Danny Pritchard from Duffle & Co talks doing good through business, spending his life savings on 100 leather bags and the trip through India that brought Duffle & Co to life...
We heard that you started Duffle & Co after seeing artisans in India struggle to earn a fair wage for their hard work. Can you tell us a little more about that fateful decision to spend your life savings on 100 bags?
We weren't planning on starting a social enterprise - it just worked out that way. I was trying to avoid going to work for a corporate giant so went travelling. During my time in India I saw inequality, poverty yet also countless opportunities for people to support themselves. Coincidentally I then met some guys on the side of the road, learned how they made their bags and realised their craft was an opportunity. These guys used to work for big factories, but their factories closed and moved to china, leaving these skilled craftsman on the street with no job. Social enterprise is a bit of a buzzword now, but back then (three and a half years ago) it wasn't really a thing. Wewanted to connect them and their craft to NZ and the rest of the world, and in doing so provide them with a means to support themselves.
So you just called your old friend Kai and went from there?
Kai (co-founder of Duffle & Co) and I met in Europe on a Contiki tour when we were 18 and met up again in uni. We had already started a business in Dunedin so we were already on the same page. When it came to these leather bags, we scraped what money we had at the time together. This wasn't very much! I was on the last leg of my trip, coming back to NZ and I knew I could bunk at my parents house to save us some money. It's a good job too, as we spent every last penny! It's funny looking back as I have never been into fashion, nor bags, and knew nothing about online business. It started with having the bags under my bed to now, a few years later, where we have our own distribution centre and are supporting artisans in Nepal, India and Bali.
It's really cool to see a company making it so accessible for other companies to do good. Do you see this as the future of successful business?
I think that in 20 years time, good businesses won't have a negative environmental or social impact, but great businesses will be reversing the impacts - that's what customers want. Impact equates to profit for future businesses, if you look at businesses even now, 90% of board meetings have sustainability on their agenda. Businesses that are not sustainable or ethical are going to rot to make way for ones that lead with sustainable and ethical practices.
At present, there is still a disconnect - we work with businesses wanting to do social good by providing them with bespoke corporate gifts and goods. When you tell the businesses we work with the price we offer for say, a hand stitched leather bag, we often hear it does't fit in the budget and that's a challenge. We try create as much value for them as possible so they see the value in something long lasting and socially good, rather than something gimmicky.
With Duffle & Co, our goal is to work towards businesses not just slowing down impact but reversing it . When I googled the definition of sustainable business, essentially it means avoiding the depletion of resources to maintain a ecological balance.
Essentially, we are working towards reversing these negative impacts. Our products serve to empower people. For example, when we sell a bespoke product to another business, say a leather bag imprinted with the companies logo, we make sure they are aware of the impact their purchase is creating. Their product provides x many days of work, provides increase in staff moral conveying the good in the purchase, which begins a word of mouth ripple effect. We aim to make products timeless, so the logo is still going to be on the product in 40 years time - that's 40 years of marketing! It's really great for brand image.
How do you think we can work towards making sure companies with social purpose is the future of commerce, rather than the power balance being in large corporations?
It starts with the customer, and education. Seeing this today - 2/3 millennials these days think about the sustainable impacts of a product before they but it, and millennials don't want to work for a company that are not doing good. If we continue this global movement by advocating for sustainable and good businesses, this would continue to help businesses do good succeed, otherwise they won't survive. No one wants to work for them or buy their product.
We are seeing collaborations and connectivity online which helps drive this movement. The key thing is education and making sure people understand. Educating people how serious issues are is really the key - if people can understand the crisis we are in, and they continue to rally for change, then businesses have to adapt, otherwise they won't have a business. It all starts with people.
We all have a social responsibility - Duffle & Co (and other social enterprises) have a responsibility to educate the market and be influential in getting people behind it. This movement need leaders to get behind it and inspire people to make right decision.
Not only are your products produced in a quality, environmental, ethical and community focused way - you also donate a percentage of the profits to the local community of New Zealand. How important is this positive impact in your business model? Is this something that you intentionally set out to do?
It was actually an accumulation of lots of moments that drove us becoming less profit and more impact orientated. When we first started, social enterprise wasn't a thing, but we thought it was cool to help communities which is why we started in the first place. But then everything changed through our experiences - hearing the stories and seeing the impact has seen us move towards a social and impact driven business. We started hearing the stories and seeing the impact we could make. We had products in India and I had moved to Bali to run the business from there. As I met more craftsman that used to work for big companies but lost jobs to offshore factories, we started putting them together under one roof to work together. Helping people became the thing that drove our business. Now, we reinvest all profits back into the business so we can do better.
What are your dreams for Duffle & Co in the future?
We want to create a world where making products that benefit people and the planet are the expectation and not the exception. In the present, there are so many other things we want to do, like grow hemp (the most sustainable and environmentally positive raw material in the world) and own the supply chain and create products from that. We also want to keep using Pinatex in our products as it's a great vegan substitute product made from pineapple leaf waste.
Lastly - one question we love to ask ... What are you reading/listening to right now?
Actually listening to the sequel of Sapiens - Homo Deus. I just finished Sapiens and kicked on. The ultimate thing for me is how nature, people and tech that can work in harmony so this is really interesting!