Elie Seroussi is a 30-year veteran of the Paris fashion industry and founder of fashion house Cecile & Jeanne Paris. After a Parisian childhood surrounded by design and craftsmanship, his daughter Natacha grew up to be a designer with a passion for ethical fashion.
Now, Elie and Natacha have joined forces to create a new fashion house – Laflore – fueled by a passion for style, fine design, and concern for the environment. The duo’s first offering is bobobark – a handmade vegan designer bag that combines chic Parisian heritage with contemporary practicality.
Featuring convertible straps for three ways to wear (backpack, tote, and briefcase), bobobark is made of sustainable and vegan materials harvested in a zero-waste cycle: cork collection takes place every seven to nine years, which helps the trees grow and release more oxygen. The material is waterproof, softens with age, and is as durable as leather, but three times lighter.
Natacha and Elie recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to produce bobobark. They set their initial target at $15,000 USD and at the time of writing, with still 22 days to go, they’ve raised more than $800,000 USD.
The father and daughter duo shared their vision and tips for success with Katrina Fox.
Why did you decide to launch with this particular bag that can be used in different ways?
Natacha: We noticed that there was a new generation of women that are less interested in fast fashion and blind consumerism but are instead looking for the one perfect bag that will answer all their needs.
They want to own one bag that can follow them through their busy day and fun night while making them look fantastic. It should look professional and neat for the office, feel super comfortable and light to allow them to ride their bike or travel with it, but also look stylish and chic so they can go out after work without worrying that their accessory will make them look out of style: bobobark is all those things but also more.
With environmental questions and animal welfare being more and more relevant, a lot of women are also looking into ethical and eco-friendly alternatives. They care about the impact their bag has on the planet and where it comes from.
This is why we started the Laflore adventure and decided to create bobobark, a bag that is not only versatile, high-quality and super practical but also 100% sustainable and vegan, while preserving the timeless Parisian chic.
Why did you choose cork over other sustainable materials?
Natacha: After I convinced Elie, my father, to quit leather and to start a sustainable and vegan brand, we were obviously extremely demanding regarding which material we were going to use. I tried dozens of materials but nothing was prestigious enough, durable enough, or of good enough quality. I felt like quitting quite a few times!
When cork came along it was obvious that we had found the perfect material. In Portugal this material has been used for centuries in the making of craftmanship products and has proven its longevity. But no one has ever really developed the potential of this incredible material.
With Laflore, cork is sublimated, and highlighted to a whole new level. After it is collected, we dye the tree skin with natural pigments and oils and then polish the material until it becomes soft and supple.
Cork is three times lighter than leather, which allows for comfort, but is as resistant. It is completely waterproof and the more it ages, the softer and smoother it becomes. Cork is also a highly sustainable material for several reasons:
• It has a positive impact on the environment; every seven to nine years the collection of the oak’s bark strengthens the tree.
• The oak’s forest in Portugal shelters a large number of endangered flora and fauna. This is an example of biodiversity and eco-friendly farming.
• The cork industry is a zero waste one; the leftovers are chipped and turned into chipboard.
Why did you choose the name ‘bobobark’ for the new bag?
Natacha: Bobo is the French diminutive for “bourgeois boheme”. Bobos are open-minded and fun but also care about the environment, and their impact on the world – and of course all this with Parisian style s’il vous plait!
Bark is referring to the bark of the oak tree we use to make the cork material.
So bobobark is the combination of all those things: fun, comfortable, esthetically pleasing and natural.
Who is the bag aimed at predominantly?
Natacha: Any bobo women out there! bobobark is perfect for modern women on the go who want to carry a perfect practical and comfortable bag that they don’t need to switch every time their schedule changes. The bobobark woman cares about her style, fashion, art and her impact on the planet.
Why did you decide to run a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds, as opposed to other methods of raising capital?
Natacha: To introduce bobobark to the world the way it deserved, we needed an international platform that allowed us to explain our product and story precisely and in details, all while touching as many women as possible. Kickstarter was the best choice to achieve all of those.
The Kickstarter campaign has been massively successful. What strategies did you use to promote the campaign?
Natacha: We used Facebook ads several months before launching our campaign, to introduce bobobark, to better understand our audience and what resonated and to create a mailing list which we used to update our audience on the campaign news and launch. This was definitely a great help.
