#67. Kintu is an internationally inspired and produced handbag brand that works with artisans in Uganda and Kenya. We talk with Founder Sarah Nakintu about her impulse to create high-quality but aspirationally priced bags with a global image—a brand with a unique aesthetic that also creates jobs in the economy Sarah grew up in. The Loose Threads Podcast features in-depth discussions with leaders across the rapidly changing consumer economy.

Check out the full transcript below.

Richie: [00:00:07] Welcome to the 67th episode of the Loose Threads Podcast, a show about the rapidly changing consumer economy. This episode is brought to you by Loose Threads Membership, which gives you actionable analysis, insights and events that drive growth, and Loose Threads Espresso, your energizing and high-pressure filter for consumer news—in context. We also have a newsletter that features the latest open letters to CEOs, podcasts with industry leaders and news from Loose Threads. Check it all out at LooseThreads.com.

Richie: [00:00:36] Joining me today is Sarah Nakintu, the founder of Kintu, an internationally-inspired and -produced handbag brand. Sarah started the brand after looking for more high-quality but aspirationally priced handbags with a global image. She worked with artisans in Uganda and Kenya to bring a unique aesthetic to the brand while creating jobs in the economy she grew up in.

Sarah: [00:00:54] There’s an opportunity here to work with artisans, give them credit, be very honest with the consumer about who’s making their bags, where are they made and why they are paying the price that they’re paying.

Richie: [00:01:06] We had a good talk about the brand’s founding, its journey to figure out the right distribution channel and how it plans to keep growing. Here is my talk with Sarah Nakintu.

Richie: [00:01:19] Why don’t we start. Just talk a bit about your background and then we can work our way up to the brand existing.

Sarah: [00:01:24] I was, basically, born and raised in Uganda. I grew up there, moved to the U.S. in 2005. When I was growing up in Uganda, I thought that the world was so much bigger than my little Kampala and I wanted to see that world. And I got interested in fashion really early. Although I didn’t really have any role models in fashion, somehow I was just drawn to it. My early days consist[ed] of me going to a really big secondhand market in Uganda where me and my mom and my sisters and my friends would go and just walk around for hours looking at clothes. It’s all imported, secondhand clothing and that’s what we had. But it was a great joy going to that market and I feel like that is where I discovered my love of fashion.

Sarah: [00:02:18] When I moved here, the purpose was to go to grad school so I had to focus on that and, having African parents, you can’t really tell them that you want to do fashion because, for them, it’s not a profession. So I had to go to school and, when I was done, I worked in the international system, the UN system. I lived in Italy for two years and it was fun but also very fashion-focused. So I spent a lot of time learning about leather goods. That’s when it piqued my interest. So, when I came back to the U.S., I was lucky to get this job during the recession. [But] I didn’t have any money to start a fashion brand, so I worked in tech. I worked at Google, I worked at AOL and a few other startups and when I was finally laid off at AOL, I thought to myself, “This is a good time. I’ve saved some money. I think I can start doing my handbags.” I wasn’t able to do it full time, even then, but at least that’s when I started sketching and trying to find someone to help me make the bags. We started out in Brooklyn and it was somewhat of a disaster. So it was just not gonna be feasible for us to start the brand here. And then I had to look into other ways of starting it.

Richie: [00:03:45] So talk more about those markets because, I assume, most people over here have no familiarity with what they’re like and what sort of clothing is there. But what was it like to go to them and what did they look and feel like and what sort of products were there and so forth?

Sarah: [00:03:57] It’s almost like a Goodwill, to be honest, but it had anywhere from low-end to high-end clothing. And, the thing is, Uganda came out of the war around 1986, so industries were just being built and the importing sector was just growing. So, when I was growing up, that’s the only place we had to go. It’s an amazing market. It’s about 50,000 people in this market—traders—and they have everything, from children’s clothing to underwear to curtains, bedsheets. It’s like a huge open market in a field and everyone has their little stall. This is where people are working and raising money and sending their kids to school. It’s a great economic source but, at the same time, we didn’t have access to expensive things and, even if we did, my parents would not have afforded it.

