3 Lessons In Building A Sustainable Brand.

3 Lessons In Building A Sustainable Brand.

Eight versions of our Linnea tote

Be ok with starting over, a lot.

I spent hundreds of hours researching materials. I would find one that looked promising, only to learn it was cost prohibitive, unavailable, or wasn't made in the finish I wanted.

I spent 8 months perfecting the design of the Linnea tote. Adding lots of functional pockets to a bag is really hard. That’s why you don’t see it often. And when you do, the pockets are often made from a fabric lining. It’s a smart decision - fabric is light and much easier to work with (it doesn’t need to be bonded to the leather). But I didn’t want the inside of the bag to be an afterthought, I wanted it to be the highlight. And no fabric could compare to how sumptuous the ultrafiber leather lining looked and felt. 

High expectations + limited choices = a lot of starting over. You're charting new territory, and often asking people to go above and beyond for you. Patience is your best friend, and stick with it. 

 

Everything will take longer.

I thought making a product would be straightforward. Choose a material, find a factory, make a product. Right?

The reality is, demand for sustainable materials is low, which makes them hard to find and expensive to produce. And because demand is low, most materials are made to order. The ultrafiber we use typically takes 4-5 weeks to be made, depending on how busy our factory is.

And that was just the beginning. I wanted to make sure every single ingredient that went into our bags - the hardware, the glue, the edge paint, even the thread - was ethically sourced and toxin free. The edge paint took months to find, and even then had to be reformulated twice to work with the ultrafiber.

Finding a factory was also challenging.

Most factories won't work with production runs of less than 1,000 bags. Their equipment is simply designed for mass production. The fixed costs to produce one unit and 1000 units are the same, it’s much more economical to mass manufacture.

Once we finally had a list of ten factories who were willing to work with us, my dad and I visited each of them to personally meet the owners and make sure their factory met our sustainability and working standards.

And while we were evaluating them, they were evaluating us. Most factories are wary of new brands. New brands are risky. Especially new brands like us that wanted to order just a few hundred units. It wasn't unfriendly by any means, it's just how factories have learned to survive. The fast fashion churn and burn model, with its razor thin margins, is a race to the bottom and most factories are just trying to make it through another year. But it shouldn’t be this way. Factories need brands, and brands need factories. It's my hope that we can collectively shift away from fast fashion, and towards sustainable manufacturing practices and supporting one another. We're starting by pledging 2% of our profits back to our factory, this month and every month afterwards. We don't place the biggest orders or generate the most revenue for our factory, but we we will treat them like family. We're all in this together.

For all brands and factories that want to do things more sustainably, the cards are stacked against you. Raw materials are more expensive. Ingredients are hard to source. Manufacturing takes longer.

But as a brand, it's our responsibility to push the industry towards more sustainable methods. Building something that lasts is supposed to take time. Most good things do. And if it's not meant to last, it's not worth making.

 

Put people and the planet first.

Put a little more care, a little more thought, and a little more love into every decision you make and you'll already be doing more than a lot of companies. So ask questions. Find out where your ingredients are coming from, how they were made, and who made them. Be picky. If it doesn’t meet your standards, create demand for something better. And if you are able to, spend a little more to make a little less. The planet will thank you.