Troubadour Goods founders Samuel Bail and Abel Samet are on a quest to make bags that are functional but also eco-friendly. It’s not been a straightforward journey. “We’re not bag experts. We started this business largely to create bags for ourselves,” says Samet.
They began their bag company while still working day jobs at a financial institution. In fact, they’d get leather hides for their new startup delivered to their desk. It was not the ideal setup.
But ten years later, Troubadour now has its first retail store in London. At the height of the pandemic, they took a risk, opening a store in the busy shopping neighborhood of Soho in the summer of 2021. “It was a great deal financially for us, in a neighborhood that otherwise might have been too expensive and so we took it, and we’re glad we did!”
The risk seems to have paid off as it’s given them a place to further their sustainability journey: it’s easier to have customers get repairs done on their bags, or drop off old used items for recycling.
After the first three years of business, the duo moved away from leather for a very practical purpose: cloth bags are lighter to carry. Something they learned by interacting with customers. We had one person tell us straight up: “It’s a beautiful bag but it’s not practical,” Bail says.
That transition to recycled cloth bags has made them more eco-friendly. While today 88 percent of the bag is made of recycled materials, the two are working towards it being entirely 100 percent. “Some brands just use recycled fabric on the outside. But we think ideally all the material used should be recycled,” he says.
Part of the challenge, they note, is being subjected to what materials are available in the market at that time. For instance, when they first transitioned to using recycled fabrics, Bail says that the options were quite limited: “When we went to trade shows to source materials, we would walk up and down the aisles, to try to find stuff that was made from recycled materials, and there wasn’t much.”
Polyurethane is in everything, they explain, and that’s one of the hardest materials to replace because the alternatives to it don’t have the ease of use that it offers. “Polyurethane drapes well, feels nice when you touch it. You can spray it on, pour it on. You can spray it on anything actually. For instance, it’s often used on the lining fabric of a bag. But it is not recyclable,” Bail says.
PU, as it’s referred to, is still ubiquitous in the bag industry, the founders tell me. And while there are other options, they often have higher melting points, are a bit stiffer, and more difficult to use, making them less popular.
However, during the pandemic, Bail and Samet had some time to work with manufacturers on their sustainability journey. “Because business was slow during the pandemic, the factories had more time available, and were able to give us more attention on our needs. Together, we worked on product development and using new materials,” Samet says.
All of this has helped them on their way to becoming a B Corp, which the company announced this year. Although they were already practicing many of the tenets, they wanted to formalize the process and help fight against greenwashing which, Samet says, is very much so prevalent. Yet he’s hopeful: “I think some of the powerful change in the world is going to come from companies that care.”
The process of building a thoughtful company, he adds comes from company culture: “It comes from a team that questions things, feels comfortable to do so, and can push the boundaries. Anybody can call out an issue, and it’s valuable for us to listen. There are quite a few companies that practice a top-down culture, which we don’t think is the best way.”
Bail adds: “This certification is not the end of our sustainability journey. Rather, it’s a milestone along the way. Every year, we’ve made major strides in improving Troubadour’s impact and we’re still actively finding more ways to be better. For example, all our packaging is now recyclable and compostable, and 85 percent of it is made from recycled materials – it will be 100 percent by the end of this year.”
They have more in the works, he adds. “In the coming months we’ll be introducing our circularity program in which products are designed from the outset to be recycled at end-of-life rather than thrown away.”
It’s not all coming from just the two of them, Bail notes. Rather, Troubadour’s creative director, Samantha Jacob has been with the company for 8 years and sustainability is one of the primary reasons she’s excited and motivated about her job, he says. “This [Troubadour] is her baby just as much. She’s excited about work because she can create bags that are more sustainable and push the industry forward. That’s what gets her going every morning.”
Asked why other companies may not have followed in their footsteps, or taken such a keen interest in environmental impact, and Bail replies: “I think a lot of it is simply momentum. You do what you’ve seen done before. We didn’t know anything really because we were not from this industry. So as a result, we have questioned a lot of things, and challenged norms. I think there’s a misperception around sustainability that it means higher costs and sacrifices, and thats an unfortunate perception. We’re not sacrificing anything to be more sustainable.”
Their backpacks remain their bestsellers. And while Troubadour may be London-based, Samet tells me that North America is their largest market followed by the UK and then Europe.
Although the backpacks are priced at over $200, they’ve added smaller sling and messenger bags for everyday wear, priced at under $100 in an effort to make eco-friendly options available to everyone. Next year, they hope to introduce an even more “eco” bag, they say. So stay tuned.