The social business model for ETHNOTEK stemmed from a trip the founders took in 2007 through the highlands of northern Vietnam, a region that is home to over 54 ethnic minority groups and nomadic tribes. Inspired by the local textiles, the company Jake Orak and Josh Linde created combines culture and consumerism; offering a unique piece of hand-made global culture in the form of something practical and useful like backpacks and messenger/laptop bags.
“I remember sitting down to rest in Bac Ha after hiking through the highlands all day and looking down at my muddy shoes,” recalls founder Jake Orak, a bag designer at the time, “I was so transfixed by what I was seeing.” It was 2007 and the local people were still living the way they always have for hundreds of years, and creating some of the most amazing embroidered and hand-loomed textiles Jake had ever seen. “I thought to myself, we are all so fortunate that this sort of thing still exists. I felt a wave of responsibility and inspiration wash over me.”
“The core of our company DNA is the celebration of culture; all culture,” say founders Jake and Josh, “ETHNOTEK has a purpose, we aim to empower and rejuvenate hope and inspiration in our villagers through their own culture and traditional craft by creating awareness and demand for the beautiful things they have been making for centuries. We also place an emphasis on re-telling their cultural story in order to drum up global awareness. Cool bags are just a vehicle to get that message across.”
Jake spent years developing these high quality backpacks and messenger bags, made from nearly bomb-proof ballistic nylon and perfectly scaled for air travel. What makes ETHNOTEK products so unique is that each bag can be customized with a removable front panel called a THREAD— traditionally made art pieces of ethnic textiles direct-trade acquired from a small circle of partnering artisan villages in Ghana, Guatemala, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
The bags and backpacks come with a heavy duty padded laptop compartment, a trap door on the side to access the bottom of the bag without opening the top, and a surprising amount of pockets that can all be accessed without taking the bag off. Jake says all of this makes them perfect for the urban commuter, traveler or tech-savvy individual who wants to invite conversation from passers-by.
ETHNOTEK has been around for less than a year, but they’re clearly headed on the right track. As Jake says, “We simply provide a highly functional product that puts beautiful and culturally significant textiles out there for the world to see. When you combine a highly functional beautiful bags with a transparent social business model its hard not to capture a bit of success.”
Jake and Josh clearly see the opportunity to intertwine business success and social good, believing that their choices and dealings with people can have a big impact personally, and on the world.