These Leather Go-To Bags Will Make You Look and Feel Great

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They say necessity is the mother of invention, and we can’t think of anything more necessary than finding your SO the perfect birthday present (relatively speaking, of course). It was this exact search that led Ian and Brittany Bentley to launch their leather goods brand, Parker Clay (named after their two young sons), in 2014. The couple lived in Ethiopia with their family (more on that in a minute ) when Ian stumbled upon an amazing leather bag for Brittany’s birthday at a local market.


With its high quality, ethically sourced leather and connection to local artisans and farmers, Ian found that not only was the bag the perfect gift, but it was also an amazing business plan. The husband and wife duo set out to create their brand which “hand selects leather to produce products according to traditional craftsmanship, while creating opportunities for vulnerable women”. [who could otherwise be sold into human trafficking] become economically independent. Indeed, it is this inherent sense of social responsibility that is at the heart of all the Californian couple’s decisions. Brittany and Ian ended up flying to Ethiopia from their Santa Barbara home for the first time in 2011 to adopt their first daughter after learning there were an estimated 163 million orphans worldwide: “Ian and I looked at each other and said, ‘What if it was Parker or Clay? What if we weren’t able to provide for them? It became a pivotal moment in our lives that ultimately led us to Ethiopia.

The family felt a return to Ethiopia after that first visit and eventually bought one-way tickets to Addis Ababa in 2012. It was around this time that they adopted their second daughter and started Parker Clay. They have since returned to Santa Barbara, where they operate a showroom, but return to Ethiopia several times a year to reconnect with the community, visit their factories, and explore new opportunities to make an even broader impact. They are currently in the process of hiring more Ethiopian staff and reinvesting a significant percentage of their net sales back into their production facility and partners like Ellilta Women at Risk (EWAR), with whom they are launching a women’s training program. of EWAR as leather artisans at Parker Clay.

Brit + Co: What was the biggest surprise you had when you landed in Ethiopia for the first time?

Brittany Bentley: We landed in Ethiopia with no house or car and only a few friends, but we loved the adventure. Too often Ethiopia is in the mainstream media for its problems and challenges. It’s been that way since the famine of the 70s and 80s, when it made the front page of National geographic. After our first visits to Ethiopia, we were really surprised to find that it was a land of immense beauty, not only by its landscape, but also by its people. We have always been welcomed and treated like family. It is definitely a second home for us, and even with the adoption of our two daughters from Ethiopia, it has given us an even greater connection to the country.

B+C: Do you have a “typical” workday when you’re in California? It must create some interesting logistics with so much of your stuff so far away.

BB: We have a great team and recently celebrated our one-year boutique anniversary at our Santa Barbara headquarters. We often find that work starts very early, as Ethiopia is about 10 hours ahead of us in California, and they end their day the way we start ours. We often joke that we have an eight-to-five, then a five-to-eight!

We talk almost daily with our team in Ethiopia to make sure we stay on top of production and hear how everyone is doing. Recently we hired 10 more people on our team and bought a van to transport our staff from our workshop to their homes. These types of impact are huge motivators for our team in the US and Ethiopia.

We often spend our mornings packing orders from the night before and making sure to respond to every email. Throughout the day, we work with our team on upcoming content, partnerships, and other strategic plans. For me personally, in all of this, I also coordinate my five kids with school dropouts, doctor appointments, and loads of homework, and it all comes with the amazing opportunity of being a working mom. Sometimes that also means having my two-year-old Kyah at the office — she’s usually coloring in the back of the desk, hiding with Red Vines in her hands.

B+C: You mentioned that the leather in your bags is ethically sourced. Where does the leather for your bags come from?

BB: Since the time of the pharaohs, Ethiopia has produced and exported precious leathers, luxurious spices and rich coffees. When we learned about the leather industry in Ethiopia, we were shocked to learn how much leather was shipped to countries like Italy, a place internationally known for its leather.

Ethiopia has a population of over 100 million, and over 90% of these people live from rural and agricultural subsistence. We source our leather from traditional tanneries that combine quality craftsmanship with modern environmental innovations. These tanneries source leather as a by-product of the livestock and agricultural industries and recycle all the water used in the tanning process. Our products are dyed with industry standard dyes and, increasingly, with all-natural, organic and plant-based dyes.

Our team hand selects each piece of leather before cutting, assembling and sewing the products using state of the art German machinery. Our design process draws on our California upbringing to create classic products built for adventure and built for the city. Leather develops a distinct patina as it ages, which makes leather products look better with time and use. We hope to see Parker Clay leather products passed down from generation to generation.

B+C: Okay, here’s a tough one. What’s your favorite Parker Clay bag for everyday use?

BB: I change almost every week, but my usual favorites are the Entoto Zip Tote, the Layla Satchel, and the Clayton Card Wallet. There are a few new bags we are finalizing development on that will soon be my new favorites! To be honest, it’s like asking me who my favorite child is – they’re all my favorites.

B+C: How are your children involved in the business? As a woman, do you make it a priority to teach business skills to your daughters?

BB: We like to involve our children. When they lived in Ethiopia they were always with us, and although it didn’t always make for the most effective meetings, we loved it. We make it a priority to teach our teenage daughter Abby about our business – she is interested in the pop-ups and events we have in our retail store, so this has been a great way to engage her. Since our return from Ethiopia, we have really enjoyed taking our children individually on trips back to Ethiopia. In August we were able to bring in Abby, and she was very involved in the design and production process at our Ethiopian factory. When we started Parker Clay, we always said we wanted to build something our kids would be proud to support. Our children’s names and fingerprints are all over the company, and that’s important and intentional to us.

B+C: Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who want to incorporate an element of social responsibility into their own business?

BB: As consumer demand for socially responsible products grows, brands will respond. This requires consumers who are willing to invest their money in these brands, which may be more expensive than traditional alternatives. We have seen many innovative retail approaches for social good, and these efforts are being reinforced as the quality of socially responsible products improves and improved and sustainable impact models are used. Concretely, there are useful frameworks that can help you understand, implement and improve your impact. I recommend you check out the IRIS impact models and metrics and/or take the B-Corps assessment to get some great ideas on where and how to start improving your impact on your business.

B+C Readers: Get a discount on your purchase by using code “BRIT&CO15” at checkout.

Do you like other socially responsible brands? Tweet us @BritandCo so we can add them to our list!

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