While many fashion brands and products base off inspirations from nature and life, this particular brand we are featuring today takes a unique approach to re-inventing the modern backpack and designer bags. Pangolin is a Colombian brand named after the armoured shell-like mammal native to Africa and Asia. Their signature accessory – the Renegade and Born backpack collection – mimics the overlapping scales behind the bag’s folding mechanism. Speaking with Ralph Thoma, the CEO of Pangolin, we get a sneak peek into the brand’s story.
1. LET’S BEGIN WITH THE BRAND, WHAT’S PANGOLIN’S STORY AND MEANING? HOW DID IT ALL START, AND HOW IS YOUR BRAND DIFFERENT?
The Pangolin bag started a few years ago in Colombia as a backpack model among others, in a brand called Cyclus. Cyclus is a brand and manufacturer – we recycle tire innertubes in a unique way and it is an amazing factory where I’m proud to say we put ethics and ecology first.
The Pangolin model was so special that we decided to build a brand for this product. The Pangolin team was put in place at that point, and we took over the re-designing and refining of the product. After several years the result is the brand and line-up we have here today.
Our brand is unique in many ways; first, the bag itself. There are a very limited number of styles, it is a genuine “head turner”, and the product speaks volumes about the brand. Its unique design is powerful and timeless enough to resist fashion fads. On the operational level, Pangolin is very special, as well: our company is comprised of a small team based in three continents, and the bags are still made in the original factory. We do not have a head designer; instead, we use the collective creativity and expertise of our design team. So yes, I guess you can say we are different from the usual business model, which consists of designers, banks, and manufacturing factories.
2. WITH SUCH A UNIQUE BUSINESS OPERATIONS MODEL I CAN SEE A UNIQUE CREATIVE PROCESS. CAN YOU DESCRIBE EXPLAIN THIS PROCESS FOR US?
Drawing, patterning, sewing… the creative process is always the same from paper to the final product with mostly a trial and error method. As for the intangible creative process for vision and aesthetics, we already had an existing theme, thus we only needed to create the brand to support the product. What we really wanted is to refine the dynamics of the product shape, so it looks more streamlined and fresh for audience.
3. WITH YOUR TEAM BASED GEOGRAPHICALLY APART FROM EACH OTHER, CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT THE SUCCESSES AND DIFFICULTIES OF WORKING IN THIS ENVIRONMENT?
Being international from the start brings many advantages to the team. Not only does it bring flexibility with the group, but it also encourages creativity through a collective effort. Also, this setup enables our team to connect with different market around the world and is essential for identifying emerging local fashion market trends.
On the other hand, the reality for this type of environment can also be challenging in terms of communication, as meaning can get lost through email, and phone conversations. But, overall we try our best to meet physically, as well as staying close together as a team, professionally and personally.
4. WE RECOGNIZE THAT YOUR COLLECTIONS ARE JUST GETTING STARTED, BUT FROM THE EXCITING PRODUCTS THAT THE COMPANY HAS CREATED SO FAR, WHAT’S THE PRODUCT YOU’RE PROUDEST OF, AND WHY?
The Born series, because it is a step ahead, design-wise. The design expresses the essence of the biomimicry aesthetics further than our previous collections. Pangolin Renegade is our historic bestseller so we like that a lot as well.
5. CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR AUDIENCE AND CUSTOMERS, AND WHY THEY LOVE YOUR DESIGNS?
Our customers comes from all over the world, our products have huge traction in China, with TV and movie stars endorsing it. Style-wise, our customers are old Goths, new Goths, K-Pop, Harajuku, Berlin or Willamsburg Indie. They can be high rollers or an art student. We have a very wide audience, but there is ONE common link they all share: being not afraid to look different and be pro-actively individualistic. The Pangolin empowers the wearer, it makes people feel unique and free.
6. LET’S DISCUSS MORE ABOUT THE POWER OF THE BRANDING. THE BRAND NAME PANGOLIN CAME FROM THE ANIMAL, BUT HOW DID THIS CONCEPT START? WHY WERE THE DESIGNS BASED ON THE PANGOLIN?
All our products were inspired by the pangolin animal’s biomechanics, which also gave the name to our brand. The animal reflects the brand’s unique bag proposition and the overlapping scales of the pangolin are the inspiration behind the bag’s folding mechanism.
Our goal is to look for inspirations in nature as our ultimate source for our future designs and this could go beyond the Pangolin animal.
7. SO WHO IS BEHIND THE DESIGN AND VISION OF THE PRODUCT AND BRAND? WE WOULD LOVE TO KNOW MORE DETAILS ABOUT THE TEAM.
For the moment, we have chosen to put the brand and the product before the designers by keeping them anonymous. It is a strategy to differentiate our brand from others, where the designers interconnected to the brand, becomes larger than the brand itself. As the result, people buy the designers rather than the product.
Historic brands are known for their iconic products not the lifestyle of their designers – think Perfecto’s or RB Wayfarers, for example. The “designer” concept is coming from the haute couture. This concept was later exploited by mass production fashion houses, where brands were asking for designer collaborations to boost sales.
With the dot-com economy, everyone with a t-shirt brand has his or her portraits taken before even producing anything original or relevant. The market is crowded with designers but with products having less and less lifespan. Because of this, Pangolin really wants people to focus on the product, and start reinventing the industry.
8. WITH THE BAGS COMING FROM RECYCLED PRODUCTS CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT ITS QUALITY? HOW DO YOU ENSURE SUPERIOR QUALITY?
Quality control is one of the most crucial part of the whole production chain, and it takes lots of time and dedication to do it properly. Our products are made individually by a group of people working in our factory. We can control production details, quality of the components and discuss issues directly; it is different from ordering abroad and waiting for a shipment. Every new model comes with a set of new challenges for our workers and craftsmen, and we make sure to tackle each problem as a group.
9. ANY SNEAK PREVIEWS TO YOUR UPCOMING DESIGNS AND PANGOLIN IN GENERAL?
We just launched the Born collection in leather! We are working on new models/variations of existing models. For now, we are concentrating in building the brand’s retail presence and promotional endorsement and satisfying the demand.