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S01E02 The Purpose Podcast: Sam Whetton, Founder of Reika Bags

We're back with episode 2! Thanks for the fantastic response last week, we really hope you enjoyed and found The Purpose Podcast an interesting listen.

Episode 2 Guest

This week’s guest is Sam Whetton, soft goods designer and Founder of Reika Bags. We speak to Sam 24 hours before the launch of his first Kickstarter campaign and get an exclusive insight into the last 3 years of dedication. Sam’s relentless commitment and unwavering purpose proves you can design amazing products that prioritise function, style and environmental sustainability.

We talk openly about the emotional rollercoaster of launching a business and the sacrifice needed to bring a product to market. Sharing his thoughts and feelings in the midst of launching Reika bags, Sam offers a real and honest perspective on the world of entrepreneurship and a self-funded start-up.

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Show Notes

Read The Transcript

Alex: Hello and welcome back to another episode of The Purpose podcast. I'm Alex, the founder of OneNine5. We're a London based startup that designs eco-conscious and unisex travel goods. We launched The Purpose Podcast so you can get to know the people, stories and challenges behind some of the most exciting brands that have a purpose at the heart of their business. If you've got aspirations or plans to launch your own business and make a positive impact, then you're in the right place for insights and advice. Today's guest is Sam Whetton founder of Reika Bags. After three years of dedication and commitment to design the ultimate travel backpack, Sam's first Kickstarter campaign is live now. We connected over a year ago and I've followed the journey of Reika bags with admiration since. With the rise of fast fashion, the textile industry understandably has a bad reputation. So I'm keen to get Sam's thoughts on working in this industry, but still prioritising environmental sustainability. I'm also excited to get Sam's perspective on launching a business whilst he's in the thick of it. So that in mind, Sam, welcome to The Purpose Podcast.

Sam: Thank you very much, Alex. Really proud to be asked to come on this. So yeah, I appreciate that mate.

Alex: Yeah, no worries. How's things?

Sam: As you say, in the thick of it couldn't be truer. But no excited to hopefully share some value and help some people out. As you say, we're at the time of recording this, we're launching tomorrow. It's been a three year journey, which was originally set out to be an 18 months max journey. And then COVID hit, just absolutely obliterated everything as you've obviously had a similar experience. At the start of COVID we lost our manufacturing partner because everything was hitting over in Asia, obviously before we actually got hit by it. A lot of brands, Northern America side, they cancelled the purchase orders with factories and all the factories before reduce numbers and go down bare bones.

So obviously being one of the smaller brands that they were working with, we were on the chopping block essentially. We had to look elsewhere, which then when you get thrown into that position and you're in the middle of a pandemic and you're not able to go out and visit manufacturers to oversee what they're doing. And even just finding a manufacturer within this space, obviously there's services such as like Alibaba, for example. But when you are creating a product as technical as what ours are, the type of manufacturers that we work with, aren't on these websites. So it was a real struggle. We've come on leaps and bounds, and I'm obviously so proud to be where we're at right now and launching tomorrow, strike the fear of God into me. But I'm really confident with where we're at. But yeah, that's, that's enough of me waffling on.

Alex: Honestly, I'm really excited for this launch. Obviously, like I said, we've been sort of chatting away virtually over the past year in this pandemic world. You've got this massive, massive commitment and dedication to make this happen, especially in a period of major adversity. But I will be backing you tomorrow. I'm looking forward to be able to carry the backpack as and when we do travel again. But want to go all the way back to maybe to about three years ago when you had the idea. But really, what sparked that mission and that commitment to, in my mind, to actually perfect this design. Cause as an outsider looking in that's exactly what it looks like.

Sam: I know. I really appreciate that. And it really means a lot as well, Alex. Just wanted to say, just to have your support, it’s quite touching. But going back… God, it feels like a lifetime ago now. So just an introduction to what we do. So we produce bags and accessories from recovered ocean waste plastics, supporting ocean initiatives and our own beach cleans in the UK using a percentage of our profits. We have a ‘no plastic’ approach in regards to packaging. We use plant-based alternatives and recycled board wherever possible. Essentially, we just have sustainability at the core of everything that we do. So going back three years ago, people may or may not remember, but three years ago people weren't promoting recycled fabrics and sustainability in the way that they are doing now. And it has become very much more of a buzzword than it was in previous times. It's used as like an underhand marketing tactic, unfortunately. In some cases, some people will be familiar with the term “greenwashing”, which I think is unfortunately what happens a lot now. But going back three years ago I was actually in Mexico and witnessed firsthand. We'd gone on holiday with the intention of having this like amazing scenic beaches that you imagine as a kid. I'd never really been on a long haul holiday. I was actually still in university at the time. We’d gone away and I witness firsthand like just how much carnage there was on the beaches. It was mixture of plastic and carbon changes and stuff.

