Silent Goods is a brand that asks the question – Is it really possible to go against the grain and to create a fledgeling, sustainable and transparent brand that’s distributed through online sales only?
In our present fashion landscape brands typically make the cut by learning to shout the loudest with marketing nous and myriad Instagram followers. They also, invariably have the deepest pockets to fund expensive product development and grandiose launches.
Doing the opposite to your competitors may all be well and good but why bother?
If atypical brands do survive – the route to survival will be slow and hand-to-mouth.
How do these brave hearts plan to grab market share from the likes of E-tailers Everlane and Patagonia who have succumbed to the pressure of launching physical stores, and who is their ideal customer?
In fact, where will they find customers if they don’t also have bricks and mortar store to attract passing trade?
I caught up with Oliver Ruuger the creative director of new brand Silent Goods to question his and his teams’ motivation behind launching a brand that has chosen to go down the road least travelled.
Tell us about your brand? Why Silent Goods and why now?
For me personally, it feels like it’s been a very long time coming.
Silent Goods is a sum of a number of ideas that our team has been discussing for years in our day-to-day work. (Our background is designing and crafting handbags for a number of small and big brands). A lot of the common practices that make the fashion industry work as it does just didn’t make sense for what we wanted to create and how we wanted to work. It’s taken us a few years to come to this point but it felt that all the pieces of the puzzle were in sync to finally start something of our own.
What is your background?
My background is design.
I work as a designer and creative director, teach design at universities and have been running our design workshop since 2012, together with my co-founder craftsman Volker Koch. We also create art pieces and have been exhibiting work in a number of galleries including the V&A museum in London and MAXXI in Rome.
How do you hope to compete with Everlane and other brands who are also exploring a transparent route?
Firstly it’s important to say that our sights are not set on creating a big company. I think size is something that creates problems of its own. Silent Goods can exist very well making a relatively small amount of bags each year. Our customers are finding us by word of mouth or by searching for something very specific.
So we are not for everyone, and that is a good thing.
As far as transparency goes, we look at it simply as good manners, something that should be an integral part of every new sustainable business that is starting up. We don’t see transparency as the reason why someone should buy a bag from us, it’s just a manner of communicating so that people can make informed choices.
What do you consider to be your USP?
We are the “anti IT” bag.
No labels, no logos!
Just well designed, well-made bags that do not need to shout to be heard.
Who is your ideal customer?
Someone who cares about the choices they make and takes the time to be interested.
How do you intend to reach customers through online sales alone?
We are hopeful that by really taking care of our customers post-sale, people will share what we do with their like-minded friends.
It seems to be working great so far, we haven’t even launched our online store yet and we have a considerable waiting list for bags that are not even made yet.
While the ideology of charging the consumer less by foregoing the wholesale route is laudable, why are you eschewing the tried and tested method for maximizing sales?
Firstly, we do not need to maximize sales. Foregoing the wholesale route has two main benefits.
For one, we don’t have to include the wholesale margin in our price, therefore the bags cost about half of what they would if they ended up in a department store.
But the more important reason is that by removing the 3rd party from the equation, we can have a direct communication with the person who will use the bag that we made.
It’s important to say that the relationship doesn’t end with the sale, it only begins.
What are your future plans for scaling up?
We offer a lifetime warranty and free annual care and conditioning for each bag.
At the moment we have our workshop in London available for our customers, but it is not as easily accessible for people from other countries. It is a little early to talk about scaling up, but for us, it would mean opening more workshops to be closer to those customers.
How are you funding the business?
Silent Goods is self-funded.
Where do you manufacture?
One of the founders of Silent Goods, Hamdi Sarackardesler is a 5th generation proprietor of a leather goods manufacturer in Istanbul Turkey, called Petek.
The company was officially founded in 1855, however, the family roots go all the way back to the 16th century Ottoman empire.
Sarackardesler means “saddle brother” in Turkish, the name given to the craftsmen who travelled with the horseback army and repaired their saddles
How do you select your suppliers – do they have to be sustainable, ethical…etc.
Collectively, our team has been in the industry for many decades and we have a fantastic network of suppliers and collaborators supporting us.
In general, a bag has 7 main components: the main material, the lining textile, metal fittings, zips, thread, glue and reinforcements.
