One Elephant, One IdeaPosted in Bags
We are delighted to be stocking Fair Trade supplier, and über cool producer of awesome urban bags, Elephant Branded. Elephant Branded bags look good and do good. For every sale of one of their unique bags – made from recycled cement bags – a school kit is donated to a child in Asia.
We caught up with founder James Munro Boon to grill him about the start up of the tiny brand that is making a big difference…one elephant at a time.
bagthebag.com: What was your background before you started the label?
James Munro Boon: Well I studied Architecture at University, which I suppose is not the normal route to becoming an Entrepreneur.
In my second year I had the chance to go to South Africa as part of my degree and to build a school there, so I jumped at the chance. Blood sweat and tears went into building the school and it looked great. However I remember the first day the school opened and the kids came in and had nothing. I looked at the school we had made and yes it looked great on the university prospectus, however actually it wasn’t a school it was a shell, the bits that made a school were missing.
The trip changed my mindset about a lot of things and I ended up not going down the normal city route but instead took up an Architecture job in Southern China. I loved it and spent all my time travelling, but again I would see schools that were built by NGO’s or governments, but that simply lacked the basic school equipment.
“I remember the first day the school opened and the kids came in and had nothing.”
On one of my travels I stumbled over a village making basic bags from old recycled cement bags and thought if I could change the design a bit and make things such as ipad and laptop cases, then we could fit this to a western market. That is when the idea struck and I started working with Pry and Mey to make bags with the local ladies with the idea that for each one sold we could donate a school bag and kit to a child in one of the schools I had visited.
I really just started selling to a couple of friends and that was all I thought it would be, however since then it has grown beyond any of our wildest dreams.
btb: What were the challenges of starting up?
jmb: There are many, however that is part of the fun of doing it. With a bit of patience and a lot of hard work, most hurdles can be overcome.
One thing I have learned is for me what business means. When I was little I used to read books about the sharks of business and that’s what I thought business was about, people trying to crush other people.
What I have learnt in the last few years through EB has been completely the opposite, by taking a bottom up approach, I have realised how much business can be a force for good in the world.
“Each bag is handmade and donates a school kit back to a child in need.”
Business is one of the few things that transcends politics, race, religion and culture and means that myself in the UK or Hong Kong can have a friendship with a little village in Cambodia who speak a different language and have a different culture, however are all connected through business.
btb: What makes your products unique?
jmb: Each bag is handmade and donates a school kit back to a child in need. Each one is slightly different, and while there are a lot of imitation ones on the market now a days, it is the time and effort that Pry and our team in Cambodia put into make each one unique that counts, while also helping support school education in Cambodia.
btb: Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
jmb: Pry is the inspiration behind the designs, it was his idea to use old cement bags and turn them into products. For him, it was a cheaper alternative to buying material to make bags, so he is the one who deserves the glory.
btb: What are your best selling designs?
jmb: The Clipper L has always been a favorite, however we only brought in back packs after a lot of people asked for them through Facebook. We now find that we cannot simply keep enough of them in stock as they always sell out as soon as they arrive!
btb: How often are you in touch with the villagers that make your products?
jmb: I am actually heading back next week. We work with a family there, Pry and Mey are the closest I have to family in Asia, so I spend a lot of time in Cambodia, but I think that is what makes it work.
btb: Tell us about a typical Elephant Branded customer?
jmb: That’s a good question, normally we say we are a University / Graduate brand, however to be honest we have found that the products appeal to a wide range of people and we have even been honored to have some grandparents as customers.
btb: Which celeb or notable person would you most like to see carrying your designs and why?
jmb: Well we have already had Bill Clinton and Richard Branson with bags, so that has to tick a few off the list.
To be honest it doesn’t really matter who has it, they don’t need to be a “celeb” the best endorsements we have had, are simply friends telling friends. That is the best type of PR and in our mind much better than a “celeb” endorsement.
btb: What’s next for your brand? What can we expect in the next 12 months from you?
jmb: Fingers crossed we have some surprises planned. Again we cannot say too much however early October is a good time to watch!
btb: What achievement are you most proud of?
jmb: I don’t really think it is what we have achieved, but more the difference in Cambodia. Pry and Mey have moved into a newer house and have two happy and energetic boys, seeing them grow up and becoming part of their family has been the real highlight.
Visit the Elephant Branded page to view the entire range of recycled and ethically made products available from bagthebag.com.