There was some big seaweed issue on top up of that as well. But it was just like wow, these beaches are getting absolutely destroyed. So all going back to issues relating to what we're doing to the planet. And I was just like surely there's something that we can do. Why isn't everyone doing this? Like I say at the time I was at university and I was just going into final year. I'd always had a real appreciation of textiles. Cause my mom, who inspires everything that I do, was previously a seamstress. So I'd always got this sort of desire to see how sewing machines work, take them to bits and put them back together. It was me, unfortunately, as a kid that used to fix her sewing machine. This expert in sewing and it was me that was like taking bobbins to bits and stuff, and adjusting tensions on machines and stuff. The actual sewing part didn't interest me, but it just sort of the way the machines worked. I got back to uni and with education you're very much taken down this box ticking approach. So my course was Product Design and you are very much, you’re either going to do something that's 3D printed or you're going make a chair or a table. Almost as if you're back doing GCSE, Design and Technology. That’s the approach. But that’s probably insulting but it was that kind of approach, but to a higher level, of course. And I was just like I want do something a little bit different and I want to design bags. But the problem was there was no course and there was no teaching for designing bags. So I was just like right, I want to design a bag and I want to use recycled plastics. I reached out to a Korean supplier and they actually sponsored the project, sent me fabrics and that was how it all started. And everyone thought it was a bit mental because they were like ‘what? You're actually like getting all this stuff from China and Korea and Vietnam. You're getting all these bits made?’ And they were just like ‘what are you doing? Why are you not taking the simpler approach? That must have cost you a fortune’. And it was just… I had this desire. I was just so passionate about creating these products and looking back it was an absolute car crash, because I didn't know what I was doing.

I was just taking a basic fundamental approach that I would to all forms of design, and trying to apply it to soft guards. Going on from there, I'm fortunate to have an amazing network of people within the industry. So I then went on to freelance for a few different international household names. For example, one of my mentors is fortunately who I owe a lot to, was previously the head of soft goods design at Nike over in Portland. So I owe everything to my network and just a desire to just keep learning. No one ever taught me what I do. Which I think should be an inspiration for people to realise that you don't have to have it all figured out, you don't have to have… don't have to have a degree. If you just have enough drive and enough passion to just continue something to the bitter end, you will get there. And I think I'm a perfect example of that. If people know my history, I had a design background but it wasn't in this area. I didn't have a business degree. I've just continued to keep on sort of learning. But in long form, that is the last three years. The ups and downs and where the idea was born and how far we've come. That's probably some insight for you as well, Alex, to be fair. It's not something I share.

Alex: Very interesting. That's one hell of a mentor to have as well.

Sam: Yeah. No, for sure. He's very much like ‘naa it's all you’. But there's certain things that you just… There still isn't a course for this in the UK, which is something that makes me quite sad.  Because over in the US, there's a lot of technical outdoor brands and there are specific technical gear courses. It’s a design course, but it's specifically around technical apparel and bags and it's really not something that's sort over here. You can do fashion and accessories, design and stuff like that. I was very reluctant to… Well at the time I didn't actually want to even… I didn't know what I wanted to do within design. I just always knew that I wanted to have my own thing. I don't think I would've done a fashion course. And unfortunately that's down to the stereotypes of it only being female orientated. I don't think I could have been in a cohort and been the only guy. That was always my fear in terms of that, which is quite naive and stupid, but as a kid… as an 18 year old it's yeah…. These are the things that you think of.

Alex: It's funny actually you say this. Cause I think when I think back to when we were launching OneNine5, and I'm not from a product design background, we needed… One of the first things we did was who can we speak to that could actually support us. And when I remember doing that search, trying to figure out who's the right people, there really wasn't a lot out there in the UK in terms of soft goods.

Sam: Yeah, there isn’t.

Alex: We were fortunate; we found and partnered with an agency called Morrama who are based in Shoreditch in east London.

Sam: Wow, that's fantastic.

Alex: Who did have an experience of designing luggage. So that was the initial thing that caught my attention before we ultimately started to speak and ultimately partnered together. But yeah, you're right. When I did that search, I remember obviously didn't know yourself at the time. When I had a quick look around, I think maybe a couple of freelancers who worked in that space, but couldn't really find an agency or team that were passionate.

Sam: Whereas you go like in the US it's really common. But over here, there's only a few guys that I know in the UK who are great at what they do. But there aren't a lot of British brands that are doing technical gear. And I think that's also the reason why there's not a lot of actual soft goods designers in the UK. There are adapted soft goods designers that have industrial design background, but the experience isn't there. So if the work isn't there, we're not going to have freelance designers and stuff unless they've worked with the international brands. I can't imagine what it was like in your shoes. I'm fortunate that I've had… Well, unfortunate and fortunate that I've had to do everything myself because it leaves little time to do all the things.

Alex: You're flying the flag and representing.

Sam: Yeah, Yeah, you're quite right.

Alex: So the one thing I want to ask… to get more into is the here and now, so if that's the back story and that's what's led you to this point. I think one of the reasons why I was really excited to get you on today and have a chat with you was because for the other guest that we've had for series one of this podcast, this has pretty much been reflecting back on launch. And in my own experience, I think when you look back on things typically we can almost strip out the negatives or the tough times, and we only remember the positives, that human nature to do so. Whereas you are in the thick of it right now. So I'm really keen to get your perspective on how you're feeling on this launch, what it looks like, the kind of the nerves, the ups, the downs, all of it really.

