Those of you who read my blog frequently know that I don’t usually conduct interviews, though I have done it on occasion when I thought the situation was fitting. Even though I’ve been back from Buenos Aires over two months now, I’m happy to report that my friends Alex and Chloe, a couple of Aussies who I met right at the end of my tenure in BA, have finally launched their long awaited fashion company ECEL Leather. I was at the ECEL launch party back in late June and can honestly say that the guys are producing some quality products, and I thought I’d share their project with the rest of you. So without further adieu, here’s an interview Alex gave me on his new company.
1. What’s your company name and how long have you been in Business?
The company name is ECEL (pronounced the same as Fr(eckle). We started designing in October 2010, however we have only just started selling to the public. We have taken our time and made a lot of changes to the original products since then as we wanted to make sure the ECEL brand represented the highest design and production quality; something we could be personally proud of.
2. How long have you been living in Buenos Aires and what are you plans for the future? Long term expats or short term expats?
We moved to Buenos Aires in early 2011 and originally planned to stay until the end of the year – however we love life in BsAs – and definitely have designs to stay longer than that now. We love the malbec and the asados (obviously) and were really struck by the fact that we have all the benefits of a big city but have been welcomed into a tight knit community of neighbors and friends.
3. Can you explain why you’ve chosen to sell bags, wallets, hats, etc?
We are making products that we personally have a need for but cannot find in the market. We’ve found that bags in particular are either weighed down with branding, or would use a ‘substitute’ material to keep prices down and if it didn’t it would cost more than a months wage to buy. We want our ECEL products to fill this void and stand for simplicity, functionality, excellent quality and unique design at affordable prices.
4. Are there any plans for future expansion into other products?
We really hope the company is going to be a catalyst for creation – we have so many talented friends that we would love to get involved and so many ideas for beautiful things we would like to create. For the moment we are happy taking baby steps and just making a few products really well – but in the future there really is no limit to what we hope to make both in collaboration with others and under the ECEL label itself.
5. What was the process like for finding the right market, operators, producers, shippers, and retailers?
Living in Argentina one soon learns to be a proveedor – for example: you go to one verdura for figs while another one may be where to go for your strawberries. This can be annoying if you are used to shopping at a supermarket but it is also really satisfying when you make a new discovery like where to source something you didn’t think existed here or when you find a cheaper and better quality produce just one block down the road.
Anyone planning on doing business here should be aware the process is the same but on a much larger scale. Developing our network of suppliers and craftsman has involved a lot of leg work, these guys are old school artisans and don’t have mobiles, let alone websites and there are a lot of people out there who seem really legitimate but end up not coming through with the goods.
Considering many parts of the bags are custom designed and made the process has been very personal and has really benefitted from being made locally, as opposed to offshore. We produce our own zipper pulls, studs and buckles. We work closely with a local tannery to develop custom designed leathers and have spent a lot of time overseeing production to ensure the bags are of the highest quality.
6. Where can shoppers find your products and how can they be purchased?
Currently, we are selling online at our website www.ecelshop.com.
7. How much are your products being sold for?
Our prices range from $40 – $400, meaning there is something in there for all of our customers. The product is timeless and accessible.
8. Is there an eco-friendly or humanitarian edge to it?
The ECEL product is all natural, nothing synthetic: the bags are leather or natural canvas, lined in wool and embellished with timeless copper fittings. Our products are designed to get better with age and should be kept forever not disposed of after one season like so many on-trend fashion accessories saturating the market.
9. Why are you selling the bags without branding?
Our bags should speak for themselves and not need to be heavily branded. Our customers then have the opportunity to become attached and make it their bag not our bag.
10. Where do you see the company in 5 years? 10 years?
Hopefully still selling the same products we are today. We are aiming to create things with ageless design features that don’t go in and out with fashion trends. At the moment we are concentrating on developing our working relationships within Argentina but it would be really exciting to work with people from around the world. We love the idea of putting people from different parts of the world and who work in different fields together and seeing what can be created.
11. Have you been receiving any help from experienced businessmen in Argentina or Australia, or are you doing this venture totally on your own?
We have been really fortunate with the contacts we have made throughout this process. We have spent a lot of time seeking advice and learning from other people’s experiences.
Here in Argentina, we have been really surprised at how open and friendly most of the other producers and designers have been. People have been more than happy to pass on the details of their workshops and suppliers . Without that openness in networks I think it would be near impossible to work in Argentina.
12. How are you dealing with legal matters in terms of your business operating in Argentina? Do you find economic benefits from operating out of Buenos Aires?
The company is registered in Australia and we have found a great forwarding agent to help us deal with exporting. We are of course still in the preliminary stages of growth though.
13. Apart from your start up, what do you usually like to do in your spare time in Buenos Aires or back home? How do you like life in Buenos Aires compared to Australia?
We spend a lot of time walking here. It´s a beautiful city and literally every city block has it’s own character and something cool to offer. Alex is involved in street art photography and chloe has started baking business delivery ready-to-cook meals all over the city (this has definitely improved her bicycling skills!).