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Somewhere for Women to Go For Travel Gear : Entrepreneurs: Finding nothing that suited her vacation needs, accountant founded company that tailors clothing and accessories to female form.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Before she left for a six-week international vacation two years ago, Annette Zientek had to journey through stores to find the clothing, luggage and travel accessories that she needed.

The search wound up taking her nearly as much time as she planned to spend on her vacation.

What she found was women’s travel clothing that was merely a smaller version of menswear, suitcases that were too heavy to carry through airports, and the notion that the specific needs of women travelers had been ignored.

Zientek, then a 42-year-old accountant, returned from her vacation through Europe and Egypt determined to help women find reasonably priced walking shoes and sturdy, but lightweight, traveling bags.

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Two years later, her Lake Oswego ,Ore.-based company, Destinations, has released Christine Columbus, a mail-order catalogue that offers items specifically for female travelers: compact curling irons and make-up mirrors and travel clothing designed for women.

A special line of pants and shorts is “bathroom-friendly” with hidden zippers that run all the way from the front to back belt-line to accommodate women, who, Zientek modestly notes, have “inconvenient plumbing.”

“If you’re out there in the woods, baring it all is not the most comfortable thing to do,” Zientek said. The zip-around items also are convenient for airplane bathrooms or unsanitary toilets, she said.

“We believe there’s a good crossover between the outdoors market and those who travel in Third World countries,” she said. “Women are often shocked at having to use facilities that are not like ours.”

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After searching fruitlessly for a travel vest that would fit a woman comfortably--for example, one without pockets that sit atop one’s breasts--Zientek finally asked a manufacturer to redesign a man’s vest for the catalogue.

Beverly Soasey, a graphic designer based in Eugene, found a leather tote in Christine Columbus that has been indispensable on her frequent journeys.

“It makes a difference that someone putting it together has traveled also,” Soasey said of the catalogue. “They understand the needs of someone who travels.”

More specifically, Zientek understands the needs of travelers who are women, said Ellen Hart, a women’s luggage designer.

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“The reason this market has been ignored is most of the companies are owned by men-- all of them are owned by men,” Hart said. “They didn’t have the consciousness to accept the fact that we’re out there working and traveling and that our needs are different.”

Hart founded the Veronica Hart Collection by Lombardo, which she recently sold to Hartman Luggage of Lebanon, Tenn. The company projects U.S. sales of $800,000 in the next year.

Women make up half of travelers, and the rate of growth of their share of the market is expected to outpace that of men over the next five years, said Robert Brost, Zientek’s partner.

In 1994, U.S. women took 329 million business and leisure trips, and about one-third of them traveled alone, said D.K. Shifflet and Associates, a Washington-based travel research firm.

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For women who travel solo, Christine Columbus offers security items such as a detachable door jammer for hotel rooms, a motion-detector alarm that’s also a smoke alarm/flashlight/alarm clock, and a satin slip with hidden zippered pockets to stash passports and valuables.

“When wearing a money belt, I feel uncomfortable,” Zientek said. “I think most women feel uncomfortable having to wear more around their waist than we already have to.”

Guidebooks in the catalogue warn women of special problems such as the fact that stress-induced hormone changes could alter menstrual cycles, or of customs they are expected to follow in more conservative societies.

Women traveling in Muslim countries, for example, could use the wrinkle-resistant ankle-length skirts offered in the catalogue.

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“It’s part of the custom that you have parts of your body covered,” Zientek said. “Those are concerns that when you go to countries that you haven’t visited that you have to be aware of.

“In a lot of countries, [Western] women are looked at as perhaps being a little brazen . . . even if a woman is just traveling on her own.”


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