A Tiny Company’s Handcrafted Bags Are Helping Tackle a Global Crisis
Most of us are well aware that we’re in the midst of a global education crisis: More than 124 million children and adolescents around the world are illiterate, according to UNESCO.
For Stone & Cloth—makers of sleek and handcrafted canvas backpacks, weekend bags, and totes for men and women—the business model revolves around being part of the solution, helping improve educational access for communities in need through every product sold.
The company was founded by Matthew Clough when he was still a college student in 2011, and every purchase ensures that scholarships are provided for kids in Tanzania and Kenya who are struggling with limited access to education.
I spoke with Clough, 29, about the line’s new Summit Collection, how a small company is doing its part to tackle a worldwide challenge, and how others can weave in activism with what they love to do.
TakePart: What inspired you to make Stone & Cloth a reality while you were still in school?
Matthew Clough: I went to college for design, and while working for a company called Rustic Pathways, where I guided high school students on trips [abroad], I also had the opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I learned from the porters that were helping me climb the mountain that it wasn’t affordable for a lot of children to go to school. I came home and designed a backpack that would represent education and the proceeds would help provide scholarships for students.
TakePart: Stone & Cloth’s slogan is “Carry an Education.” Following the purchase of a Stone & Cloth bag, how exactly is the giveback executed?
Clough: We partner with the Knock Foundation and Bridge International to help bring our mission to life. They both focus on providing scholarships to students, and each purchase helps provide 25 hours of classroom learning for a student. With a solid education, they’re much more likely to secure paid employment and be able to provide for themselves and their family. We’re on track to provide 25,000 hours of classroom learning for students by the end of 2015.
TakePart: The new Summit Collection is tech-savvy, unisex, and comes in beautiful neutral colors. Tell us about your favorite piece from the collection—what are some of its unique features?
Clough: We’ve always had a book bag from the start, and the Summit Collection Book Bag is genuinely one of my favorite bags from the entire collection. It’s such a sleek design and so functional. It has a quilted padded laptop sleeve on the exterior of the bag, and it has a charging cable outlet that allows you to charge your computer while it’s still in the bag. It’s great for getting through security at the airport or just chilling at a coffee shop. Another addition, which is also quite popular and very "in" with current fashion trends, is the Bucket Bag as an easy purse or tote to throw around.
TakePart: For our readers who are frequent travelers or who have active lifestyles, what is your favorite bag to get around with?
Clough: Stone & Cloth’s Rolltop Backpack is the ultimate traveling companion. It works so well as a carry-on. Since it’s a rolltop, it allows you to expand the bag to carry enough for a long weekend trip and is compact enough to use as a daily bag.
TakePart: What do you wish people knew about Stone & Cloth that they probably don’t?
Clough: I wish people knew how small of a company we are! My e-commerce director, Zach Keller, and I do most of the work out of my live-work space in Downtown Los Angeles and have a lot of interns that help drive this company. We also make our products in small boutique factories in L.A.
TakePart: Did you always imagine yourself running a socially conscious brand?
Clough: No. I remember since a very young age I’ve always wanted to own my own company, but never specifically thought about running a socially conscious brand until I found a cause I was eager to get involved in.
TakePart: How do you think more people can weave in activism with what they love to do?
Clough: I think the first thing you should do is find your cause—a problem or an issue that you’re eager to solve. Once you’ve found that, I think all it takes is having a good understanding as to what your strengths are and applying those to help solve problems for the world.
TakePart: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you started your company?
Clough: Numbers, numbers, numbers! As a creative, I always love to focus on making great products and building a great experience for our customers. But if your business is on its way to running out of cash by next month, it’ll be tough to do either.
TakePart: As the founder of Stone & Cloth, a global citizen, and an activist, what are words you live by?
Clough: “We’re given two hands. One to help ourselves and one to help others.” I live my life by being intentional about creating things that are valuable to the world and doing what I can to make other people's day brighter. I feel I get to do that every day with Stone & Cloth.
The Book Bag, The RollTop Backpack, The RollTop Tote, and The Bucket Bag and other items from Stone & Cloth’s Summit Collection can be purchased on its website.