Sam: No, you're not wrong. I think a lot of people glamorise the success instead of the story. And I'm very much a believer in the journey, the learnings along the way, idea and design, getting to this point; that's been tough. Like that has been difficult to get to this point. But then at the same time, actually launching a product is a completely different story. Because it's like I haven't designed anything since December of last year, maybe November last year. This whole last year, we're coming up on earlier year has literally just been about getting to launch, so something we haven't touched one. I'm not investment backs, no VCs, no angels, no nothing. We have an investment offers, but I very much wanted to keep everything and our beliefs and our mission at the core of what we do rather than having an outside influence.

Everything has been funded by myself, but I'm not like some trust fund kid that comes from money or anything like that. I've just had an endless resilience to if we needed to learn something, if we needed something done, I would learn how to do it one way or another. And that's on another reason why I sort of things have taken so long and is an example that you don't have to have loads of money to be able to launch something great. If you are just willing to learn the skills that you may need to actually get this thing out there. So it's like the journey I've had to… So we're launching on Kickstarter, which is a platform where everyone thinks that you just put your product on there and everyone just flocks in the masses and buys your product. But the reality is you've still got to build your initial community and your crowd, so that on day one and throughout your launch, you are actually getting enough eyeballs on the project and to create a snowball effect. So I've had to learn… Well, firstly like Web Development, I had some experience, but building out Sci marketing funnels and actually generating the audience that we have now, before we launch. So the intention is to build your email list before you launch. And then we've also integrated what we call a $1 reservation funnel, which is essentially to get people, to do a pre reservation for a pre-order on Kickstarter, which sounds bizarre, but it essentially creates a more qualified lead so that you can sort of gauge what sort of day one success you're going to have. It's just like an in depth marketing tactic rather than basic. Because a lot of people just build stuff on social media, but it's just not as effective as it once was. It used to be able to organically just create this mass following, put stuff out there and the masses would flock to it. It's the same with influence marketing and that isn't the way now. It's been a big push on building our audience. We also been shooting all our launch assets since April, which we did a shoot down in Cornwall. We've done a shoot in London for the more city stuff. That whole experience of working with the production team, working with models and really being in the thick of it, has been something that I've not experienced prior to. Was very much learning as you go.

But I think that people think of community as being just the email list and just who your customers are. And then you are just this brand behind closed door that people are going to buy. But I think community is so much more than that. So it's like I may be the founder of this and I've designed the products and whatever, but I would be absolutely nothing without the actual team that's basically started this. So that's our director of production let's say, [inaudible 16:53] a photographer. I'm just giving out shout-outs here.

Alex: I'm sure they appreciate this.

Sam: And our team of models. Like those people are essentially the initial core driving force behind everything because they're so on board. Cause it's not just a paycheck. It's not just because our mission and everything that we're doing and the products and the experience they had with us during our shoots and whatever, we're like a family and that is community as well, because they're so attached to the brand. It's not a case of, they just turned up one day, got paid and went over and they never spoke to us again. They are our founding core team. I also managed to rope in my best friend as well, who's in some of the shots and some of the scenes in the launch content. And it was great to have that camaraderie during the… We had a week long shoot in Cornwall. Obviously all these things come at a cost, but I think when you, as a brand are able to get people to believe in what you are doing, your experience with those people is so much greater than if you just go on Google find oh I need someone to shoot a video or I need a model and I go to an agency and they turn up. It's so much greater if you can get people to just believe in what you're doing. Literally the most insane thing, we worked with a couple of guys out in Hawaii. I don’t if you saw it, Alex.

Alex: Yes I did. There was a topless guy with the bag, right? Is it that one?

Sam: Topless, yeah, with more abs than I care to count.

Alex: That’s it. I Remember.

Sam: We worked with someone called Nolan Amora and Show who are the most amazing content creators out in Hawaii. And literally, that all came from a relationship that I built like two, two plus years ago. Just me chatting to him as if he was a mate, which sounds mad, but I think just taking away from that corporate experience and people are just bombarded with ‘Hey, we wanna do a collaboration’. You know what I mean? People just are so numb to it and it's just seen as just a paycheck. Whereas if you can really make someone but leave in what you're doing and just be honest with them, I found that to be the most amazing thing. And these are all people that are part of our community and I'm really fortunate to be in this position.  I'm probably like going off on a tangent.

Alex: No, you're okay. I was going to say the thing that I love about this, I think I saw on your website, that I think to quote I think it was like ‘no bullshit transparency’ I think was the wording I read. I think it almost mirrors you as an individual, which I think is probably why people are so on board with you and the mission, because it's essentially the same thing you're aligned in both you and your individual values alongside, the business values as well. For me certainly as someone who's been following it and seeing your LinkedIn post at the same time as seeing the Reika updates, it definitely brings me into it. And that's why I was so keen to speak to you, keen to back you, keen to get the backpack. I think it's all the same thing, but it all merges into one.

