Can you tell us who you are and your position at Bellroy?
Andy Fallshaw, CEO of Bellroy - Can you give us a brief history of the brand? The seed was planted when I was studying at the Glasgow School of Art in 1999. I was dirt poor, and needed a wallet. Some sailcloth, a yard of binding, a needle and thread, and there was the seed of our Slim Sleeve wallet, minus some polish. Funnily enough, that first sailcloth wallet was later passed to my brother and remained in use for over a decade. Then, in 2009, some friends and I set up a blog called Carryology as a place for ‘carry’ enthusiasts to connect and share ideas. We started learning a lot of things from that community – what people liked, what they didn’t like, how certain design habits were letting them down. And one thing we knew we could fix first up, was wallets. A year of design and planning later, we sold our first wallet in August 2010. We'd worked out how to reduce the bulk, and for the next 5 years, helped pioneer a shift to slim wallets. In 2016 we started introducing new products – phone cases and work accessories – and then late last year we released our first range of bags. We are still drawing plenty of insights from the Carryology community, and Bellroy customers, to figure out what needs ‘fixing’.
Let’s jump into a message we all love, sustainability. Bellroy is very passionate and proud of using business as a force for good. Run us though the exact procedures Bellroy has put in place to help benefit the environment and the people involved?
We struggle to communicate this sometimes, because we think so deeply about it. And it’s hard. But, put simply, our most important principle is to make sure our products are made to last – and be loved – for as long as possible. Almost every sustainability framework agrees on this – keeping products in service for longer is one of the best shifts we can make. Within Bellroy, we talk about this as Day 1, Day 1000. We want our products to be even more loved on Day 1000 than they could be on the day they arrive. We have to understand our customers, understand their goals, and design products that will not only serve them well through quality construction, but also continue to delight them well beyond the initial excitement. Our leathers are sourced solely from gold-rated Leather Working Group tanneries (gold-rated for environmental practices) and our materials are non-toxic. We also make sure everything has strong, hard-wearing stitching, tightly woven lining, long-lasting zips and quality components, so they last. We work hard to understand the total impact of our products, from conception through its life of use and then in disposal. We still have a long way to go, but as part of our overriding vision, it is always a factor in any decision we make.
You are also part of the B Corp movement, what exactly does that mean?
We think of the B Corp community as as a group of businesses that care about more than just profit – practically speaking, it’s a global framework that rates businesses on how much ‘good’ they are doing to solve social and environmental issues. We’re rated highly by B Corp for limiting our impact on the environment, campaigning for the welfare of animals, and donating a portion of our revenue to effective charities.
Your goals are based on Cradle To Cradle principles. Let’s talk through some of these and why they were chosen to mould your own plans off.
Navigating the myriad of ways to lower the impact of products can be daunting. With so many options, how do you weigh up recyclable versus biodegradable, plant-based versus synthetic, for example? We wanted a framework that could help us make these decisions every day, in ways that would create genuine impact. Of all the frameworks we delved into, Cradle to Cradle (C2C) felt the most resolved, and actionable. We adapted these principles in our own environmental goals, which you can read here. So for instance, we have a strong focus on eliminating toxic substances. This includes avoiding materials that are toxic to our environment (bleaches, pesticides and heavy metals) and materials that can be toxic to humans (carcinogens used in poorly controlled leather tanning and chrome plating, or high allergy materials such as nickel). And at every stage, we look to optimise for the whole system, not just a tiny part of it.
What first prompted this approach to your products and why?
In C2C, they give the metaphor of a cherry tree that erupts into a fantastic display of fruit and blossom every year – it's not wasteful, because the loop is closed and the nutrients fall from the tree back into the earth and get recycled. I'd hate to think that the only way for us to live sustainably is by ‘going without’. As humans we love beautiful, useful and considered things. And if we can learn to produce those in ways that don't screw over future generations, we should all be able to live more joyful lives.
What is one message you want to spread far and wide? How important are these practices when it comes down to it?
Oh gosh I'm not sure I have anything profound enough for a single universal message! Perhaps I can resort to a quote that comes from Nick Bostrom, a philosopher who spends a lot of time thinking about the future: "We can think of wisdom as the ability to get the important things approximately right." I find it a really useful definition because it reminds me to keep our focus on the important things. And that they don't need to be perfect – because if we can just keep progressing on the important things, I'm hopeful we'll get to a better place soon enough.
How important are these practices? These specific practices are pretty good, but they're not the only good practices. So long as we're all hunting for better ways, and genuinely pursuing them, perhaps we can start to overhaul some of the broken paradigms that can't be ignored much longer.