Sarah: [00:04:58] So I did realize that, in the 90s and 2000s, they started bringing a lot of things from Dubai, India, China. Those were the imports and that stuff was really expensive and, to be honest, it wasn’t good quality. But the secondhand market stuff was coming from the U.S., the UK, Canada. Like I was able to buy a Coach bag from this little market. I bought my first denim from there and I noticed that it lasted longer because it was made in America or made in the UK. So it was a good place. I think, right now, there’s a lot of transition because there [are] a lot of imports coming in from all over the place—one. Two—the Ugandan and African market, people are starting to make things there which is really good. Like if this designer is making clothes, then most people prefer to wear that. But I grew up shopping from the secondhand market.

Richie: [00:05:59] It’s just so interesting because, here in America, the secondhand market is not large. It tends to be a lot more luxury or streetwear, these little niches.

Sarah: [00:06:07] Vintage.

Richie: [00:06:08] Vintage.

Sarah: [00:06:08] Yeah. The funny thing is, when I got this Coach bag, I came with it here in 2005 and the people that I was staying—my hosts where American—and everyone was like, “Where did you get this Coach bag?” People were freaking out about this bag and I didn’t even know what Coach was. I was like, “Wait, what? This bag is special?” And they were like, “Oh, yeah! Look! This is a Coach bag!” And I was amazed. And I had these high heels, I had Prada shoes and people [were asking]—”Where did you get these shoes?” Like, “Are you not an African kid? Are you not supposed to be walking around barefooted or like with no sense of fashion?” But, yeah, I mean it was an amazing place. I remember my first pair of denim, wide-leg denim. That’s where I got it and it lasted a very long time. This really is vintage. Yeah.

Richie: [00:07:03] It’s funny because we’re not even the producers of this stuff. We import it and then no one buys it, then it gets exported again.

Sarah: [00:07:08] Yeah.

Richie: [00:07:09] It’s just a very weird, globalized trade.

Sarah: [00:07:12] Really. And what I learned, because a friend of mine was looking into doing this business. So these places, I think in San Francisco, where they sell barrels of this clothing—maybe ten rich people bring these barrels of clothing into the country and then everyone goes into this central warehouse and you ask for like, “I want children’s category.” And then they just give you mixed bags of everything.

Richie: [00:07:44] And it’s done by the pound, I think.

Sarah: [00:07:45] Exactly. By the pound. But, the funny thing is, I found out that one of these barrels is maybe $10,000, which is—think about it, that’s a lot of money.

Richie: [00:07:58] Yeah.

Richie: [00:07:59] Yeah, like someone in Uganda, if you want to do this business, you need to have about $10 to $50 thousand to go and buy these things and then come and put them up. The other thing is, it’s so crazy because people would then go there—people in high street—like rich women, don’t want to go down there. So I have another friend in Uganda who was—this was his job—he would just go downtown—it’s called “bend down boutique” cause you just bend down and pick at something and look at it. There’s no changing room, nothing. See it and buy it. So he would buy a bunch of these clothes, take them and just dry-clean them and have them nice and then just put them in his store. And he made a ton of money because there were people that would not be caught going down there. So it’s really interesting.

Richie: [00:08:52] Absolutely. So, fast forward a bit. You’re now back in the U.S.

Sarah: [00:08:55] Yeah.

Richie: [00:08:56] Why did you want to start a brand? Or where did that come from?

Sarah: [00:09:00] I love bags and I’m one of the consumers of bags, I would say. I probably buy three bags a year, at least. I wanted to start a fashion brand because, first, as a consumer, I felt like I know what a lot of girls like me love. Because, when you’re sitting down with your girlfriends, you’re talking about, “I have this bag but this is wrong.” And when you constantly hear—

Richie: [00:09:30] Right, it’s like a constant focus group.

Sarah: [00:09:31] Exactly, yeah. It’s a free focus group because you hear about things that people can’t find in bags and bags are so expensive and then, when you buy it and the strap breaks. So that was one element, but the other element was I wanted to do something with artisans in developing countries. I felt like most of the brands, at the time, were just making things in [the] countries where they want[ed], telling us that this is where it’s made [read: not telling us that it wasn’t made in their home country]. And the markups were ridiculous and there was no transparency in the supply chain. And I just became increasingly interested in, “Where is my stuff coming from? Who’s making my bags?” If I’m paying you $800, I need to know what the person that made this bag was paid. For some reason, I just got really interested in the sustainability part of it and I just thought, “This is an opportunity. There’s an opportunity here to work with artisans, build a brand, showcase people’s awesome skills, give them credit and then turn around and be very honest with the consumer about who’s making their bags, where are they made and why they are paying the price that they’re paying.”

