We recently made our way to Longueuil on the South Shore of Montreal to interview Dans le Sac, one of our main suppliers. They thrive in the world of zero-waste textile production, making reusable bags for all purposes. We chatted about entrepreneurship, responsible consumption and of course, a few random fun facts.
This interview was translated from its original french version.
To start, could you introduce yourselves and your company?
Laurie: We’re two co-founders and currently have two interns working with us. Our team is growing, slowly but surely! We specialize in the creation of environmentally-responsible products, entirely made in Quebec, that reinforce the ‘zero-waste’ lifestyle.
Stéphanie: We started by developing bread bags, baguette bags, then moved to bulk bags… and we’re continually adding products to our collection to make adopting a zero-waste lifestyle easy and convenient.
How did you get where you are? Why choose Montreal?
Laurie: Montreal – it’s what we know best! By doing a bit of travel, we realized we were very well positioned here in terms of the zero-waste lifestyle. We have access to more things. We’re friends that go way back – since high school – so we’ve known each other for about 12 years! We were part of a big gang of friends and were the two that had the biggest affinity to the zero-waste lifestyle, yoga, compost, all things zen…
We both read Béa Johnson’s book “zéro déchet”. It’s a bit extreme, but we adopted little ideas here and there, like going to the bakery with a pillowcase to hold your bread instead of using plastic bags. Steph started doing that, but it wasn’t exactly stylish to be bringing a pillowcase around – we do appreciate good style! She called me and asked if I was interested in creating and sewing a bread bag. We had no experience in sewing! We went on Youtube, borrowed our mothers’ sewing machines and made our first prototype, that we later reworked.
How has your company developed and how did you find your own style?
Laurie: The prototype was supposed to be just for us. We made a few and put some on Etsy with a bit of branding, but our intention wasn’t to create a business out of it. It was more of a hobby, a little bonus we could enjoy on weekends. Then, in six days, all of our bags were sold, and they weren’t even bought by our family! So, we put in a big order with Petites Mains, a social reintegration company that we worked with for our first production. Little by little, we began to grow. People started asking for baguette bags, then bulk bags… it took about six months to really get off the ground, which is pretty fast.
Stéphanie: As we kept growing, it started to make more sense for both of us to leave our jobs and concentrate on this full time. We started polishing the business, did what we thought was best, got some training, and participated in the ‘accélérateur HEC’, where we met Celine, the founder of Kotmo.
What tools, techniques and materials do you use most often? Why?
Stéphanie: All our bags are made of cotton from the United States. We had wanted organic cotton, but in doing some research and learning more about cotton, we learned it wasn’t the best fit for us. It has a big market, prices vary vastly from one week to another. If we chose to use organic cotton, we wouldn’t be able to land on a reasonable price for the consumer. All our bags are made in Quebec, so there’s a local production cost factor, compared to products made in China or India. We wanted to make sure the products were made here. The United States isn’t too far from here, the quality is there. It’s not certified organic, but they’re more refined than ones coming from Asia.
Our table napkins are made of organic hemp cotton. We also have bags made of recycled materials from a company here in Montreal. We do what we can, when we can. But we had no choice but to opt for regular cotton to meet the demand.
What are your values? How do you define professional success?
Laurie: Everything, from the tag, to production, to packaging, is done here. That’s one of the foundational values of our brand. In fact, our values are first and foremost about having a mission. We don’t do this for the profit, and it’s not always easy. There are fun parts, but entrepreneurs only show what they want to be seen. Money doesn’t come easily, so it’s important not to abandon ship, but to remind yourself of why you’re doing what you’re doing. We’re doing it to reduce the use of plastic, for the environment, to reinforce our personal values.
Stéphanie: Reminding ourselves of that helps us be successful, and it helps others be on board with our mission. By staying authentic, we’re more likely to build trust with our consumers. What is most important for us is to keep our identity, and to not fall off the rails. In the end, we’re selling a product, but it’s the vehicle of our mission – we’re more about selling the lifestyle. By using our products, we want people to get on board with this style of living, and that it affects consumer behaviour.