We have selected the very best for each, based on our experience and sustainability.
Related reading: How to Make a Handbag if Your Background isn’t in Fashion
What does sustainable mean to you and how are you living up to this philosophy?
I think everyone these days wants to live sustainably, but it is a fairly new idea for most people and a complex subject to truly understand (and even more so to apply to a business).
From the customer’s point of view, the challenge is that things are often labelled very broadly, and it may seem easier to navigate your choices if you categorize things for yourself as either good or bad – either sustainable or not.
However, in reality, this approach does not always work.
For instance, the most sustainably produced materials usually have a short life term. Once the material wears out, the whole product it is made of has to be recycled – and then replaced. So when the goal is to make a bag to last a few decades, you have to consider other factors like durability alongside sustainability as well.
The biggest thing for us has been coming to terms with the fact that sustainability can never be binary.
When you look deep enough, you soon realize that anything and everything you do inevitably leaves a footprint.
Once we came to grips with that, our job becomes more about accumulating as much information as possible about every single element that goes into what we do, and sharing that information openly.
More of the ‘why’ and less of the ‘what ‘means that the person can be their own judge and make their choices based on understanding the whole, not just the label.
Markus Vihma is an environmental scientist working with us, advising on sustainable materials and processes. He looks at every step we take as a company and finds ways for us to step lightly. From the way the shipping boxes are sourced (they are reused supermarket packaging), to the way the metal fittings are finished and even how we write our words. We commissioned Carter Studio to design a font for us that uses about 50% less ink than a standard font would.
What were your challenges when you were starting up?
We have a lot of experience making bags but everything else we had to learn from scratch.
Getting the word out about what we do was by far the biggest challenge. We decided to crowdfund our first lot of bags in order to get in front of many peoples eyes and to see if our ideas resonated. It turned out to be so much more work than we anticipated.
What are your challenges now?
Our small team has had to take on different tasks than what they are used to.
A challenge, but we are learning fast!
If you could start all over again – what would you do differently?
There have not been any major slip-ups so we wouldn’t do anything differently, I’d take the lessons learned from the mistakes every time.
What do you think is a great challenge the industry is facing at the moment?
There are the obvious ones such as overconsumption and pollution, but something I have been thinking a lot about recently is the idea of scale – I think the culture of constantly pushing for growth instead of quality is what should change.
How are you marketing the brand? How big a role is marketing in your day to day activities?
We made an effort to get the word out during the first month when we launched, but since then it has only been word of mouth.
Do you have seasons or how do you decide when to launch new collections?
Actually, there are no seasons and no new collections as such. Just one style per category.
We will continue to refine the bags as we go, based on feedback from our customers. We will be introducing new types of bags, but not as seasonal replacements of previous styles.
Often it is said that design is 5% of the overall time spent on building a fashion brand. Do you agree and what do you spend the most time on (as part of running the business.)
I can believe that would be true in most cases, especially if the focus of the brand is on marketing and sales. We actually spend a huge amount of time on design and development – testing materials, finishes, details and playing with ideas, that’s the beauty of running a design workshop. Keeping the focus on making the best bags, not the best brand.
What would you advise budding fashion entrepreneurs considering to follow in your footsteps?
Personally, I don’t like the word entrepreneur, because I think it implies that the focus is on building a business. Not that the business side isn’t important, but I think good advice for those starting out would be to focus on honing your craft and creating something that has real value for people that only you can provide.
What does success mean to you all?
Which brand (past or present) do you admire and why?
Lately, I have been reading a lot about the recently passed Azzedine Alaia and I think he is a great role model, someone who stayed true to his craft and continued to seek perfection.
Related reading: How to Start a Handbag Line?
For this particular company slow and steady is their chosen path.
Perfecting your craft and offering your customers the very best of yourself clearly is the future of design.
Not everyone enters the design arena for validation as a superstar and that’s so refreshing to see in an age of narcissism.
Not every brand has a desire to walk in the footsteps of the fashion moguls and conglomerates.
The true craftsmen and women have nothing to prove other than their skills to share.
Having the interests of the industry at heart by being completely transparent about your practices is laudable and sometimes keeping it simple is all that’s required.
Would you like to work with such a transparent fashion brand?
If you have any questions about this article or general feedback then please do not hesitate to let us know in the comments below.