Richie: [00:10:46] How did it start then?

Sarah: [00:10:48] I started out by researching a lot of places, who was gonna make the bag, what I was gonna do. I knew what I wanted to do. Living in the city, I had learned a lot about bags, of course, because you wake up, get on the train, go to work, go to the gym. Then, after that, maybe you have a dinner. And I was thinking, it’s gonna be a transitional line for an urban girl. Maybe she rides her bike, maybe she takes the subway. There has to be a space for her subway card, easy cellphone reach—but one will be big, one will be small because sometimes when you’re on the subway and it’s crowded, then you don’t want to have a big bag. So I started thinking about all these pieces and I actually talked to some friends. That was one part.

Sarah: [00:11:35] The other part was researching, really, the whole supply chain part of it because I wasn’t in fashion before. I had no idea. So I started going to a lot of trade shows. I started going to a lot of leather export and import meetings, just talking to people and gathering information and, when I was done—I thought I was done—I found about three handbag makers in the city. And it was still tricky because people would make bags here—samples—and then, when it’s time to produce, they send it to another country and they still say it’s made in New York. I just thought, “This is what I’m trying to avoid.” But I was running into this at every stop. So I worked with this guy in Brooklyn who owned a factory. I designed, gave him some designs and he was like, “Oh, I don’t have the machinery to make these bags. You have to make them simpler.” So we went back and designed again and brought him the samples and he made them and then it just turned out very, very expensive. I think when he was done with our first samples, they were probably like $2,000 each. And I thought, “How am I supposed to sell a $2,000 bag? I’m not that customer.”

Sarah: [00:12:56] I had to find a way to make the bags cheaper. A friend of mine worked in commercialization for a big brand so we looked at the samples, went over them and just—first, it was like boxes and hard little cross-bodies—and then we had to start over and I had to find someone else. I sent the samples to two different places. I sent them to Ethiopia and then I sent them to Italy. Ethiopia was kind of the same thing. “Oh, we can’t make these bags. We can only make a big tote or something like that.” And then, also, the leather aspect—they do have leather in Ethiopia but you don’t have a large variety. So we ended up doing the hardware in Kenya and then we did our first line in Italy with a small factory. They are artisans, really. It’s a family of two brothers that took the factory over from their great-grandfather and this is what they’ve been doing. Everything is handmade which takes a lot of time. So our first collection was actually delayed because it was like hand-painting, handmade, hand-stitching. And, even the last day of delivery, I remember going there to make sure that everything was delivered and they were still hand-painting the last batch.

Richie: [00:14:17] So, looking back now, it is often quite expensive. There’s not much versatility or flexibility. Why do you think that was? The places you went, they are used to doing more cookie-cutter business or…? I’ve heard this a lot about the state of the Garment District and production in the Tri-State area more broadly.

Sarah: [00:14:34] So there’s, I think, a few things happening in New York. There are people that produce low-end—not more than $150 retail-type bag—and they do that successfully here. And then, if you want to do the luxury lines—I’ve done a lot of research—I’ve not met one place where they can successfully produce here. When you think about it, I think it’s… One, it’s a space issue. When you go to the factories in Italy, it’s a whole warehouse and they have this machinery and they have staff. This is what it takes to produce leather goods. You need to have space for leather, space for this, space for that, dyeing. You need to have all this machinery. I don’t know that anyone in the city has that much space to be able to do that.

Sarah: [00:15:27] And the other element is training workers. You need to train people. Most of the people in Italy—it’s passed on. But the other element is, I think, there are shortcuts. There are ways that you can do it, whereby, you go into a factory, they have some people here that are pattern-makers and can do this and that but then, really, their production is in another country and I think that’s how people are able to justify the prices. Another element I noticed was the sampling and prototyping in New York. When you want to make a sample in New York, it’s not going to cost you less than $3,000, $5,000. How are people charging this much money just for a prototype? This is a lot of money, right? I think there’s a few brands here, big brands that I know of, that go into these factories and make the samples here and then they send them overseas. And I think this is where the money is for these factories because, even if they are not doing production—

Richie: [00:16:33] Right.

Sarah: [00:16:33] At least they are charging $10,000, $5,000 for a prototype. And I know that production and work is coming back but I think there [was] a time, especially during the financial crisis, when a lot of these factories closed. But it’s all sampling. It’s all sampling at this point.

