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Inspired by people: Robert + Carley of Poppy and Sage

Pass skills down through generations is a beautiful tradition that demonstrates the strong bonds of family and communities on Bali. The traditional Balinese woven art is part of the skills...

Pass skills down through generations is a beautiful tradition that demonstrates the strong bonds of family and communities on Bali. The traditional Balinese woven art is part of the skills communities share with the next generations, and it's also the process by which the Poppy + Sage handbags are made. Learn about the whole creation process is the key to value all the work and love behind each piece.

From an energetic surf and beach town on the West Coast of Bali called Canggu, we asked Robert and Carley, founders of Poppy + Sage about their experience working with Bali communities to help them improve their lives. We feel very proud to work with Poppy + Sage that truly believe in fair trade and sustainable fashion.

How did the idea of POPPY + SAGE come about?

We knew we wanted to start a business together that would have a positive social impact and would put our prior business experience to work.  We love an adventure and traveling has been a major part of both of our lives. A secondary priority to creating a positive social impact, we wanted to build a business that propelled us to travel to new countries and explore new communities.  We were in the early stages of exploring various business ideas, when we went on vacation (from our corporate roles) to Bali. We were both taken with the raw beauty of the island, the friendliness of the Balinese people, and the attention to detail in everything created in Bali - there are works of art all around you. 


While exploring some local markets, we found the round rattan bags, which Carley immediately fell in love with, and a few minutes stopping to check out handmade accessories turned into an hour-long conversation about the bag weaving process, learning about the artisans who create them, and discovering more local crafts to take home with us.  When we excitedly sent pictures home to family and friends, they fell in love with the products, and we thought we might be onto an idea. The next day, we bought an extra suitcase, and brought home a bag full of potential products for our new business venture. At the time we were living in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, and reserved a booth at a weekend market (think high-end flea market meets an LA farmers market).  That weekend, we set up our booth and within a few hours sold out of the rattan bags that we brought back. Market attendees were just as taken with the handwoven bags as we were. We loved the market experience of speaking with customers and getting live feedback from passersby. Once we got home from the market that day, we communicated back to our artisan contacts back in Bali to place our first official order (over a large glass of wine), and we never looked back!

What is the meaning of POPPY + SAGE, and How did you come up with this name for your company?

The name POPPY + SAGE represents the harmonious balance of youth + energy (“POPPY”) with wisdom + experience (“SAGE”).  It was important to us to also use words that are tied to nature, since all of our materials are natural. We love the energy of "POPPY" and the bright, whimsical nature of the POPPY flower -- juxtaposed with "SAGE" which makes us think of the wise, traditional elders, who pass down the weaving tradition through generations in Bali, as well as the natural plant, wild sage.

How was the process of changing from a corporate marketing job to create their own business?

We both had several years of experience in New York City and Los Angeles in corporate marketing for The New York Times (Robert), and Saatchi & Saatchi, global advertising agency (Carley). We were both in digital-focused B2C marketing roles. We knew to launch an e-commerce business, a depth of digital marketing knowledge would be paramount, so we felt strong suited for this adventure!  However - we quickly found out that being an entrepreneur starting a small business required each of us to use both sides of our brain, and learn many new skills.  Instead of excelling in a specific role, or area of the process as we did in our corporate jobs (and working with valued colleagues to be experts in their respective roles), we learned that we needed to be experts in all parts of the process.
The process of transitioning from a corporate job to launch our own business was both freeing and daunting at the same time.  Upon the transition, we felt "free" from working under someone else's schedule, priorities, and particular style, but that freedom comes with much responsibility -- that we were now responsible for completing ALL tasks across the board - from design, photography, web development, and marketing, to accounting, tax management, customer service, and much more.  The real upside is that now we can start our "workdays" with a morning paddle out #surfsesh, followed by fresh and frosty acai smoothie bowls to plan the day's work. 

Have you been to Bali? How many times?

Yes, we have been to Bali - we actually live here!  We live in Canggu, Bali, which is an energetic surf town on the West Coast of the island.  Prior to launching POPPY + SAGE, we came to Bali on a vacation in May 2017, when we fell in love with the island, the Balinese people, the rich culture, and overall the incredible attention to detail found in every aspect of daily life.  From the most colorful and vibrant food presentation, to incredibly ornate woodwork on humble Balinese home door frames, there is art everywhere you look on the island.

What are the top three places in Bali, we can’t miss at all?

