Business partners and fiancés Kweku Larbi and Sarah Smith recall a trip they took to Ghana, West Africa, when they were stunned to see unregulated plastic waste everywhere. Garbage was dumped on the roadsides, plastic items were thrown onto the streets after use, and garbage was dumped on the beds of rivers and lakes.
It was during this trip in 2018 that their sustainable rainwear label Baxter wood was born.
The pair are centered on what they call an “eco-conscious” approach, committed to producing sustainable clothing while creating accessible and comfortable designs. The company is also committed to supporting environmental education opportunities for children in non-industrialized countries. For Larbi, 27, all the trash and pollution he and Smith saw on this trip were reminiscent of familiar images. of his childhood. He was brought up not far from Ghana’s biggest landfill and said when it rained “you would feel the whole garbage filling up in your house”.
He grew up with an interest in design and fashion. Her mother’s business took her to places like Dubai and across Asia, where she imported materials for fabrics eventually sold to designers in Ghana.
Larbi worked in their family business for 6 to 15 years, selling fabrics to women for wedding dresses and evening wear. After high school, he traveled to the United States for college, where he earned a degree in civil engineering.
But his interests kept returning to design. He worked a year and a half on designing bridges. Fashion kept calling, and he quit his job, traveling across Asia to better understand the production side of the industry. What stood out most was the questionable ethics behind the production.
“You would walk into the room and see fumes, those fumes could kill someone,” Larbi said.
Smith, 26, grew up in Indiana, part of a “family full of entrepreneurs.” She studied accounting, became a chartered public accountant.
When Larbi and Smith met, their personal bond merged with their professional interests. He asked her if she wanted to be part of his budding idea of a sustainable and ethical fashion company, and she replied “not until we are engaged”.
“It had to be something permanent,” she said. “It was kind of like this amazing thing that I wanted to help out with, to be part of a company that was doing something meaningful, with this mindset of caring for people and the planet.”
The brand focuses on stylish rainwear, offering raincoats for men and women and Chelsea boots.
While there is a lot of rain gear on the market, Larbi says the inspiration behind the brand is very personal.
When he quit his engineering job after college, he was first inspired to start a nonprofit philanthropic organization at home. He worked with a BBC Africa documentary maker and produced a little piece on a young boy named David he met along the shores of the fishing community of Jamestown in Accra, Ghana. David slept in a boat, working on the docks, unable to afford a primary education.
“On the beach where I met David, there was a group of people in raincoats and rain boots, I think that subconsciously sowed the seed of raincoats,” he says.
Baxter Wood’s men’s and women’s Trawler coats sell for US $ 140, while its Chelsea boots retail for US $ 125, according to the brand’s website.
“Your fashion can go beyond most products today,” says Larbi. “The products themselves can be great, but they can also play a role in fixing something real in this world.”
Beyond that, Larbi and Smith say they also want you to feel good wearing their coats and boots.
“These are just comfy raincoats, you can wear your rain boots just by walking around the house,” Smith says.
WHAT IS THE RIGHT?
Baxter Wood products are created from recycled materials. The lining of their raincoats is rPET polyester, a fabric woven from post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. About 22 bottles are used for each of these jackets.
The boots are made from sustainably grown Amazonian rubber. This is a durable alternative to the petroleum-containing synthetic rubber used for most competitive boots. The rubber also comes from FSC certified plantations in Sri Lanka and is vegan and biodegradable.
“The biodegradable aspect is unique to our boots,” explains Larbi.
Smith and Larbi also have a buy-back program for their customers: Customers who bring a rubber boot or an old rain jacket from your closet receive a US $ 30 credit toward a new Baxter Wood purchase. If it’s a jacket, Baxter Wood will repair it and donate it. The company also donates shredded boots to a Michigan facility that uses the material for turf or punching bags.
Baxter Wood also donates 10% of its profits to a non-profit organization One percent for education, which offers environmental education programs to children in developing countries.
As a young company, Baxter Wood always finds its place. Smith says there is still a lot of room to develop.
“Right now we only have the raincoat and rain boot, but I think as we continue to launch and grow and get sales, I think we would like to introduce a new line or two. “, she says. “We don’t want to overwhelm the consumer. I think sticking with the ones we started with and polishing them up a bit and bringing in a few new things, I can see that in the next five years. ”