Richie: [00:16:52] So talk a bit about how you went about designing the aesthetic. You talked about the function before but what did you want these to look and feel like?

Sarah: [00:17:00] Yeah. So our bags are very classic. Although, I know, right after we launched out brand, it’s now the fashion bag like the “it” bag. But I think women will, ultimately, always want a classic piece and that’s what I thought. “It’s going to be classic.” And then I wanted a bit of African inspiration in there so I thought about using pattern and, what I found was that, after doing a lot of research, everyone was using the same patterns because you just buy them or download them or… So I wanted to take it a little bit deeper. I wanted to interpret for people what a modern African woman who loves fashion looks like, [what she] would wear. What is modern African inspiration? So I had an artist hand-draw these animals and then we turned that into a print. And then, along with that, we did some embroidery of flowers and things like that and it was all hand-embroidered in India.

Richie: [00:18:07] Are these—are they colorful or are they restrained? How would you verbally describe the aesthetic?

Sarah: [00:18:11] So we have a very elaborate, animal-inspired print. I took my bags to a showroom and I said, “It’s African-inspired.” And she said, “No, it’s not. It needs to be very colorful. When it’s African, it’s very colorful.” And I’m thinking, “Okay, I’m African. I love fashion—”

Richie: [00:18:31] Yeah. “[I’ll] tell you this. Not [the other way around].”

Sarah: [00:18:35] You only need one very colorful piece in your closet. You don’t need 20. So it’s very classic—black, tans, grey, we have a pink. And it’s really modern at the same time. It’s an investment piece that you can wear and you use many different times. And then, yeah, we do—like when you say colorful—the pink is embroidered with green and another higher-level pink. So it looks a bit colorful, but it’s pretty much classic.

Richie: [00:19:05] Talk a bit about, as you were researching the brand, what did the bag market look like to you, in terms of who were the different players either doing well or not? And then how did that affect, one, where you wanted to land and, two, how you priced everything?

Sarah: [00:19:18] When I started researching, there [weren’t] a lot of designers in the middle. It was either the big brands and then you had a few, like Phillip Lim in the middle, and then you had the Michael Kors and a little bit of, I wanna say, Kate Spade. That was interesting to me because I thought, “Oh, there’s this middle where you can actually thrive because the bags are not made very cheaply. The material is amazing, but they are not super luxury [so much so] that women can’t attain them in terms of pricing.”

Richie: [00:19:54] Just to throw numbers into the equation, what are the numbers that kind of define the different tiers in your mind?

Sarah: [00:20:01] Yeah, I would say between $150 to $250, right? It used to be between $300 and $350. That was sort of the attainable, Michael Kors. And then you had between $400 and $800 [in the] middle.

Richie: [00:20:16] Which is like kind of where Mansur is.

Sarah: [00:20:20] Mansur Gavriel. Yeah, exactly. That’s where there was not a lot. And then you had the Pradas and all the other brands.

Richie: [00:20:27] Which are high hundreds, thousands.

Sarah: [00:20:29] Yeah, absolutely. So the strategy was to be between $400 to $800, max. Basically under $1000. But the bag is made in almost even better condition than the bigger brands sometimes or better places or you’re paying people a living wage and really minding the whole supply chain. So that was the idea.

Richie: [00:20:53] So it sounds like you approach this via collections.

Sarah: [00:20:56] Yeah.

Richie: [00:20:56] And so what did the first one look like? How did you figure out what you needed? And then we can talk about the launch of the brand?

Sarah: [00:21:02] It’s really interesting because I thought that we were gonna do collections because that’s what everyone was doing until people like Mansur Gavriel came in and really changed the game, [when] they just made these bags and then they said, “We’ll just change the colors but these are standard.” And this was really key because there’d been a lot of waste in the fashion system before [when] people were just making a lot of things, like every six months, new, new, new.

Richie: [00:21:32] Right.

Sarah: [00:21:33] And as a new brand, a small brand, you realize pretty quickly that this is not sustainable.

Richie: [00:21:40] Because it’s so expensive.

Sarah: [00:21:41] It is. And when people still love your one style, then you’re going to discontinue it. It doesn’t make sense, right? So we started out with five different styles. The crossbody, a little pouch, the shoulder bag and then there was the tote and the lady bag. The idea was just to have a bag for everyone, which is something that you should never do, by the way, because you can’t have a bag for everyone.

