Around the World with Apolis
Each season, terrain partners with inspiring artists, makers, and designers; this holiday, we’re especially excited about collaborating with Apolis to create the “Forage On” Market Tote. Apolis literally translates to “global citizen.” We sat down with global citizens and co-founders, Shea and Raan Parton, to learn more about their ethos of “advocacy through industry,” and how businesses can create social change.
terrain: What sparked your desire to begin making bags?
Apolis: Rather than starting with a desire to make bags, we began with a traveled upbringing and a desire to advocate through industry. We grew up in Santa Barbra, California and it was our parents’ firm belief that we couldn’t appreciate our home town if we didn’t see the world. They also held stock in the proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Rather than giving the artisans we work with fish, we help them find the pond-- teaching the skills and providing the tools to create something meaningful and marketable. Our brand is based on simple, unisex products that are easy to execute. We currently work with artisans in over 15 countries, taking a holistic approach that includes craftsmen, skills, and natural resources from each location to boost multiple industries. For example, in Bangladesh, where the “Forage On” tote and our other market bags are made, the country mandates jute growth. Knowing the abundance of jute, we worked to create a product that utilizes the natural resources of the country. We find what works and design backwards.
terrain: Was there a particular place you traveled or an experience you had that shaped your business model?
Apolis: Between 2000 and 2009, we took four separate trips to Kathmandu, Nepal to learn about the cashmere industry. We were blown away by the quality of products the skilled artisans produce there. When we found other companies taking advantage of workers, using unethical tactics and hiding where these fine products are made, we decided to provide a product that proudly presents the skills of artisans and creates a platform to tell their story. Many of the co-ops in Kathmandu were creating amazing products, but lacked the skills to market themselves and make a profit. We helped them find a voice and meet their supply demands. We then went on to document the culture and story of the workers in partnership with RAFA. The people and the culture were the focus, with the product serving as the means to the end –advocacy. The documentary allowed these workers to bring their story to a wider audience while creating a product that could sustain and empower them.
terrain: What advocacy and subsequent product are you most proud of?
Apolis: Probably the market bags. We began in Bangladesh by making 50 of them as experiment when reusable bags became popular in California after the plastic bag ban. Since then, we have produced 40,000 of these simple, multi-functional carry-alls. We also created a film about the project. It was really a case study in how we want our company to grow and partner with likeminded retailers, like terrain.
terrain: How did the “Forage On” collaboration come about?
Apolis: We were all inspired by the code of conduct held by current agricultural and culinary leaders who are embracing a “back to the land” mentality. The bags celebrate the entire picture of foraging and how it relates to the “back to the land” concept. It is the entry point for agricultural integrity.
terrain: Do you use the market bags in your day-to-day lives?
Apolis: We do—our wives in particular love them and use them all the time!
terrain: What’s next for Apolis? Where will your travels take you, and what kind of partnerships are you working to foster?
Apolis: At any given time, we have 20 new projects up in the air. We recently finished a leather goods project and made a documentary in Israel and Palestine, creating a cross-border business that bridged cultures. We have a project in Kenya that creates items cast from recycled ammunitions found on the ground. In India, we’re working on a natural textile dyeing project. We are also very excited that the Bangladesh project is now opening a school to educate new, skilled laborers. As many manufacturers are leaving Bangladesh, Apolis is moving in and helping create a valuable workforce that people can be proud of. We truly pride ourselves on investing in the places we go and the artists we meet.
Images courtesy of Apolis & Jason Motlagh.