What do you love the most about your job?
Both: Creating different projects, that’s the most fun. And content creation, sharing the mission… definitely more than accounting! We also love the flexibility that comes with entrepreneurship. We work a lot, but being our own bosses and making our own decisions is nice, even if it means working long and hard.
What inspires you? Moves you? What other artists/designers are you inspired by?
Laurie: I have an unconditional love for Patagonia. We both do. Yvon watches over us! They really are the model of a business that has successfully maintained their values, and is about more than a product. They’re very engaged. Yvon has created so many foundations.
Stéphanie: Those that work in sync with the B Corp model, that are centered on the community inspire us a lot. Kotmo is a good example! We’re actually in the process of becoming B Corp certified. By the end of the year, we’ll have our certification!
What your future projects for the future?
Stéphanie: We’re going to be exporting to Europe soon. We’re very excited to have our products available there because we already have a lot of orders. Ideally, in the future, we would like our production to be entirely local, but that’s another step. We would also like to move our office, continue to create content on Youtube, participate in conferences, continue to answer the public’s questions and convey messages to a larger audience. We’d like to structure production to concentrate more on content and the mission. And continue our sustainability practices!
Laurie: We’re still staying flexible. We’re trying not to predict events too long term and still follow our gut feeling. It’s very intuitive.
What type of tourists are you?
Laurie: We’re not really cultural tourists, we’re very much nature people. We’ll get together to see landscapes rather than ‘trendy’ spots. We really want to take in the local culture and adopt the traditional lifestyle.
Stéphanie: We always try to respect traditions as much as we can. We rent apartments and shop at the grocery store, for example.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?
Laurie: Yvon if I don’t pass out… even if I wouldn’t know what to say!
Stéphanie: I never asked myself the question to be honest… but I’d eat with someone from the world of yoga or meditation.
If you were an object, which would you be?
Laurie: Does a tree count as an object?
Stéphanie: I’d be a salt lamp, like the one on the shelf. It’s the first thing that comes to mind.
Laurie: And I’d be the essential oils diffuser! We have a little spiritual corner in the office, it really is an essential part of the space.
How did you get connected to Kotmo? How did you start collaborating?
Laurie: At the HEC incubator. We had met at a market before, but it really was the incubator program that connected us and led us to collaborate and work together.
Celine approached us with a first contract for a project she had recently landed. Desjardins maybe? She had us make bags for a company she was working with. It went from 50 bags to 58 000 bags! Right away, a big contract.
We were in the program when she was making the proposal to the client. She suggested a bunch of items to them, and they especially loved our bags. We jumped for joy and did a little dance all three of us at HEC!
Stéphanie: And I was already getting stressed, going over the numbers in my head, thinking about fabric orders and ribbon orders… how many meters of fabric does 58 000 units require?!
What do you like about working with Kotmo?
Laurie: They’re very helpful. We’ve often had questions that Celine was more than happy to answer.
Stéphanie: Kotmo is a bit like a mentor. We live the same things, except Celine is a bit more advanced than us. She’s really helped us in our operations, company management, salaries… She’s always helped us, she’s a ball of organization! And Kotmo really has great values that match ours, so it’s fun to collaborate with another québécois company with the same field of vision.
Laurie: She’s also invited us to the B Corp breakfasts and the BCorp Masterclass… so, along with Miguel, they’re our “B Corp guides”!
How do you envision the future of the collaboration?
Laurie: We’d be more than happy to have more contracts, and we’ll continue to refer companies that approach us to Kotmo, because sometimes their area of expertise is more suitable than ours.
Stéphanie: I often tell people I know with businesses about Kotmo because it really is comprehensive what she offers. It’s a service, with the videos, the impact report, outlining the environmental impacts of the product. That’s very rare. It’s the first time I see something like it. It’s a very interesting package. So, I often refer her to others when the inquiry is less in our area of expertise. And we understand that companies, at one point or another, need promotional products, and we don’t need any more keychains or pens, we have too many. What Kotmo offers is very original, fun and useful, so we happily recommend!
A big thank you to Laurie and Stephanie for the interview!