Richie: [00:22:10] Yeah.

Sarah: [00:22:10] So, already, having five styles is super expensive. Most people do one or two styles and then they do them in different colors. I did five, so that wasn’t good, and I learned [that] very quickly. But I wanted to see what people would gravitate to, where we would fall. So it worked. The biggest sellers ended up being the totes and the crossbody bags and also the lady bag a little bit. And that’s what I learned. So, when we launched our first collection, we gathered the data and then we realized these are the bags that we need to be focusing on and that’s what we’re doing.

Richie: [00:22:48] When did you launch the brand and then how did it go?

Sarah: [00:22:50] So we launched the brand in 2016. We were not able to produce and deliver anything until 2017. So, officially, we launched in 2017. There was a lot of interest, especially from people in the sustainability sphere, but, at the same time, when I launched, two interesting things happened. Everyone discovered the middle. It was like, “Oh, Mansur Gavriel has hit it.” So you had, all of a sudden, a lot of brands coming up in the middle. The other thing that happened was, big brands discovered that the middle was actually doing well. So they started putting a lot of emphasis on the middle. You had a lot of brands, suddenly, producing bags that were $600, $500, $400. Big, big luxury brands. They would just create a sister brand and […] that sister brand was producing ready-to-wear before but, now, it’s producing handbags and accessories all of a sudden. So, what happened was, I got into a few retail stores, especially internationally, and I was sitting next to big brands and it was a challenge, honestly, getting people to notice you. And, right now, it’s all about marketing and getting yourself out there. I spoke to a lot of buyers in New York that said to me, “I love your brand. I love what your brand represents. I love the bags. However, it’s going to take me so much time to market you and get your name out there.” And everyone was like, “How many magazines are you in? Who’s given you press?”

Richie: [00:24:38] Right, no one wants to be first.

Sarah: [00:24:39] Yeah. “Who’s done press? Who’s done this?” And I was like, “Oh, I’m doing press myself. I’m reaching out to editors.” And it was, “Next collection. I would love to see your next collection.” Yeah, so that’s been the challenge.

Richie: [00:24:52] Right. How did you figure out where you wanted to sell between doing wholesale or selling online? How did you think through that and how did that evolve?

Sarah: [00:24:59] As a new brand, unless you have a ton of money, usually, you wanna do direct-to-consumer. Everyone wants to do direct-to-consumer because you make way more money. The margin is really higher and you control the brand narrative that way. But, what happened for us was, this is a very cash-intensive business so you need to think about how you’re going to get that inventory. We had a preorder on our site. However, you’re competing with people [who] are sending the bags right away when someone buys them and, ladies, if they buy a bag and they need it for spring, then it needs to be there by spring. So we had a ten-week preorder. I had a few orders but most people would write me and say, “Can I get the bag sooner? Can I do this?” And I’m thinking, “Well, if you can, potentially, line up for Mansur Gavriel, you can line up for my bag.” But my bag was not as known as Mansur Gavirel. If it was, then we would have had people lining up but, because we were just needing cash, we ended up having to go a little bit in the retail route because we were able to get a little bit of production and then make a little bit more of production for us to be able to launch online. And, eventually, we’ve had to transition online because of other things that we’ve seen in the retail environment.

Richie: [00:26:26] Talk about what happened or evolved over the rest of that year and then how it’s grown from there.

Sarah: [00:26:32] So what happened, at that time, was that deliveries were delayed, some of them. But we were in retail stores and we had to deliver, whenever we did. And the funny thing is, retail stores are not very flexible. So if you’re late—like we were three months, six months late—they don’t give you an extension, right? So we were not able to sell the entire season. When I realized that that was happening, we tweaked our online platform because we knew that we would have some inventory coming back from not being able to be sold. So we just focused online and started doing a lot of Instagram promotions, just posting, getting our brand known and doing press when we have good opportunities. And so we started selling online.

Sarah: [00:27:27] And then, another thing that I decided to do, was do some trunk shows, getting close to the consumer. And, actually, that’s been really, really good for us. I typically reach out to a small boutique store in a small town, let’s say Greenwich, and I just introduce myself, I send my lines. Sometimes I have people living in that area introduce me to a store and I go in, bring the bags. I’ll spend maybe a few days there and do a trunk show and meet people. And that’s been good. We’re able to get the inventory out and then we’re able to meet women, in person, and people will see the bags, in person. It’s really nice to be in retail stores, to be honest, because you get that credibility and you can become known really quickly.

