December 4, 2012
Stone + cloth is a company with a simple proposition. With every purchase of a backpack, 10 dollars go to fund the Knock Foundation, which provides tuition assistance, school meals, and school supplies to children in a small community in Tanzania. Stone + cloth asks us to “carry an education.”
Founder Matthew Clough is familiar with the social entrepreneur space, having worked at TOMS Shoes and Falling Whistles. He is also an avid traveler and has backpacked around the world. As an outdoors enthusiast with a deep social conscience, he understands the product and how to spread the message.
The backpack design is a pure representation of the blend of Clough’s two passions, education and climbing. Backpacks are a symbol of our childhood education, a nostalgic product that we used every day. The cover flap with a drawstring design is reminiscent of the classic travel backpacker looking for adventure. This combination can be seen in the final product, a simply designed backpack with subtle additions that add functionality, usability, and allure.
I sat down with Clough to discuss his inspiration and challenges.
Tech Cocktail: What was your inspiration to start stone + cloth?
Matthew Clough: “Stone + cloth was inspired by a trip I took to Africa to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I always had this dream of climbing the seven summits – the highest peak on every continent – and Kilimanjaro was an opportunity to check one of those mountains off the list. I reached the summit after four grueling days of hiking. On my way down the mountain, I was focused on the porters that helped me accomplish my goal. My porter Benson was the one who was waking me up with tea, cooking my meals, and carrying my heavy rucksack while we trekked toward the top.
During the time we spent descending the mountain, I learned Benson and most residents in Tanzania earn about $1 a day and the one thing they wanted help with was putting their children through school. Arriving home, I had a new appreciation for the simple things I’ve had access to all my life, like clean water, food on the table, and access to a decent education. This is when I realized I could use the skills and resources I have to help Benson and the other porters live better lives.”
Tech Cocktail: What was the biggest hurdle in starting the company?
Clough: “We’re committed to making our products locally in Southern California. Finding a cut-and-sew shop that could produce the backpacks at a reasonable price was tough. I know, I know. It seems as though you can slap anything into Google and get the results you’re looking for, but when it comes to finding the best cut-and-sew shops, that’s not the case. I was working 40 hours a week when stone + cloth was just a side project. I would utilize my early mornings, lunches, and evenings to make progress. I began getting very frustrated. People kept telling me to take production to Asia, and that it couldn’t be done locally if I really wanted to scale the business. It took me almost six months to find the cut-and-sew shop where our backpacks are made today.”
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