Sam: That's good feedback. I just don't think there's anything to hide and I think it's really interesting because I'm just like a normal lad from a small town in, as we were saying before Mansfield, it's just not something that's done round here. And I think it's amazing to be able to share everything that I'm doing. It's not shared for a place of like bragging or anything like that. And I never want it to be that because there's nothing to brag about. I'm deadass broke. So I'm like really happy to share everything. And if anyone was to drop me a message and ask a question, I'm not this guy that's just like sitting on a pedestal and sitting on his high horse per se. I'll be open about anything. If someone wants to learn how to design a backpack, I have to give you as much advice as I can and I love sharing value. And that's why if I can share that through the LinkedIn post, like you say, social media or things like this, I’m more than happy to and that's because there's like, there's nothing to hide. It's simple. We've built a brand, we've built a great product and I'm just trying to bring people along on that ride because you go and buy North Face, for example, you’re just buying a product aren't you? No one has a clue, what went into creating that product? You know what I mean? Its crazy the amount of sort of moving parts that go into these things and obviously comparing the two… You've got a massive company, that's got so many staff and whatever, and it's just little old me and it's there's so many different things and people really find interest in seeing what's going on behind the scenes and whatever. So I do try, I should do it a lot more…

Alex: Yeah, we probably should as well, but hopefully this podcast is one way to do so obviously. But no, I think you're right. I definitely think there is that movement. I don’t know if it's maybe one of the positives to come out of the pandemic that people are maybe more proactive to support startups and small businesses, if we are taking the positives from a pretty crap 18 months.

Sam: Yeah.

Alex: I want to ask you and get into the whole topic of sacrifice because you alluded to it when you said about being dead-ass broke. We definitely know that pain where you throw everything you've got into this and wholeheartedly go after it. So from your perspective, what does sacrifice mean? What does it look like on your pursuit of getting to this point of launching on Kickstarter?

Sam: Honestly, it's sad. It's just sad. I'm fortunate that I made some wise decisions when I was younger and I've always been a frugal person. I haven't got some mad exit from a previous company that's funded all of this. And so I left uni and instead of taking the root of going and working for a company, I'm just stubborn guy that was just like ‘Nope, I'm gonna do this’. And left uni and, honestly in my head I was so naive. I was like ‘yep, it's gonna cost like five grand to get like to launch and we're gonna put it on Kickstarter and we're gonna raise all this money’. Honestly just didn't have a clue. I did not have a clue. I'd had a previous business do this as well, but its a completely different sector and…Just so naive.

So I left uni and obviously went on this journey constantly spending money. I was just like ‘how the hell am I gonna make this pay?’ So along the way I set up a small sort of epay business. That's like the hustler mentality. I've always been…It's quite cliché, but anyone that knows me will just be like… I've just always been called ‘bellboy’. That is literally me to a T. Any way to make money and just make ends meet, I've always just done it. And I think that's instilled from my mom. She's always, from such a young age, she's just the most inspirational woman she's just gone on to if there was just any way that she could turn her hand to making money, she would and it's… Money doesn't rule everything. But when you've got money, it's a lot easier to do certain things. I've had to hustle my way through it to get to this point, whether that's through learning skills or earning wherever I could, selling off possessions. These are the sacrifices that I've had to make. Literally, don't do any, it's probably a stretch, but I don't really do anything socially. Just because it's all sort of unnecessary funds that are going out that could be going into the business. This is what I mean why it sounds quite sad because I probably come across as quite an extroverted person but I'm not. I’m a real introvert. If we go out or whatever, I'll look at things and I'll look at the price and I'm… It's, it's so sad. I'm so frugal. But it's the sacrifice that you make to get to this point, because there's people out there that will look to start a business and if it's 500 pound it'll cost, it's like nah, not gonna do it. But when you get into this game, like 500 pound can go in seconds. It's insane. And I've said to you before, I shouldn't have been able to get to this point with the budget I've had. I won't go into that, but I've literally just had… So I've sacrificed, made money where I can and everything that I've had has just gone into revenue generating areas. So I'm, I'm not going to go and pay for a fancy office. So it's we were actually, me and my partner, living in Sheffield and in order to fund the business, we had to move in with my parents again, which is at my age quite shocking to say and comes with obviously it's difficulties. But again, it's like, why would I pay like 6 or 700 pound or whatever and rent when that could be into the business.

And I'm fortunate obviously to have a family that supports me that I'm able to move back home. That's obviously sacrifice. Why would I pay for an office when it could be going into the business and I can work from a bedroom? It's a bedroom born brand, but on the outside, it looks as though we have this incredible team, which we do have an incredible team, but they're not a full time in the trenches day in day out, seeing everything. I think it’s a general overview. That's like an insight into the sacrifices that I've had to make to get to this point. I'm very much sort of living, I've given up my party years, let's say for the pursuit of this. I think it's a sacrifice worth making. And it's not one that I regret in any way. It's just a different path that I've taken from the path that I see my friends and stuff taken. Everyone's on different journeys.

Alex: I love that. Maybe that's why I think I love the story and what you're doing. Cause it's just absolute 100% commitment. But your point, I think you look back in or five years from now, will you remember the fancy meal that you went for? Will you remember the beers you went out for, or will you remember this point of launching a business? And I absolutely agree that you're spending in the right way, you're investing in the right way, because that's what ultimately you'll look back on with the right memories rather than another meal out, another beer with the mates.

Sam: Yeah. And I think those things are… Everyone's obviously different and I do still do those things. I don't want to come across as though I've not literally left the house in three years. But everything is outweighed against something. So it's like if I've had a good week or whatever and made money from somewhere, then I can. But at the same how I'm like, if I've like spent a fortune on this and that, or a legal fee that's come in or whatever, then I can't. So it's just all about being really smart with your money and making everything go as far as it possibly can. And if someone gives you a price for something, don't be afraid to wear your heart out on your sleeve and just ‘I can't afford that, but I can afford this’. Or you're not going to insult anyone, but if you're just straight up with people that's what I found that's got me to this point.