We also had a prototype bag on display in our store in Paris. Having a bag on display made people feel safe backing it. We had a lot of visits to the store from people who saw our campaign and wanted to check out bobobark for themselves.
Many of them shared their experience on social media, letting other backers know the bag was real and looked great. We worked hard to make sure our Kickstarter video was high quality and told our story while showing off the bag’s features.
But I think the main reason bobobark has had such a big success is because it truly answers a common need that women have for a practical, chic and versatile everyday bag that also respects the environment. Until bobobark there was not any real solution for that need on the market.
My advice to other entrepreneurs would be: Work hard on your product, look after every detail, and make sure you truly know what your audience is looking for. If the product is good and needed by your audience, success should follow.
Where will the bag be sold initially? And will you be approaching retailers? If so, what kind?
Natcha: It will be sold online but also in our boutique in Paris of course! Several retailers that want to carry bobobark after the campaign is over have already approached us. We are truly amazed by the success of the bag and cannot wait to see all those exciting projects come to life!
What are the benefits of the two of you, as father and daughter, working together to launch this product?
Natacha: Elie has taught me so much! He has an eye for details and helped me bring to life this perfect product. Thanks to his experience we also gained a lot of time by starting with the right workshop and materials right away. He also helped me to trust my instinct and take risks.
On my side I think that the fact that I come from a fine art background, placed art and esthetics at the center of my designs and gave a modern and clean look to eternal classical designs that could sometime be a little boring has been useful.
The environment concern is also a big addition to the project.
Mixing Elie’s knowledge and perfectionism with my creativity and modern concerns was the key. Together we succeeded in bringing to life the perfect everyday bag that is ethical, esthetically pleasing, high-end and eco friendly.
Where is the bag made and why?
Natcha: Currently bobobark is made in Portugal a few kilometers away from the oak tree forest where the cork is collected. We chose Portugal because they have extensive experience over a long period of time in working with cork and because it is close to the cork forest, which reduces the carbon footprint.
Elie: With 30 years in the fashion industry, what changes have you seen regarding a shift towards vegan, sustainable, ethical fashion?
Elie: I have been working with leather my whole life, and always loved this material. I started to doubt it about five years ago when I saw that more and more big designers were quitting fur. I agreed with them, as I never worked with fur, but simultaneously it made me consider that leather might be next in line. I knew we still had some time ahead but I felt like something had changed in people’s perception of fashion.
When Natacha started working with me, she simply refused to use leather for her designs. She was young, stylish and had a good art and fashion education; she represented the women of today and tomorrow.
At that moment I knew for sure that fashion was in the middle of a big change. We wanted to be part of and lead that change, not only because we care about the planet and the welfare of animals but also because our job is to anticipate women’s desires and offer them what they need when they don’t know they need it yet.
What’s next for your new fashion brand after bobobark?
Natacha: As designers I feel like we have a responsibility to create products that will flatter women’s silhouettes and highlight their beauty.
My goal is to impact the fashion industry and be a leader in the vegan/eco-friendly change by creating gorgeous high-end designs. I want women to wear my bags because they are beautiful while enjoying the fact that they are environmentally-friendly, not the opposite.
I think that my fine art heritage gives me the need to design bags that are highly unique and esthetically pleasing. Beauty is the center of my creations.
I already have dozens of designs ready to be released and I keep working hard every day in the atelier to design a collection of perfect bags that will meet all the requirements of today’s women while sublimating them.
We are planning to ride on bobobark’s success to introduce to the world our strong concept and high-end products.
Visit the bobobark website
Check out the bobobark Kickstarter campaign
Katrina Fox is an award-winning vegan journalist, publisher, speaker, PR consultant and media trainer who teaches vegan business owners, entrepreneurs and change makers how to get free publicity by sharing their stories. Katrina was a regular contributor to Forbes for a year, writing about vegan and plant-based business. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Vegan Business Media, the host of Vegan Business Talk podcast, and the author of Vegan Ventures: Start and Grow an Ethical Business. Katrina is also the creator of Vegans in the Limelight: Online PR course for Vegan Business Owners and Entrepreneurs. For more information and to hire Katrina, email her at katrina [at] veganbusinessmedia [dotcom]