Sarah: [00:28:16] I had to do a deep think about where I wanted to be. There are some retail stores that I think give more support to brands than others. Then there are other retail stores that… It’s all business. Like, “You’re in here, you sell these units. If you don’t, we give it back to you.” There are some stores that do consignment, which we don’t do because we just don’t have the money to put up $30,000 dollars or $50,000 to do this whole thing and then you sell 20 pieces and return them to me. One of the stores that I love that we worked with, it’s this amazing retail store in Germany called Breuninger and they give us a lot of support. Most people don’t know that, if you’re a brand, you have to pay to be in the marketing book or marketed by the retail store and they were like, “That’s fine. We’re going to do this for you because you’re new and everything.” And it’s not cheap. So it was good. They gave us a lot of support and I love that. And then, recently, we joined Wolf & Badger, which is another amazing online store. They actually do photo shoots too, they will have you in press. So it’s a model that supports up-and-coming designers.

Richie: [00:29:32] Will you continue to invest and sell through wholesale or are you trying to move more toward direct?

Sarah: [00:29:37] We’re trying to move toward direct. It’s so nice to be able to connect with your consumers and get to know them and, also, it’s just so much easier for the supply chain of it. We don’t have a big warehouse where we can drop ship. We’re doing everything ourselves. I have someone helping me in New York. When I’m in Europe, I do it. So it’s literally us shipping bags out to people when you’re in these stores, the returns… This, that… It’s just really, really difficult, as much as I would love to do that. We’re actually looking to bring on a business partner who’s very retail-focused and has a lot of experience. He’s been working 25 years in retail and he’s thinking that we should be in a few boutique stores, where customers actually walk in and see the brand and touch and feel and hear the story of the brand. And he’s thinking that we should also be in a few places, like Net-a-Porter, where people actually buy without thinking about, “Oh, how does it look?” Because people who shop on Net-a-Porter know that, “If I buy it, it’s going to be good,” right? So this might be our new strategy. Ideally, if we find a retail store and the deal is amazing, yeah, I think we would still work with them.

Richie: [00:31:07] What is your goal for the brand, in terms of what you want it to accomplish, how big you want to get? What is success through your eyes?

Sarah: [00:31:14] The first level of success, I would say, would be becoming known to the girl that we want to target, our target consumer. I want girls to be able to say, “I bought a Kintu bag once. They launched a new collection. I’m going to buy it again because I trust it. It was really well made.” And this is the feedback that we get. When people see the bags in person, they are amazed. Like, “Oh my god, it was well made. I could see the hand-making of the whole thing.” So that is one element. The other element is, when I started out, I was this African girl that want[ed] to produce a brand that is sold in New York, London, Milan, Japan. This is the goal. The goal is to be an international brand and maybe even a household brand for girls [who] love classic bags. And then, obviously, in terms of real money and cash, yeah, I would love to be a $20 to $50 million dollar brand in the next few years. Yeah, that would be amazing.

Richie: [00:32:21] How has the connection to Kenya or that global piece evolved with the brand as well?

Sarah: [00:32:27] So we made the hardware in Kenya. First of all, when you look at the bag, we have the closure, the button. That is a modern interpretation of the horn. In Uganda, basically, the cow is a really large symbol of subsistence because people rear cows [to] send their kids to school. We have a farm, my dad has cows, and when someone is sick, because we don’t have insurance and we don’t have government assistance or anything, we’ll sell a cow or two. Cows are an amazing source of income in my country so that was central to the piece that I put on the bag.

Sarah: [00:33:08] We made the hardware in Kenya with a very small… It’s basically a guy and his son. They did all the brass. We sent them the design and they did it. And, what I want to do is maybe move our production to either Ethiopia, Kenya—I actually have a guy in Uganda, right now, making me samples so that we can see what he can do. This guy is amazing. He went on my website when he heard about me and downloaded a picture and made me a sample of my bag and shipped it to me and a note and told me, “Hey, I found your line.” So, if I can find some artisans there that can make these bags, I think that if I make my bags successfully in Uganda, they will not be six months delayed because they are not working for a hundred other brands that pay more than I do. It’s an opportunity for me to be able to help the people where I come from and also, maybe, to build an amazing factory in Uganda. I think that would be amazing.

