With Calayne you can actually join a virtual tour around local manufacturers. Plus! Ladies, does any of your favourite accessory brands give you the opportunity to co-create your bag? And does any of your bags charge your phone and have a light inside so you can find all you need?
To find out more, connect to Calayne on Facebook and visit their websites.
1) Where are you originally from and what was it in the South East Asia that made you to move and start a business there?
I grew up in South London in the 60s, before I emigrated to New Zealand in the mid-80s. There I had a career in the power industry, eventually managing the control centre for the national electricity grid. It was an interesting period for my development, as I was responsible for commissioning a state-of-the-art control centre and studying towards an MBA at the same time. I found my interest more in understanding the effectiveness of the organisation, and bringing seemingly disparate ideas together to form new ways of working.
By the end of my leadership career, I had moved into effectiveness consulting, which was what brought us to SE Asia. I secured a consulting position as Chief Operating Officer of a major advertising agency in Singapore, which gave me insight into how that industry positions brands and products, and how traditional businesses typically fail in understanding effectiveness.
The end of the engagement left us with a choice: do we head back to NZ and continue our old lives; or do we embrace change, laugh fear of the unknown in the face, and stay in the region to develop the smart handbag. History will tell us that we made the right choice.
2) How the idea to create a 'smart' handbag (which can charge your phone and have all the pockets woman can think about) came about?
Many years ago, my wife Cate would often complain of not being able to see to the bottom of her handbag, especially at night. She’s emptied her handbag looking for items, and would ask why she couldn’t have a handbag with a light in it.
Many years later we found that we had met many of the people that we needed to develop a smart handbag, and that started the questioning of what a smart handbag would look like. The obvious extension of putting a light in a bag is that it needs a battery, and if you put a battery in a handbag, what else can it power? So charging your phone isn’t a great leap of creativity.
The smartness of the handbag has come on a lot though. Working with the factory that manufactures the control boards in the power bank, allows us to free up our creative thinking about the product development. What else would a smart handbag do? We are doing well on this development path, and will soon invite our co-creators to develop a handbag that will make a major impact of women’s security in the future.
So it’s really a work in progress. Once you let loose the creativity of a group, you don’t know where it will end up.
3) How do you picture your ideal customer? Is that right that we could actually co-design our next handbag? I can see how this could appeal to my friends!
In the early days of our journey, our guide and guru, Jake Pearce, challenged us to describe our ideal customer. I found myself drawing on the young women that I had met in the advertising agency in Singapore, and one in particular.
Rose (I’ve changed her name) is a very smart and experienced account manager, who loved the creative side of the business, but didn’t have the opportunity to learn how to be creative. She is an aspirational creative. She wants to be a creative, but finds the traditional path blocked.
I understand this deeply. I love singing, but didn’t have the focus and or tenacity to learn an instrument as a child. So I now miss out on singing with a band. Except that I have found new friends here who are musicians, and allow me to sing with them. I am an aspirational vocalist. Rose is an aspirational creative.
So our ideal customer is someone (we will co-create a ‘man’s bag’ soon, so this will be gender neutral) who is an aspirant designer; they love bags and fashion; they have an interest in technology; and, mostly, they have a belief that there is a more just way of undertaking business, more than just creating dividends for shareholders.
Yes, you can co-create your next handbag! We are about to test our new online co-creation forum, so we welcome anyone who would like to come along and co-create.
Our view of the future is that a community comes together to co-create a handbag, and as a part of the process, identifies the social cause that some of the profit from the sales of their co-created design will support. We help you, to help others.
Later this year, we will be taking a co-creation workshop on the road, where we will design new products in a live event, including the soundtrack to the film of the event. Yes, you read that correctly. Our musician friends are working on co-creating music. Not only will you co-create a handbag, for instance, but you will also co-create your record of the event.
4) What are exactly the implications of you 'factory to consumer (F2C)' approach?
It depends what your drivers are. If you subscribe to the traditional view of business, that the responsibility of a director is to maximise shareholder wealth, then the impact of F2C, the reduction of logistics costs, is to further improve shareholder returns. And again at the cost of the workers, the community, and the customers.
We, however, are social entrepreneurs. Our objective is to improve people’s lives. The smart handbag is a means to achieving that end, not the end itself.