It’s tough to pick just three because there are so many amazing hidden gems in Bali, but here are some of our favorites: 
  • Canggu:  Where Brooklyn meets Costa Rica, with a side of Venice, Los Angeles - in Bali!  Canggu is a popular surf and beach town on the West Coast of Bali, and is where we live. Canggu is home to some of the best restaurants, cafes, and sunsets in Bali, and the food quality and presentation is unmatched.  There’s a vibrant community of entrepreneurs, digital nomads, and location-independent consultants - so the inspiring entrepreneurial vibes are abundant. We highly recommend Canggu for your Bali-based beach adventure (over neighboring towns that you may see in wide-spread travel guides)! 
  • Pura Tirta Empul (Ubud area): This is a traditional holy water temple where water showers down from a 30 spouts into two large purification pools of spring water where you wade through while wearing a traditional Balinese sarong.  Balinese people and visitors flock here for “spiritual cleansing” and blessings. Holy water in Bali has three purposes: 1) cleaning bad or evil spirits, 2) prosperity, 3) purifying body and soul. No matter what your spiritual beliefs, everyone is welcome, and this is a beautiful experience and one where you will see visitors and Balinese locals going through the process together.  Bonus: This is also one of the largest temples in Indonesia. 
  • Padang Padang Beach (Uluwatu): Imagine descending almost 200 rocky stairs, on a staircase only about 2.5 feet wide.  You start at the top of a cliff, and when you complete your descension you’re at a small hidden beach with the most beautiful blue water and rolling waves.  You settle into your beach towel and a small monkey comes right up to your side to “offer” you a banana. Settle in for the day with heavenly water, soft sand, and a gentle breeze in one of the most beautiful peaches in Bali.

    If you’re planning a trip to Bali, truly feel free to reach out, we’d love to send you personalized recommendations! 

    If you could describe Poppy + Sage in a few words, how would you describe it?

    Our core mission is supporting global artisan communities economically using environmentally sustainable practices to ensure real long term growth of the community without exhausting their resources and exploiting the culture. We do this by making their beautiful handcrafted goods accessible to you through building real relationships in each community that benefit both creator and consumer. Enjoy your POPPY + SAGE products knowing you are doing good around the world with every purchase!

    What has been your most satisfying moment with Poppy + Sage?

    The most satisfying aspect is the personal growth in both of us and our partners as we’ve become more entwined with the local communities. The understanding and patience that we’ve developed working with a completely different culture is something that can’t be taught in a textbook. It’s also two fold because we’ve equally seen the same growth reciprocated with the artisan communities we’ve worked with on the island. Our coming together has proven that if you’re willing to put in the work to bridge the cultural gaps and develop the patience necessary to do that, beautiful things can happen. 

    What Could you tell us more about the women community who create Poppy + Sage bags?

    Family is the most important thing in Bali. It is such a blessing to the women who create our beautiful bags that they are able to work from the comfort of their own homes and communities while weaving these bags, so they can easily raise their children at home.  We have been learning the local language, Bahasa Indonesia, so that we can communicate even better with the women artisans (only a few of them speak a bit of English), and continue to connect even more closely on a personal level. The women have cheerful and loving spirits and we value every moment we get to spend with them in their villages.  There is so much joy and connection that can be shared through smiles, laughter, moments of understanding, and positive body language. We cherish witnessing teaching moments when we are in the village, where the elder women artisans are teaching the next generation of weavers new techniques, especially when we introduce a new bag design. Since it’s not as common in America anymore to pass skills down through generations (especially skills that provide a steady income), that it’s truly a beautiful act to witness.

    How would you describe your work with the communities that manufacturer your Products in Bali?

    This is the most fulfilling part of what we do on a consistent basis at POPPY + SAGE. To fully understand our work with the artisans, let us illuminate a brief history of how the creative process evolved. The beautiful finished bag that you see in the photos was actually derived from a traditional Balinese woven art form that originally was used to create large sturdy baskets for the village women to carry goods, such as rice and fruit over long distances from village to village. This was a world before plastic came to dominate this beautiful island and is causing a load of problems for the island community as they have no infrastructure to deal with the plastic crises, but that is for a different blog post on another day :). Back to the traditional process, the Balinese would smoke the freshly woven large rattan baskets using coconut husks in a giant antique cast iron smoker. This is done to “seal” the rattan to make it water resistant, which is crucial given the tropical climate on Bali, it’s also what gives the finished product the rich natural caramel color that you see in our bags today. 

