Introducing Apolis + Haberdash

An Interview with Shea Parton, Brand Director and CEO at Apolis

“We grew up in Santa Barbara, California. Our parents knew we would never know how good we have it, so from an early age we traveled quite a bit,” says Shea Parton, the Brand Director and CEO at Apolis, the company he started with his brother in 2004. As young travelers, the two brothers had expected to find a whole globe of differences. In the end, it wasn’t the differences that drew them in, but the similarities they encountered. “All the people we came across had the same desire to laugh and learn and provide for their families.”

Advocacy Through Industry

“That concept of being able to provide for your family led us to a proverb that is essential to our business now: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. We noticed throughout our travels that there are plenty of well-trained fishermen, but they don’t necessarily have the right bait… or a large enough pond. So, we decided to co-create products with communities and cooperatives, and then connect them to a larger market and a strong audience.” It’s a model they’ve now dubbed Advocacy through Industry.

Which brings us to the Apolis + Haberdash Market Bag, a new product at Haberdash, made in a cooperative in rural Bangladesh. “We started it with a small group of five artisans, and now that we’ve begun to scale the product in volume, we’re able to employ 21 artisans,” says Shea. (For a more detailed account, click here.)

About Mohammad Ghayasuddin

The general manager in Bangladesh, Mohammad Ghayasuddin, invests a significant portion of their profits back into his community through education, school supplies, and dividends for his artisans—making him a prime example of why Apolis promotes opportunity over charity.

“Charity is often about creating rules and incentives,” says Shea, “If you have the right people involved, it’s more about the right character and ethics, things that you can’t really teach or incentivize. Those are the people that we really think are going to shape a better world for the next generation.” Which brings us to the latest advancement in Apolis’ efforts in Bangladesh (and across the globe), which happened to start with their GM in Bangladesh: the Defend Tomorrow Initiative. Donate Here »

“We’ve been blown away by him—he’s very proactive,” says Shea. “He came to us and said, ‘We’re having a hard time keeping up with the demand. Here’s an overall goal of how we can invest in infrastructure, and train 20 women every six months, allowing this project to scale at a capacity so that we don’t ever have to off-shore any of the manufacturing just to keep up with the demand.’”

They’re currently working to raise $8,500, enough to build a new facility, purchase 20 new sewing machines, and pay the wages of 2 trainers who will provide 20 women with employment training every 6 months. In short, the Bangladesh Sewing Academy. It’s an initiative that attracted the attention and support of fellow activist and actress Sophia Bush, below. (Read her story here.)

About the Market Bag

The bag itself is made from a 100% natural golden jute fiber harvested in Bangladesh, along with natural vegetable-dyed leather straps reinforced by antique nickel rivets. The size and waterproof lining make it the perfect bag to bring along on a trip to your local farmers’ market. This is the latest Local + Global project from Apolis, emblazoned with “Chicago, Illinois USA” on one side and available only at Haberdash.

The idea behind their city bags came, in part, from their experiences with the cooperatives they worked with in other countries, where they saw how important a sense of ownership could be. By connecting a global and local market, retailers can have a sense of pride in their community while making an impact. The city-branded Market Bags began in Madison, Wisconsin; since then, they’ve hit cities across the country, with Chicago being their latest stop.

According to Shea, they’ve chosen their cities primarily based on the relationships they’re able to build, and finding retailers that will fit well with Apolis’ brand and mission. “Our goal is then to make as much of an effort as possible to really document the city and provide a platform for the retailer to showcase why they chose their neighborhood, and why their neighborhood and city is something to be proud of,” says Shea. One of the main reasons they’ve landed in Chicago: “We really based it off our online sales, actually. We noticed a demand for a product in Chicago, so it was really just about finding the right retailer to be that location.”

And finally, one last question for Shea. What’s it like working with his brother? “We’re great complements: he does everything creative and I do more of the sales and operations. It can be the most challenging and the best, but we definitely wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

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