bags internationally, and finds herself on social media at all times of the day and night, answering questions from prospective customers. 

Check out this video of Louise demonstrating how to use the Handi Pac. You can find more information on her website, or follow her on Facebook.