    Turning this near-extinct traditional process from a tool of function (that has now been replaced by cheap plastic alternatives), to the elegant line of handwoven bags we have today has empowered the communities that have been most left behind and exploited by the ever globalizing economy that seems to only benefit a few. These are the unseen, and unsung heroes that have true talent, and both Carley and I are proud to be able to showcase their hard work and help bring prosperity to rural communities that don’t benefit from the tourism industry that has made Bali a household name around the world. 

    What piece of advice would you give to people who want to become entrepreneurs in the sustainable fashion industry?

    Our work with the communities is always evolving, even almost-art form in and of itself. Nowhere in my business courses in college was I taught how to deal with a rural community from the other side of the world that has limited access to modern infrastructure. For starters, email is non-existent. Almost all of our ordering process and major communication is handled through (the Facebook-owned worldwide messaging app) WhatsApp.  If I spoke to a business class of students interested in how we best communicate, I’d say “use emoji’s”. It’s funny but it’s true, in today’s text-focused world, emoji’s make sure what we are asking for, or conveying doesn’t get mistranslated. We have to keep the communication channels at a constant with the village leaders, but in a very respectful manner and hope deadlines are met and the order is accurate. The exciting part is that our communication has improved drastically since we started, and continues to get better as we nurture these relationships, and learn the local language (Bahasa Indonesia).

    It’s crucial as a sustainable fashion brand for you to be vigilant about supply chain management. We consistently work to ensure all of our products are supporting the sustainable fashion trend, and help us all move away from the current and unsustainable destructive global “fast fashion” supply chains. Nothing about our bags is “fast” - each bag takes one woman two days to weave, then the bags are smoked for two days, and the final step is laying the bag out to sun bake for three days before it is ready to have the fabric liner inserted, leather straps attached, and sent to our customers around the world. Quality sustainable items take time, that’s true in any industry from farming to fashion. 

    How do you describe the Poppy + Sage Bags style? And what is the best occasion to wear it?

    POPPY + SAGE bags lend an aura of effortless style to the wearer. Our bags are always designed with the end consumer in mind and the statement they are making when they walk out into the world with a beautiful piece of art that not only brings joy to them but to others around them. Each bag’s level of individual craftsmanship is a piece art plain and simple. POPPY + SAGE handwoven bags complete a polished look for upscale settings, but can also be dressed down for an unfussy outing around town, a day at the beach, or shopping at the farmers market. They’re perfect bags for traveling, and will catch the eyes of the detail-oriented anywhere you go, it’s impossible not to appreciate the uniqueness of each one.

    What is your favorite Poppy + Sage bag?

    It's so hard to pick just one! We are not parents yet, but I imagine that's like asking to pick your favorite child.  We’ve also been adding so many new styles recently, it’s hard to choose.

    For everyday: The Camilla Bag. The quintessential “Bali Bag” that holds everything you need for daytime errands or a night out and adds the perfect touch to denim and a white t-shirt.   

    For a wedding/cocktail event: The Penelope Bag. When you only need to hold a few essentials, the Penelope Bag instantly elevates your style. 

    For carrying a bit more: The Stella Tote. The Stella Tote can take you from everyday running around through to the evening. With longer straps and a wider brim, you can comfortably toss this over your shoulder, but still fit quite a bit in the tote.  The open-style weave is a newer design and one that carries through the transitional seasons extremely well.


    What is your favorite book? Or what book about sustainable businesses has inspired you the most?  

    We both love the entrepreneurial-focused book Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, but specifically from the sustainable fashion realm - Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia). 

    Shoe Dog is the story of how Phil Knight built Nike to be the monumental brand it is today.  Our main takeaways were 1) Be open to doing things differently, and 2) Learn when you don’t know how.  

    Let My People Go Surfing is “the philosophical manual for the employees of Patagonia” by founder Yvon Chouinard.  In short, it’s a guide for sustainable businesses, with an emphasis on putting a healthy environment at the top priority.  This encompasses a healthy work environment for employees, but most important a healthy environment for the greater world, and the environment in where your specific products are made.  This is summed up best by his quote: “"Who are businesses really responsible to? Their customers? Shareholders? Employees? We would argue that it's none of the above. Fundamentally, businesses are responsible to their resource base. Without a healthy environment there are no shareholders, no employees, no customers and no business."  We whole-heartedly agree!


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