Richie: [00:34:07] It’s always interesting to talk about what does is it take to make it so the people making products can actually afford them.

Sarah: [00:34:14] Yeah absolutely.

Richie: [00:34:14] And in many factories and countries, the people [who] actually make the stuff would never—either want to or never could actually buy it.

Sarah: [00:34:21] Yeah.

Richie: [00:34:21] It seems like that’s something tangible to work toward at a certain point.

Sarah: [00:34:25] Absolutely. But I do think that, honestly, most brands don’t think about that. Most brands think about just making money. But it means so much to me to be able to even make headway in Kenya. It wasn’t a very simple process, I have to admit. I mean, it’s hard. When it rains, this guy is like, “Oh, I can’t go to Nairobi. I can’t post your stuff. I can’t send you—it’s been raining for a week and I don’t have any way to go. The buses didn’t come.” This is the kind of complexity that you’re dealing with. But then you pay them a certain amount of money and you know that they’re sending their kids to school. This makes me feel really happy.

Richie: [00:35:03] Right, of not having that money go to a big, multinational corporation.

Sarah: [00:35:06] Absolutely.

Richie: [00:35:07] Yeah. What’s been the cheapest and most expensive lesson you’ve learned building the brand?

Sarah: [00:35:13] Well, I’m like a New Yorker. I’m type A. I need things to be done ASAP. But I lost $30,000 in Brooklyn because I did not research this guy and I didn’t even ask him, “What can you do, really?” I mean, I did ask him and he told me he could do everything and he couldn’t. That was the most expensive lesson. I mean, all we had to do was just take time and go somewhere else and maybe even go to Italy and find factories. Eventually, I had to do that. I had to get on a plane, go to Italy, spend two weeks, visit factories from Milan to Florence to Rome. And I was able to find an actual factory that I wanted to work with. Yeah, it was just really expensive.

Richie: [00:36:04] And what about cheap lesson?

Sarah: [00:36:05] The cheap lesson is your network. You don’t know what you’re gonna get by just talking to people and putting yourself out there. Sometimes you meet people and you just simply tell them your story and, before you know it, one thing leads to another. We were talking to a friend of ours and we said, “We’re here, the bags have launched.” We sent her a bag and she was like, “Oh, cool. I know someone who is the head of buying for this store chain.” And that was it. We were able to get into this store and it was just talking to people and getting your story out there. Sometimes, even, you talk to someone and they are like, “Oh, I know how to do SEO. I’ll do it for you.” And you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I was just about to pay someone thousands of dollars to do that.” Yeah.

Richie: [00:36:57] And then, as you look to the future, what’s on the horizon for the brand and what are you most excited about?

Sarah: [00:37:02] We’re going to produce a new collection. I recently met a team of girls that make horn in Uganda. Olivia Knox, that’s the brand. And they are amazing. They use original whitehorn from East Africa, Uganda specifically, and Rwanda. It’s known for that region. And I was really curious about what they’re doing and we’ve designed a bag that could use horn. So that’s one thing that I was thinking about.

Sarah: [00:37:30] The other thing is, when we say sustainable, I really want to be true to the mission. We used vegetable-tanned leather which is the most ethical type of leather that you’re gonna get, besides vegan, which—I think we need a lot of innovation in vegan leather. Because I look at vegan leather sometimes, I’m thinking it’s going to fall apart. So, for our next collection, I’m really focused on materials and the way that we can produce something sustainable.

Richie: [00:38:00] Awesome. Well, I wish you the best of luck.

Sarah: [00:38:02] Yeah.

Richie: [00:38:03] Thank you for talking.

Sarah: [00:38:04] Thank you so much for having me. This was fun.

Richie: [00:38:06] Absolutely.

Richie: [00:38:14] Thanks for listening to the Loose Thread Podcast. You can read full transcripts of the podcast and join the newsletter at LooseThreads.com. Feel free to leave a review on iTunes—we always appreciate it. And thanks to George Drake Jr. for editing this episode. We have a great roster of upcoming guests, including Carolyn Yim of Ply Knits, Rachel Blumenthal of Rockets of Awesome and Tony King of King & Partners. Thanks for listening and talk to you soon.