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FIELDTESTER | Jake of Ethnotek Bags

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Jake is the founder of Ethnotek, a travel bag company that specialised in ethically sourced handmade textiles. Much like MATTER, Ethnotek believes in sustaining employment for the art of hand printing, weaving and embroidery. Celebrating culture, community and keeping traditional artisanal techniques alive.

In all the turns and about turns through life so far, what is the one thing that has stayed constant in motivating you?

I would say that the single most motivating factor that keeps me going is being able to see people all over the world psyched about what we do. Our tribe of customers are so dedicated and passionate about our mission and love sharing photos on social media of their adventures with their bags which shows us that our bags aren’t just a bag to them. They become ambassadors for our message to keep culture alive through sustainable employment for authentic traditional handmade textiles. Seeing their understanding, support and pride in what we do is unbelievably rewarding. The movement is growing and gaining momentum every year. Seeing a picture on Instagram of an #etktribe member proudly rocking their bag on travels around the world can make any bad day bright! It’s a great way to feel connected. Also by reading the outpouring of feedback and positive reviews online after people have received and used their bags pushes me to always push the design envelope and keep dreaming up new and innovative carrying solutions.

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Hardest part in the Ethnotek journey so far? Proudest moment?

The hardest parts in our journey have also been our most important lessons. It’s what any small business owner has experienced at least once… “The Dip”… Sometimes cash gets tight, mistakes happen, payroll has to be deferred which always hurts because I understand that there are individual people who are affected by the dip. It’s in those hard times that we’ve been at our most creative. It forces you to look at things differently, change directions and sometimes start from scratch. I’m blessed to have been able to surround myself with extremely intelligent, flexible, understanding and loyal people who show their true colors through the dips and have stayed on to weather the storm rather than withdraw from the challenge. That’s the beauty of running a business that has a mission of social good at the core. It becomes less about the money and more about the shared goal of doing something positive for the planet and our fellow humans who inhabit it. If “the why” of your business is to do good and your ego is humble enough to always ask for help, being open to suggestions and admitting to your own mistakes, you’d be amazed at how many great people will go out of their way to help you.

Our proudest moment happened on my last trip to visit the artisans in India and discussing the impact Ethnotek has had on their community. What started with one family weaving 3 months out of the year on Ethnotek fabric in 2011, has now grown to 12 families across 5 different villages weaving 7-8 months a year. Obviously the goal if for sustainable year round employment and fortunately we’re close. Either way it is proof of concept that customers buying bags has helped grow and sustain employment of this traditional craft. On that same trip I was able to meet some of the next generation weavers. These are people between the ages of 18-20 that have choosen to stay in their village to learn their family’s traditional craft and keep it alive as opposed to taking jobs at nearby factories. In many of the villages we work with, a shared problem is with the youth becoming disinterested in carrying on their traditional craft. That is why it’s so inspiring seeing individuals that value the continuation of textile weaving and the preservation of their culture that is woven into them. I flicked though our Instagram account with them, showing customers around the world carrying bags with fabric they made which got them really excited!

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Proudest moment was my last trip to visit the artisans in India and discussing the impact Ethnotek has had on their community. What started with one family weaving 3 months out of the year on Ethnotek fabric in 2011, has now grown to 12 families across 5 different villages weaving 7-8 months a year. Obviously the goal if for sustainable year round employment and we’re close. Either way it is proof of concept that customers buying bags has helped grow and sustain employment for this traditional craft. On that same trip I was able to meet some of the next generation weavers. People between the ages of 18-20 choosing to stay in the village to learn their family’s traditional craft and keep it alive as opposed to taking jobs at nearby factories. In many of the villages we work with, a shared problem is with youth being disinterested in carrying on their traditional craft due to the painstaking work, patience required and potentially low pay. That is why it’s so inspiring seeing individuals that value the continuation of textile weaving and the preservation of their culture that is woven into them. Really cool to see! I flicked though our Instagram account with them, showing customers around the world carrying bags with their fabric on them, and got them really excited!

How do you hope to change the industry, either in terms of consumers, supply chain or product?

I hope to show the financial and manufacturing community that companies and brands like Ethnotek and Matter can succeed while doing something socially valuable and it can be scalable. Hopefully this will encourage other brands to convert to a more responsible sourcing model and promote the use of traditional handmade materials.

Long lead times and high price-points will be less feared when sales metrics prove that there is a massive base of consumers out there who demand and value the stories built into their products and the transparency in knowing that their dollars are going to a good cause. Ethnotek is also proving that handmade traditional textiles can stand up to the rigors of your daily adventures… I think there’s a misconception that handmade goods are inferior in quality and strength. In some cases that’s true, but when the application is modernized and combined with other materials that provide strength and longevity, it allows to art live on longer than it would by itself. Sometimes it pays to be curious enough to combine seemingly disparate materials in the design process.

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What would you be doing if not living the Ethnotek founder’s life?

I suppose I could possibly have a well-paying design gig for some other company living a cushy, but relatively unhappy life. That’s not me. If it wasn’t Ethnotek, I’m sure I’d start some other social or eco enterprise. I prefer to use my education, experience and talent for good. It’s in my DNA. The same goes for my wife, Cori. She’s been our #1 supporter from the get-go and is now our Administrative Manager. Well, her title should be more like “Glue” because she’s the one that holds it all together and keeps things organized. I couldn’t do it without her. She and I would be doing the same thing either way, living internationally and finding ways to give back while creating cool & useful things.

Next place and activity on your bucket list?

We’re launching a new design on Kickstarter that we’re super pumped about. Stay tuned for that one!

Words to live by

Fail often, travel more, get outside of your comfort zone as much as possible and always try new things… It’s the quickest path to learning, evolving and having fun.. At least for me it has. My parents always joke with me when saying “there’s never a dull moment with you son”. I take that as a compliment :-)

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We are inspired by Jake’s passion for artisanship and xxx, and are proud to have them as Fieldtesters, a group of inspiring friends that regularly test MATTER products in their workplace and trails to help us improve durability and design. Jake is wearing the The Modern Monpe + All Eye Teal, Size 1.