January 23rd, 2008 5:33 pm | by JOHN MINERVINI News | Posted In: Business

Q&A with Tech Superstar Claire Evans


[Photo: Evans, right, with boyfriend and business partner, Jona Bechtolt.]

Much to her surprise, Portland writer and Universe science blogstress Claire Evans—a WW freelancer—is now a minor celebrity in the world of hi-tech toys.

Along with her four-years' boyfriend Jona Bechtolt—better known to electro-pop fans as the force behind “YACHT”—Evans created the AirMail laptop sleeve ($29.95, manilamac.com). AirMail, which takes its name from its manila-envelope design, was created for the new MacBook Air, which debuted last week at MacWorld SF.

The MacWorld keynote address was last Tuesday. By Friday, Evans and Bechtolt had finished a prototype and launched a website. By Monday, they were superstars.

Almost overnight, they had 1000 orders. They've been written up in every single high-tech blog and Mac industry mag, as well as getting attention from global publications like The Sydney Herald, German Vanity Fair, and Singaporean Harper's Bazaar. Now, these two creative types have to figure out how to mass produce. I caught up with Evans on Jan. 21 to discuss blog hype, sewing machines, and regional production possibilities.

WW: So how long have you been making laptop sleeves?
Claire Evans: [Laughs] I'm trying to count in my head. [pause] It's been 144 hours. Or, I guess another way of answering would be “zero”, because we don't have a business license and we have no idea what we're doing.

You're a writer, and Jona is a musician—so how did you guys even come up with the idea?
We just came up with it after watching Steve Jobs' keynote at MacWorld. We thought "wouldn't it be funny if we made these cases?" and half-seriously made a prototype, mostly to use for our own computers.

How did everyone find out about it?
Jona made a website (again, half-seriously), then we sent it to some Mac blogs. Then we went to bed -- that was Thursday night -- and on Friday morning we checked our PayPal account and almost fell out of our chairs, there was so much money pouring in.

Why do you think it was such an immediate hit?
I guess it was perfect timing. I mean, the MacBook Air is such a highly-hyped product, and all the Mac enthusiasts are ready to get excited about anything that's associated with it. I also think people were attracted to our lack of expertise. We're not capitalists, nor are we business people—we're just kids with ideas.

How did you learn to make them?

The good thing about AirMail is that it's made of fleece-backed vynil, so you can sew it. Initially, we only thought we'd get a hundred orders, tops, so we planned on making them by hand with our home sewing machine.

And now?
Yeah. Well, once we started getting wholesale orders from third-party Mac stores and global distributors, we realized we'd better find someone else to make them, quick. Right now we're shopping around for a (domestic!) industrial manufacturer to partner with us

Did you ever think about going offshore?
We've gotten a lot of offers, but that's not really what we're about. It kinda flies against the whole Pacific-Northwest-DIY-sensibility thing that we're so entrenched in, by virtue of being artists from Portland.

So how are you going forward with this?
I don't really know. I'm almost embarrassed about it! I mean, there's definitely room for growth, and if we wanted to be business-savvy, we could go there. For now, though, our primary concern is getting these damn things made!

[photo from manilamac.com]
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