I would've had to raise investment. There's no way I could have possible, if I'd not done things the way that I've done them that I could have got to this point. And I think people focus so much on the vanity aspect. The fancy office and buying stock straight away and doing this and doing that and I've got a business card and, you know what I mean? It's everyone focused on the vanity and not on actually what generates revenue. And that's sort of where I've put everything. Everything else I can just figure out as I go.

Alex: Yeah, you're right. I think you're absolutely right. There is this notion that entrepreneurship, launching your business is this really sexy thing. Everybody wants to be the brand or the company that's hiring a big team and launching in X number of different countries, on markets on a weekly basis. But yeah, you're absolutely right. The reality of it isn't easy, but at the same time, I think it's also really highly rewarding as well.

Sam: Oh, massively. It’s like we joke my hairline is going. I'm not ashamed to say but it’s just as a result of everything. Nobody understands, obviously you will, Alex. But nobody understands the scenarios that go through your head and the sleepless nights and how are you going to pay for this? And is anyone going to even like the product? You know what I mean? All these things go through your mind and nobody sees it on the outside because you as a brand have to come across that you've got your shit together.

Alex: Very much.

Sam: You know what you are doing and you are literally the best brand ever, the best product ever. And nobody sees all the bullshit, the day-to-day; you're just constantly firefighting and just… But at the same time we mentioned resilience. It instills endless resilience that no matter what happens, everything is just minor. It's like with COVID, you know now your sell off, obviously with the way that it's impacted your business. Like now, how can it get any worse?

Alex: Yeah, agreed.

Sam: You know what I mean? Like literally, what would…

Alex: It's a breeze going forward now.

Sam: Yeah, and unless there's literally Armageddon, hopefully not in our lifetime. But nothing can really get any worse.

Alex: I entirely agree.

Sam: And I feel like I've said this all the way through COVID yeah, it can't get any worse. And then it ended up getting worse. I think from a business perspective, all the brands and businesses that have survived this era going forward will be so much stronger if they've just been able to knuckle down and just persevere and wipe this year off the record. I think everyone will be so much stronger.

Alex: Yeah, I agree. I want to pick up on a point, you mentioned about these thoughts you have or the negative side that's in your mind. From my perspective, when I first launched OneNine5, I don't know why, but I used to nip down to the supermarket nearby my apartment. And I used to always think, irrationally I thought well, you know, it doesn't work I guess I'll just have to work around the corner in the supermarket and keep OneNine5 going on the side. But these crazy thoughts, that are probably entirely irrational, don't need to be there, but they absolutely do creep in.

Sam: Yeah. I'm literally at the minute I am quite a pessimistic person and I should be a real optimist. I feel like you, as an entrepreneur, you can go either one or two ways. You can be really optimistic and just go with a product and run with it and just be like yep, it's going to work amazing. Or you could be really on the statistical side and think of all the worst case scenarios, which is, I think where I fall into it. So I try and prepare for everything that could go wrong rather than everything that could go right. So it’s just day-to-day I… literally be in the shower and I'm just thinking about something that's probably never even going to happen but I'm there fretting about it and I just have to shake it off. But the mental side and I'm not afraid to say I've suffered with mental health since the first year of uni, in various different forms but it sort of runs in the family. But that's something that I think gets thrown around a lot as well. I feel like the mental health card gets played so much, but, and I guess everyone suffers in their own different ways, so it's not fair to judge. But I feel like mental health is one thing in the mental health through entrepreneurship is a whole different ball game. If you're already suffering and then you've also piled all this pressure on yourself, it is how, and I don't think anyone can relate until they've gone through it themselves.

Alex: Yes. It's that daily internal conflict or turmoil, right?

Sam: Yeah. Because imagine if you suffer from that already. But then you're suffering from that from a brand perspective as well. If you also for in personally day-to-day, and then having to wear the brand as a brand ambassador as such day to day and all the worries that go with that and what people think about the brand. And if someone says something bad about OneNine5 for example, yes, you're not meant to get personally attached to it, but it's your baby. And it’s like you're so attached to it. And these things that people say do hurt. It is really hard to block things out and you suffer on the mental side of that as well as, or your personal day-to-day. I think everyone's suffered with COVID. Everyone's mental health is been absolutely burned.

Alex: So I remember like the first time we got maybe like a three-star review on Amazon, it was like a dagger to the heart now, now I'm absolutely okay with that. You have to accept that what you do isn't for everyone and that's absolutely fine, but yeah, first it's like attacking your own baby.

Sam: it is and that person probably didn’t realise, just leaving that review. They might've even missed clicked. You know what I mean? If they've not left, an obviously negative comment, but you get it. So it's like people unsubscribed from our email list and they don't even know they've done it. But I read it. It's like there was someone I've known for years subscribed to our email list and then unsubscribe and I can see it and I'm like fuck, this guy is not meant to be supportive. For all I know he just accidentally did it, but I'm not. This guy is meant to be supportive. And I'm seeing it. He probably thinks I don't know, but it probably was from no place of malice or whatever, but in the back of your head, it's like oh, he obviously doesn't me. Doesn’t like what we're doing. And all these things go through your head. And it's the same with the customer side.

