Fancy building a global brand from scratch? What if we threw language, cultural and business practice barriers into the mix?
It’s totes doable; just ask Sydneysiders Alex Herlihy and Chloe Vandervord. The intrepid duo recently launched luxury leather bag line ECEL. From Buenos Aires, no less.
As if that weren’t enough to chew on, the pair – neither of whom are designers by trade – made the entire range themselves, including bronze fittings and vegetable leathers, with the help of local artisans.
“To get a product that we are proud of to market we have had to source every piece of hardware, make our own leather and kiss a lot of toads, shall we say, to find the right workshop to put us into production,” Herilhy says.
“This is easier said than done, especially in a second language and in a country where we weren’t familiar with the customs and business practices.”
How ECEL is excelling
So what sets ECEL apart from other luxury leather brands? According to Herlihy, ”Short answer: the finishings we use, our holistic approach and… our emphasis on the utility and minimalist aesthetic as opposed to branding and logos.”
“Long answer: We use vegetable tanned leathers to make our products. The process of tanning leather with vegetable tannins creates a very textured and durable leather. This means we don’t have to use machines to add the ‘texture’ and character we want, as is done with chrome tanned leathers.”
“Plus it’s better for the environment and your skin.”
“Our mantra has been to use natural materials and make them to the best quality we can. For example, all of the metal finishings (buckles, D-rings, studs etc) have been custom-made made just for us. We sourced the bronze metal to be used for them.”
ECEL’s unbranded approach stems from the belief that “there are enough people like us who often get put off buying a product because of a logo or a tag which doesn’t serve to make the product any nicer,” Herlihy says.
Trying crowd-funding on for size
ECEL is currently touting its wares via Kickstarter in an effort to raise enough dosh to make 50 metres of leather. Following 12 months of conceptualisation, this is make or break time for the new business.
“Our decision to team up with Kickstarter was their economies of scale – they are definitely the global market leader and have the most through traffic.”
“We are already benefiting from their network – with over 50% of our pledges so far coming from people we have never met and presumably who have independently found out about us on Kickstarter.”
“Without help from Kickstarter we will either have to make our bags out of inferior leathers or walk away from our last year’s worth of work.”
The fabby news is ECEL has reached its $7,000 crowd-funding goal with days to spare (but don’t let that stop you splashing the cash here y’all – they’ll even give you stuff…)
“Crowd funding gave us a platform – we could turn around to all our friends and family and say hi – this is what we’ve done and this is what we need to do to go forward.”
Next things next
Now the leather’s sorted, the company has big dreams for the future.
“Our plan is to increase the range by about ten products a year.”
“Our key focus is not just on leather but good quality natural materials as a whole.”
“We don’t have the same pressures as the clothing industry to turn out new seasons every few months – we can take our time and really nail a design for a specific purpose (like a weekend bag that fits on carry-on) and then move onto the next purpose.”
ECEL’s advice for fellow crowd-funders
“Anyone considering launching a project should spend some time thinking about things like: what is my goal for the money raised and what is the bare minimum I need to make it work? What is it that I want to get people excited about and how can I make them part of the project’s story?”
“Are you doing this for cash-flow reasons and getting your name out there (like us) or do you need to make an actual profit? If it’s a profit you have to be 100% clear on your margins – the crowd-funding site will take a commission, the payment gateway will too – if you are posting you need to factor that into your costs and if you plan to advertise or promote the project that has to be factored in as well.”
“Be honest and frank with your pledgers. If you reach your goal early that’s great – have ready some extra incentives for a new goal (like if we get to X, all pledgers will receive Y in addition to their current list of rewards). Where you can, collectively share the proceeds with the people who have got you the success in the first place.”
ECEL and Anthill go way back. Herlihy contacted us in late-2010 asking for advice on doing business overseas. We put him in touch with expat and entrepreneur Terrie Lloyd [http://www.japaninc.com/about_terrie_lloyd]. The resulting email exchange “played a large part in us making the move to South America.”
“Truth be told, there is no way we would be where we are had we not reached out to people online and asked questions. The responses and support have been fantastic.”