So, in the context of social entrepreneurism, what are the implications of F2C? We see them as the lowering of cost to the customer for a quality product; a fair price to the suppliers for their contribution; a fair profit to ourselves as the shareholders; and, most of all, the redirection of cost savings to fund community causes.
So we don’t think that F2C is able to maximise its benefits if it is not deployed for the social good. Why take a concept with so much potential for beneficial change, and use it only for the benefit of the shareholder?
5) The horrible working conditions in SE Asia factories are somewhat known but still how can you scale up fair manufacturing on the global level without compromising your values? (Sustainable, high quality Alibaba portal comes to my mind)
Your use of the word ‘portal’ is an accurate description of our potential. We are able to provide access to high volume manufacturing to those entrepreneurs and innovators that find their path to low-cost high volume production blocked.
At the moment, we are a start-up. So our ability to influence working conditions is limited. However, we selected our start-up partners by meeting with them, and seeing first hand the conditions of their factories.
For instance, our handbag manufacturing partners are an Aussie/Hong Kong couple, ex-lawyers, who have been making luxury handbags for more than 20 years. We have discussed with them their capability to upscale their factory, without compromising their employment ethics. It is a core part of our discussions with them, do you share the same values that we do? So scaling up production levels calls for more investment in the skilled artisans. The electronic components in Shenzhen are manufactured on an automated production line, in a brand new facility.
So with an F2C model, where there is sufficient money in the model for everyone, we don’t have to negotiate hard with our suppliers, to drive their cost down. Because the only people that suffer from that approach are the workers, not the owners.
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6) Apart from the manufacturing, how else do you work with the local community?
Very early in our journey we realised that we had to consider the local community. I was deeply influenced by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia’s book Conscious Capitalism at the time, and had looked to their excellent commentary for guidance on how we recognised the importance of the community as a stakeholder.
Now, F2C is an extension of the e-commerce model that has had a major impact on local retailers in communities around the world. The consumer’s dollar is spent online: it exits the local economy. There is NO contribution to the local economy from that transaction. The local community misses out, and especially the social causes that need local cash to fund them.
So for us the question became, how do you work with the local communities, plural. In each location where we sell our products will be a local community that can be positively or negatively impacted by our business model. So let’s re-check on our higher purpose “to improve peoples’ lives”, how does that guide us? It tells us that there needs to be a positive impact in each community.
This has taken some thinking through, something that Cate and I have done in almost total isolation.
Our conclusion is that we ask our community, in each location where we sell our products, to identify social causes that we can support. We will crowdsource the identification of our social impact partners, within a selection criteria, that we are working on with our online community.
Calayne will then partner with these social impact organisations (charities) to ensure that our funding and support makes them as effective as possible in achieving their social goals.
7) What will be your next product?
We will extend our bag range firstly. Different communities co-creating their own designs to fund their own communities.
We will extend the technology in the handbags, to make a manifest difference to our customers’ live around the world.
We will ‘re-package’ that technology into a new range of wearables, that improve peoples’ lives.
And we will encourage other entrepreneurs and innovators that lack a path to mass production to join us, and to bring their products to market.
8) Are you planning to expand in near future? How could we help you to grow?
Yes! We are starting a movement. A better way of doing business, creating great products that improve people’s lives.
A movement needs people to join it. It needs a purpose. And it needs people to tell their friends, to enlist them in the cause.
We didn’t set out on this journey to sell handbags. We set out to make a difference.
You can help us by telling people about the smart handbag that will start a movement.
It’s a secret that you can share.
9) I also imagine there are people around the world doing the similar thing - what message would you send to them?
Please contact me!
It is only recently that we emerged from our cocoon to see if we could find others on a similar journey. Our emergence to find communities of other like minded people with the same aspirations has been energising. I can only see that our combined experience will drive us on to greater things.
10) Is there anything you would like to add?
We have an interesting question to consider as we approach the beginning of the engineering design of the next phase of technology. Do we try and protect our intellectual property, thereby committing very large sums of money to lawyers and IP battles, raising the cost of legal fees, denying those monies to our communities, and limiting the reach of our life changing technology?
Or do we open source our IP? Make it freely available so that the societal benefits are maximised, even by our competitors? Do we not spend money on lawyers, instead spending it on social causes? Do we trust that our customers, our communities, will be loyal to a business that positions itself so differently in the market?
Do we trust that they will help us, to help them, to help others?