Alex: He's not getting a Christmas card this year then?

Sam: Now he's not. [inaudible 35:37].

Alex: I want to get a bit more about the product itself, the backpack. I've been looking on it; I've been reading about the materials, the features of this. And you've given this so much consideration. So first thing, obviously we both work in a similar industry and I sort of mentioned it back at the start about the…The textile industry has a bad reputation right now. It's a bit of a dirty word because of fast fashion. But the likes of yourself are flying the flag for the positive reasons that you can build a business that does prioritise environmental sustainability and still work in this space. And if anybody's looking at your website or I'm guessing as well on the Kickstarter campaign, the publicity reference to the blue science system. So can you explain a bit more about that and what that actually means?

Sam: Yeah. So the BlueSign System is an accreditation that both manufacturing partners and actual factories that assemble things and the actual fabric mills work to get. But it's really hard to actually become BlueSign accredited. So essentially what it means is that the processes that you take to produce the raw materials, well, fabrics from raw materials or the products that you produce from materials are following the strictest possible environmentally conscious processes. So for example, the water that's used to actually dye the products rather than it just going straight back out into the environment, is filtered and then gone back into the environment. It ensures that the staff are paid a fair wage, it ensures that the staff are given a meal and they work in a healthy environment, a friendly environment and a happy environment. That is in essence what the Blue Science System is and what a BlueSign Partner is. So we ensure that all of our factories from the textile mills to the trims that we use to the manufacturing partner that we use are either BlueSign accredited or they're ethically certified. So whether that's through the Fairway Foundation or another similar certificate, and that just ensures that everyone's being properly looked after. Whereas, and this is what I touched on before about like sites like Alibaba and stuff like that. You know, when you're working with them all you're doing is literally sending a message and they've got a profile photo, but you don't even know if that person's even real. A lot of the time they're like a reseller, but we have obviously in the UK that they're just an agent that's working on behalf of another factory and you don't really know where products are coming from.

So we're really proud of that transparency in what we do. And in the future, we want to have full transparency of all the partners that we work with, and all their accreditation's because at the minute, obviously we can't because it's a competitive industry and we're… It's not a case of we’re secretive of who we work with, but it's just when you've got competitors, that's all [inaudible 38:56] I see who you're working with and see if they can get a better deal and all that. You're then going to lose out as a result. So you have to get to a point where you're large enough for that not to impact you. And obviously it was being quite small, but it's something that we're going to push for in the future is to have a full A-Z transparency of our whole supply chain. But that's the BlueSign System in a whole

Alex: Very cool. I think a lot of people will see this, but maybe don't always necessarily know what the meaning is behind it. And it's one of the key things that we wanted to do with the podcast was to speak to businesses like yourself to really understand this because  we've got other episodes coming down the line where we're talking about things like 1% for the planet. So there's all this kind of thing where we're really interested to uncover the story and the commitment behind what might just be a logo on somebody's website.

Sam: Yeah, I think as well there's a lot of brands at the minute that they… We touched on this before about like greenwashing and it being a marketing buzzword, but they don't actually have a true understanding of these accreditation and the processes. And it's really easy to be like oh, our products are made from plastic bottles. But it's like are they? You know what I mean? It's really hard because there's no visual difference between fabrics that are made from post-consumer and fabrics that are made from virgin plastics. So I think you're very much placed in your trust in the brand itself and what they're telling you. But I see some runs and I'm like, it's probably not. It's probably not.

Alex: And they probably know there’s no way of ultimately a customer delving to find that out.

Sam: I think there will be now. I think there will be at some point there'll be some government legislation that's passed or international trade law or whatever, where you have to be able to prove every step of your supply chain if you're going to be selling yourself as a sustainable brand.

Alex: I think we’re getting there, aren’t we? I don't know that there's a couple of different companies out there already now. So there's a company called Compare Ethics in the UK that are doing exactly that. So they almost offered up third party accreditation. Yeah, you're right. It needs to move in that direction.

Sam: Yeah. I don't think it should be something that you can quite easily say. There’s massive brands as well where bizarrely they… So they've got a full range of thousands of products. Let's say hundreds of products that are made from virgin plastics or just regular textile, but then they've got this little spin-off range that's sustainable. But it's made from say discarded nylon, recycled plastic bottles, whatever you want to say, recycled plastics. But then it turns up in loads of plastic, like three plastic bags and a plastic mailing bag.

Alex:  It defeats the object.

Sam: If your sustainability isn't at your core of what you do, don't do it. Don't try and half-ass it because it's just not going to reflect well on you. Not everyone can be sustainable. I don't think it's within the business model of certain businesses. And everyone can make steps too, but if you're not actively sort of showing an effort… I get that with these massive multi-level conglomerates that they're not able to straight away make that switch. But at least publicly show an effort. Start with change in all of your packaging, that'd be a start. This is a prime example. I ordered something. I've literally picked it. It was a t-shirt not that I ever frequently purchase anything these days. It was a t-shirt it just turns up in two plastic bags. And I'm just like why? Why? That was all.

