Troubadour Goods founders Samuel Bail and Abel Samet are looking for bags that are functional but also environmentally friendly. It hasn’t been an easy journey. “We are not bag experts. We started this business largely to make bags for ourselves,” says Samet.
They started their bag business while still holding a day job at a financial institution. In fact, they would get leather skins for their new startup on their desk. It was not the ideal setup.
But ten years later, Troubadour now has its first store in London. At the height of the pandemic, they took a risk and opened a store in the busy shopping district of Soho in the summer of 2021. we took it and we are glad we did!”
The risk seems to have paid off, as it’s given them a place to continue their sustainability journey: It’s easier to get customers to repair their bags or return old used items for recycling.
After the first three years of doing business, the duo moved away from leather for a very practical purpose: cloth bags are lighter to carry. Something they learned from interacting with customers. One person told us straight up, “It’s a nice bag, but it’s not practical,” says Bail.
That transition to recycled fabric bags has made them more environmentally friendly. While today 88 percent of the bag is made from recycled material, the two are working to make it completely 100 percent. “Some brands just use recycled fabric on the outside. But we think that ideally all the material used should be recycled,” he says.
Part of the challenge, they note, is being subjected to the materials available on the market at the time. For example, when they first switched to using recycled fabrics, Bail says the options were quite limited: “When we went to trade shows to buy materials, we would walk the aisles to find things made from recycled materials, and there wasn’t much.”
Polyurethane is in everything, they explain, and it’s one of the hardest materials to replace because its alternatives don’t have the ease of use it offers. “Polyurethane has a good drape, feels nice when you touch it. You can spray it on, pour it on. You can actually spray it on anything. For example, it is often used on the lining fabric of a bag. But it is not recyclable,” says Bail.
PU, as it’s called, is still ubiquitous in the bag industry, the founders tell me. And while there are other options, they often have higher melting points, are a bit stiffer and harder to use, making them less popular.
However, during the pandemic, Bail and Samet had some time to work with manufacturers on their sustainability journey. “As business was slow during the pandemic, the factories had more time available and allowed us to pay more attention to our needs. Together we worked on product development and the use of new materials,” says Samet.
All this put them on the path to becoming a B Corp, which the company announced this year. While they were already putting many of the teachings into practice, they wanted to formalize the process and contribute to the fight against greenwashing, which Samet says is so widespread. Still, he’s hopeful: “I think some of the powerful change in the world will come from companies that care.”
The process of building a thoughtful company, he adds, stems from the corporate culture: “It stems from a team that questions things, feels comfortable doing so and can push the boundaries. Anyone can report a problem and it is valuable for us to listen. There are quite a few companies that have a top-down culture, which we don’t think is the best way.”
Bail adds: “This certification is not the end of our sustainability journey. Rather, it is a milestone on the way. Each year we have made great strides in improving Troubadour’s impact and we are still actively looking for ways to get better. All of our packaging is now recyclable and compostable, and 85 percent of it is made from recycled materials – that will be 100 percent by the end of this year.”
They have more in the works, he adds. “In the coming months, we will introduce our circularity program, where products are designed from the ground up to be recycled at end-of-life instead of thrown away.”
It doesn’t all come from the two of them, bail notes. On the contrary, Samantha Jacob, creative director of Troubadour, has been with the company for 8 years and sustainability is one of the main reasons why she is excited and motivated for her job, he says. “This one [Troubadour] might as well be her baby. She is passionate about her work because she can make bags that are more sustainable and help the industry move forward. That’s what gets her going every morning.”
When asked why other companies may not have followed in their footsteps, or shown such a keen interest in environmental impact, Bail replies, “I think a lot of it is just momentum. You do what you’ve seen done before. We didn’t really know anything because we weren’t from this industry as a result we questioned a lot of things and challenged standards I think there’s a misconception about sustainability that it comes with higher costs and sacrifices and that’s an unfortunate perception, we don’t sacrifice anything to be more sustainable.”
Their backpacks remain their bestsellers. And while Troubadour is based in London, Samet tells me North America is their biggest market, followed by the UK and then Europe.
Although the backpacks cost more than $200, they added smaller ones garland and messenger bags for everyday use, priced at less than $100 in an effort to make eco-friendly options available to everyone. Next year they hope to introduce an even more ‘eco’ bag, they say. So stay tuned.
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