Preserving Traditional Craft And Social Responsibility All In One Brand

Many companies and start-ups are re-evaluating their business models in hopes to make a more lasting impact on the global economy by focusing their efforts to become more sustainable. Shifting to a supply chain sustainable strategy must come from the top down.
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Today's corporate landscape has had its pitfalls with companies taking superfluous risk all in the hopes of making that quick buck. But what about a socially minded capitalist -- or better yet socially minded companies? Yes -- they are out there, and this new trend of entrepreneurs are becoming more common in this new economical renaissance we are having in the United States. Many companies and start-ups are re-evaluating their business models in hopes to make a more lasting impact on the global economy by focusing their efforts to become more sustainable. It is a difficult task for CEOs and other executives as they try to steer their companies towards these models, as they can't be short sighted in their decision-making by reacting to market trends in the short term, especially with the current economic crisis.

Shifting to a supply chain sustainable strategy must come from the top down. But the real questions is: Are these companies doing this truly to be sustainable or just to market themselves as such in order to get that quick sale? We are all familiar with the Chinese proverb, "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." This proverb is something to really consider when a company markets itself as a sustainable company or one that claims to follows this model.

As avid travelers, we tend to seek out culture and environment -- preserved traditions and natural beauty. However, as a result of the expanding corporate economy, this richness that a traveler takes away from their jet-setting adventures is slowly diminishing from the world. Few incentives have been put in place by the government for companies to reduce their global footprint and support world communities. The responsibility now falls to the consumer, or in this case the traveler, to be conscious enough to make environmentally aware and socially responsible decisions while exploring the world.

Travelers and adventure-seekers will agree that one of the most essential items for travel is a sturdy backpack. Ethnotek, founded by fellow travelers and vagabonds based out of Minnesota, is a backpack company that has taken on this commission of creating a business model that aligns with global social awareness. Co-founded by Jake Orak, inspiration for the organization first came during an adventure Orak undertook in 2007 to Vietnam. During the excursion he came across the Hmong hill tribe and uncovered their embroidered fabrics, each telling a unique story about village life. Orak quickly fell in love with the fabrics and created a sentimental connection with the Hmong as he came to understand the stories behind the weavings. Having experience in textiles, and recognizing that he had uncovered a rare gem in the industry, he set out to develop Ethnotek. Today Ethnotek purchases handmade textiles directly from the villages they are conceived in at the exact market rate that the village charges; these fabrics are then used as the interchangeable front panel of their packs. In partnering directly with artisans to create their backpacks, Ethnotek helps to preserve a traditional craft; they put money in the hands of workers who are otherwise suffering as a result of the rise of factory-produced goods. In turn, they are contributing to a sustainable global economy and preserving cultures and environments that we as backpackers seek to explore.

With a focus on sustainable business, the company has taken a number of measures to ensure success and create a model that keeps needles threaded, looms moving, and dye baths full: They offer a variety of style threads for their bags to help ensure audience demand and continued production, and they do regular consumer testing, to see which fabrics are most popular amongst consumers.

"We thought long and hard about how to present the original idea of Ethnotek. It's no accident that we chose bags as the product to present the idea to the world. If you were to pair the idea with a product that no one wants to buy, or belongs to a niche market, then the likelihood of achieving sustainability or longevity of any kind decreases. That is why bags make sense, especially ones that can be updated and customized," expresses Orak.

The interchangeable thread concept for the front panel of the bags offers consumers the ability to personalize their bag and obtain multiple looks without having to purchase multiple backpacks. This model also helps increase the likelihood of the consumer to purchase more fabric styles, further contributing to these communities. Current fabric thread styles are bought from Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Ghana and Guatemala and Ethnotek is looking to expand, planning to explore opportunities in South America as well as partner with the Native American community here in the United States.

Furthering the cause, the Ethnotek team has also made it a focus to recycle their fabrics -- turning scraps into colorful bracelets -- as well as seek out recycled materials from other companies that can be used constructively in their products (e.g. incorporating shoe laces from nearby shoe factories into the production of their bag handles).

Ethnotek has genuinely made strong efforts when developing their business model to be a truly sustainable company, unlike some other companies that make these claims, but realistically fall short. As consumers we must be more conscious of our purchasing habits, especially when making active efforts to support the global economy. However, be wary of many companies that claim they are sustainable. Do your own research to ensure you aren't just supporting another corporate wolf in sheep's clothing."

For more on Ethnotek or get your very own bag go to

Master weaver of the Bhujodi Village, Gujarat, India

Preserving Traditional Craft and Socially Responsible All in One Brand

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