Alex: I thought [inaudible 42:49] that you… I think it was LinkedIn where you were calling out Boohoo’ for the rip off of Pangaia’s tracksuits, which I enjoyed as well.

Sam: I don’t know how they do it. It was literally just the most design with sunglasses on. That's how much effort goes into their processes. It's poor form. Especially when you're copying a brand that has sustainability at the core of everything they do and they really do it well. That's one of the brands that I do actually really like. I’ve got a friend that works for them and I know that it's everything they do that is at the core, they go above and beyond and then you've got Boohoo, who everyone knows aren't a sustainable brand copying them, with no sustainable intentions in mind, just laughable.

Alex: I feel like if I ask any more questions, this could get going for a lot longer and I'll get you going on this. So I'll hold back any more around that topic. And I've got one more specific to you and then I want to get into a little bit sort of the practical side and the advice. Real short one, but what is the purpose for you and Reika bags going forward?

Sam: Big question. You might start me off here. So purpose obviously, mission. So yes, it starts with the products being sustainable, but our greater mission is actually instead of just recycling plastics and selling great products, we want to actually give back to the planet itself in terms of funding our own beach cleans and supportive initiatives. Quite similar to what you just said about 1% for the planet, we've called it 1% for the ocean. We can plan on in the future being part of initiatives, like one set for the planet. Because I do think they are great initiatives and I'm a huge, admirer of Yvon Chouinard, which is the founder of Patagonia who started on set for the planet. Because everything that they do is so much thought and, honesty behind it. If you've ever read Let My People Go Surfing by him, have you?

Alex: It's being downloaded on my Kindle for awhile. I'm a bad reader these days, don't have the time. I'm more of a podcast man. But it's there. It's ready to be read, I’ve not gotten to it yet.

Sam: I'm not reading at all. I listened to the audio book. It is brilliant. Cause it's him that narrated it. So you do get a true insight into his story. But he had a bit of a spin off on that one. But my purpose is just actually having something, a greater mission than just caring about our bottom line. That is our purpose in a nutshell. We obviously want to bring out more products in the future and expand into other product categories. But I want Reika to just be a symbol of just getting out there and doing something with your life, whether that's through business or whether that's an adventure travel journey, whatever that slogan is, ‘Life won’t wait’. And it's quite true. And I think this year has shown everyone that life won't wait and you've got to grab the bull by the horns. And if you want to do something, just go and do it,

Alex:  Loved the slogan by the way. You’re right. Whether you planned it during the pandemic, but it definitely resonates now more than ever.

Sam: We've had the trademark since the start, so like three years and for ‘Life won’t wait’ it's just… It’s something my Dad used to say. My dad came up with it. I think it usually comes out with something [inaudible 46:36] I'll be like I need a slogan and he'll pull something out of nowhere. I think he's got a breakdown of Reika in terms of letters. I can't remember what the word is to explain it. But he breaks every letter down into a word and a slogan. He's got all these little things that he comes out with. But he said “Life won’t wait’ and I was like you’re right. And I think it was just something that he used to say growing up.

Alex: It’s almost like your Dad knew something we didn't.

Sam: Yeah, maybe. But it's, it's similar obviously to Nikes with ‘Just do it’. Cause it's true, isn't it? Like the live show is the same with what I'm doing now with Reika. It's all because life is short and what is the point in doing something that doesn't excite you every day, doesn't fuel you obviously everyone needs to earn a living and everyone needs to have a job, everyone's not fortunate enough to be able to, for example, move back home like I have and start this venture. People have kids buy mortgages, whatever. But just make sure you do something you love. That's what I'd say that.  

Alex: All for taking a risk. I agree with you. I think it's a good philosophy for life. On practical question, we sort of touched on this before, but for anybody that doesn't have that design background that didn't study Product Design at university, but they've got an interest or a passion to launch a product-based business. What's the advice? Where would you start if you're thinking I want to create this but I don't know how to create I don't know anybody in that network. What would be the real practical first steps you would suggest to somebody to get that ball rolling?

Sam: Buckle up and learn. That was the harshest way. It depends on budgets. So if you have a budget, then obviously there's some fantastic design agencies in the UK. I think that's something that we are blessed with. We have great design agencies over here, up and down the UK and you can speak to someone. But if you don't have the budget, but you have a pen and paper, get something down on paper and just make it happen. We’re so blessed to have so many educational resources. Just literally, YouTube and Google to your heart's content. Some of the stuff will be irrelevant because it will be dated knowledge. But just listen and learn. Podcasts are a great thing as well. People that have been through it as well, because clearly if someone else has done it and they you've not had a design background, you've only got to look at Jim Sharp, for example. Ben Francis, he's the most inspiring individual because he's gone from printing t-shirts in his bedroom to this unicorn brand, a billion dollar brand. It's insane. And that's not someone that had design background at all. That's just someone that knew what’s a great product… And people think that you have to have the most fancy sketch and 3D drawing and this and that, because this is very much glamorised through concepts. So a lot of product designers and agencies, a lot of it is conceptual. So it has to be glamorised because it's not able to be a tangible, physical thing yet because of the tolling cost, et cetera. And I think everyone thinks that is actually what they need to be to be able to create to that standard, but actually in manufacturing it isn’t, especially not for bags.

