Back in 2009, my boss of 8+ years said to me, “Shu, mark my words, you will start your own bag company and be a leader in design one day.” At the time, I thought my boss was just being his kind, encouraging self—he loved to motivate people that way. I really didn’t take his words too seriously then. But somehow they stuck with me, even after I moved on to design products for other companies. Fast forward to 2014, I took those words to heart and decided to make that bag dream a reality.
Initially, I thought I’d do this as a fun passion project for a few years. That is, on top of having a full-time job, traveling for work, and raising two kids with my husband. It felt a little daunting but I was eager and excited. I fervently spent many late nights researching patents, ideating concepts, sketching designs, and studying sustainable and ethical practices. Within a month, I had created a four-piece tote collection. My husband who is also a designer then suggested I speak to someone who really understood the design and retail space. The first person I thought of was Cathy Bailey of Heath Ceramics.
I remember that first meeting. I walked in with a 10-page presentation with product and market research, showing a gap in the marketplace for a premium, sustainable culinary tote collection. I shared my ideas for reusable and washable food carriers, bread storage bags and flower totes. I talked about zero waste design and manufacturing. I showed one sample prototype. I expected to leave with feedback to improve my design and product line, but instead I got my first purchase order for 100 totes in-store within 6 months.
And that’s when both excitement and fear kicked in. How would I even do this?
Fortunately, I had the love and support of my friends and family. I kept my day job and worked on my new side business from 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM each night. My husband and I pulled our daughter out of private school and placed her into a public one, we refinanced our home, we promised to not travel and to cut our spending for a few years. I converted my garage into a studio, where I designed, sewed and studied into the night. I enrolled in a 6-month evening course on local manufacturing. I researched and visited many nearby factories. I asked for advice from colleagues and mentors. Everyone was so understanding and gracious with their time and help—I am forever grateful to them.
And 6 months later, 100 totes were produced and delivered to Heath Ceramics as promised. They ended up selling faster than anticipated, and Heath placed another order within two weeks of that first delivery. Within 3 months I sold over 1,500 totes. Soon after, I quit my day job as design director and decided to pursue my bag dream full-time.
Aplat was officially founded as a company on Earth Day four years ago and for the anniversary, I wanted to share how the journey began.
Where did the name Aplat come from? Well, I owe that to my then 3-year old son and family in France. I’ll be sharing more of those moments soon, so stay tuned.