I first met Shana Kent of the amazing Survive Design last year when we shared a booth together at the Renegade show here in LA. The show put us together as we both wanted a booth mate. This can be really great or a disaster. Luckily for me Shana is really easy going and a great person to spend all weekend with in a 10' x 10' square of space! We decided to share booths again most recently at the SF Renegade show, and it was there we got to talking more about her eco handbag line and how she got started. We also decided to start selling her line of organic , fair trade and super cute canvas bags on our 11:11 enterprises Amazon Store. Check them out! They sell like hot cakes at these shows- people were lining up to buy them and stores were asking for her catalog left and right. I hope you enjoy hearing her story as much as I did. She is a true inspiration and someone who actually puts her money and time where her heart and mouth is.
When did you first think of starting your company Survive Design?
About 5 years ago. Working in the fashion industry designing handbags and accessories for over 10 years I have seen a lot of disposable fashion made in often very toxic ways.
I wanted to find a way to combine my love for graphic design, and the environment with a product that was functional, well-made, worked within fair trade and labor standards or higher, and was unique and fun. It took a few years to establish the business and develop the needed techniques for the product, but I have been up and running for 2 years now.
Did you go to school to learn handbag design- and if not how did you learn?
I did not. I have a graphic design and illustration degree, and focused a great deal on metal-smithing as well. I went to a university, not an art school, and feel it gave me a much more well rounded experience. I started off designing packaging and displays for jewelry, then moved into full time jewelry design, and before I knew it was doing home decor items, handbags, belts, and other accessories. I learned on the job by trial and error, and by always being willing to take the risk of failure and volunteering to take on something new. I believe that good design comes from pairing creativity and good technique with a good sense of color and form as well as an awareness of function. This translates into any form of design.
Tell us a bit about the challenges you overcame in creating a bag line that is both ecologically responsible and affordable.
First was finding Organic cotton that could be certified and is truly grown without chemicals, and farmed in an eco friendly way. I was lucky enough to have some friends in India, which supplies a great deal of the organic cotton to the industry.
Second was finding a way to dye and print the fabrics in a non-toxic way with proper waste disposal, while still making sure the bags would be washable. In order to do this I partnered with my friends in India and set up a facility there that could meet all certification as well as provide jobs and good working conditions.
Third was cost. There were not a lot of farms growing organic cotton in the US at the time, and those that did were very expensive. When I started Survive Design organic was just starting to be talked about for mass production and most organic or eco friendly products were very expensive. It was important to me to make an affordable product. The company was established under the idea that if we are going to make a difference we need to be accessible to all people, not just the wealthy. This was a big part in the final decision to partner with India for the fabric development.
What are your plans for growing your company, what's next for Survive Design?
I will continue to grow the handbag product line and would eventually like to grow the company into a lifestyle brand, making eco friendly clothing and home decor and gift products.
I hope to be opening a store front within the next year to showcase both Survive Design product as well as other artists products that are eco friendly and handmade.
Do you have any advice for aspiring handbag designers? Things you would do different if you knew then what you know now?
I think that mostly you just have to be willing to take a risk and try. Often the greatest knowledge comes from a mistake.You must be flexible and able to modify you plans whether simply in the design of your product, or in you business plan. Don't be afraid to experiment and make adjustmetns. With today's pace of information and ever changing economy your business plan must be fluid.
For those in school or just starting out as an artist and or business owner,
1- TAKE SOME BUSINESS CLASSES!
The business side of things, marketing yourself and your product, managing your money, being organized with inventory and billing are what will make or break your business, and if you are like me and most artist friends of mine, this is not your favorite part and requires a very different set of skills.
2- KNOW WHEN TO LET GO.
It is hard to let go of any part of your art or business because it is so much a part of you, but the best thing you can do for yourself, your business, and your art is to know what your skills are and are not, and not be afraid to look for help.
For me that meant, even when money is tight and I was starting out, finding an accountant I could trust. It meant creating a team I could trust to do the printing and dying, as I could not do this in an eco friendly way out of my home. or studio. And now as the business grows, it means finding sales reps and realizing I just cannot be everywhere at one time. ]]>