If you literally saw some of my sketches… I'm able to sketch to a high standard, yes of course. But they're like fact packets sketches they're horrific. That is the standard I work to. And a factory is able to interpret something. And the other thing, obviously COVID, it's been a nightmare for going over and seeing a factory. But you know, if you can just do it, just do a simple sketch and show a factory, they'll interpret it in their own way, I know for a fact. So we basically create these tech packs. I say we, it's the Royal way, it's me. So I create these tech packs for every product that we create. And they're basically just isometrics so 2D views of each side of the product and then just little annotations. So if you find a product that has a certain little feature, let's say it's like some knurling on a surface and you want to apply that to your product, put a picture in. You're dealing with the factory most likely that's in the Far East. Obviously great if you can manufacture in the UK, then it'll be even easier. But you're dealing with someone that probably doesn't speak great English and is interpreting things on a greater level through an image. So don't be sort of disheartened if you can just do a simple sketch. If you can go over there even better cause you'd be able to work with them and iterate way faster than you will on an email or a video call. There's loads of different ways you can do it. And obviously it's product dependent and budget dependent. If you've got the budget and you're raising money through Angels, for example, then by all means hire people and do it right. I'm not for one minute saying don't hire people because you might end up with an absolute dinosaur of a product. If budgets don't permit, don't, don't just give up, don't just think you can't do this because you've not got money. Because the world very much makes you believe that because the way the world works, as everyone knows. Well, I think don't ever underestimate the underdog, you can go places.

Alex: I love this philosophy. It's a learning philosophy, but I love that the passion behind it all. Really, really cool.

Sam: I'm just happy that I can share it.

Alex: Impart some wisdom.

Sam: I actually read, this might be irrelevant as well just in terms of entrepreneurship, I read a quote the other day and it was like…what did it go like? It was something like ‘entrepreneurship is jumping off a cliff and assembling the plane on the way down’. That is literally it.

Alex: Very true.

Sam: You don't have a clue. You're jumping off and who knows? It could go one of two ways or it could not go. This is me with launch day tomorrow. I've done everything that I possibly can to get to this point. And nobody can tell me that I could have done more. And I'm just like, I'm just going to take that leap and see where we are up. And it would be great to revisit this in a year's time, let's say. Or even a months time after the campaign and just be like wow, what a contrast to see where we were at. So I think it's great, like you say, to be able to talk about the process, to get to this point rather than just the success.

Alex: Yeah. I'm sure it's going to be a big success. I really am. I mean, I'm ready and waiting tomorrow to back the project.

Sam: Ready and waiting, I love it.

Alex: If anybody else that is listening, before I let you go, I want to just give you one last chance to throw the plug for Reika bags. So if anybody's listening, where do they find you? How do they get involved? How do they back the project? So give us all the links and the important information.

Sam: Head over onto the Kickstarter we’ll still be running. And you'll be able to get a large discount, the largest discount we'll ever offer. So at the time of this going live, the price will be 149, which will be around a 33% discount. But you'll be the first to own and we'll never be offering a discount of this size. We're offering the travel pack, an arrange of modular accessories for both traveling and photography. I think we've touched on everything in terms of products and materials, et cetera. If anyone would like to support us it would mean the absolute world to me. And when you're supporting a project like this, just know that every name, every individual is recognised by me. You're not just a number. And that's the difference when you support in a brand such as OneNine5, or such as Reika. What's that thing that people say, as a small business you do a happy dance every time you get an order. It's so true. Like I know my email lists, names on my email list. I see them as like the initial founding people of this brand. If anyone would like to support, then it would mean the world, but no pressure.

Alex: Sam, best of luck. I think you're going to smash it. And I I'm keen to see where things go beyond on this point, cause I think you're going to do big, big things.

Sam: Thank very much Alex. I really appreciate it.

Alex: Cheers for your time, mate. And hopefully when you finally get down to London, when you've got a day off I look forward to a proper catch-up maybe over a beer, maybe only one beer because we're being frugal and  being sensible.

Sam: I knew that was coming, but definitely.

Alex: We'll get the shandys in.

Sam: We'll get the shandies in. Once the dust is settled with everything and I'm less stressed, and there's more time for those types of activities. But we won't promote them too much.

Alex: Count me in. Best of luck, Sam.

Sam: I'm really pleased to have been asked to be on this podcast, Alex. I think you're doing some amazing work with both OneNine5 and the podcast itself.

Alex: Thanks a lot.

Sam: Keep up the good work and like I say, I feel really honoured to have been asked to come up.

Alex: I appreciate that. Well, the pleasure's been all mine.

Sam: Yeah. Take care, man.

Alex: See you later. Bye-bye.

If you're still with me, thanks for taking the time to listen to The Purpose Podcast. I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting. If you did and you're listening to this on Apple podcasts massively appreciate if you could take a minute to leave us a positive review. And if there's a friend or family member that might enjoy or benefit from listening to this, please share a link with them on either Apple podcasts or Spotify. If you're curious to learn more about our eco-conscious travel goods, give us a follow on Instagram, which is @OneNine5 or head to onenine5.com, or you can also get 10% of your first purchase when you sign up to our newsletter. And for each weekly podcast, you'll also find a blog post, with some highlights and learnings from the episode, along with a full written transcript. Thanks again, we'll speak soon.

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