Stubble & Co’s Ben Watkiss on creating the perfect Adventure Bag

“The problem was the perfect bag was elusive,” says Stubble & [...]

The problem was the perfect bag was elusive,” says Stubble & Co Co-Founder Ben Watkiss as he looks back on the pivotal moment that led to the creation of, what we consider to be the sturdiest and most versatile bag brand in the market today. “I just couldn’t find one bag that would do it all and those I did find either broke pretty quickly or came with an eye-watering price tag.”

Following an idyllic three-week adventure in the Philippines, Ben set out to create a range of highly-functional bags that people would never stop using, no matter where the destination and two years later, Stubble & Co was born.

Stubble & Co’s design-led approach and dedication to excellent customer experience and true sustainability means that every product was designed to suit the needs of every kind of traveller. “We believe our products are exceptional and our promises are bold, but we still do everything we can to over deliver on them and put the customer first in every single decision,” Ben says. Having sampled a Stubble & Co Roll Top Backpack myself, I can confidently say, that while Ben’s promises may indeed be bold, he certainly delivers on them too.

We sit down with Ben and talk about what makes Stubble & Co’s bags just so much better than other fast-fashion options in the market today, how a change in mindset helped him navigate the troubles of COVID-19 and what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur in his own terms.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, what inspired you to start Stubble and Co

Before founding the brand, I spent 10 years travelling almost every week for work. In and out of airports, on planes, trains and buses, and went through a bunch of bags doing so. The problem was the perfect bag was elusive, I just couldn’t find one bag that would do it all and those I did find either broke quickly or came with an eye-watering price tag. That seemed crazy but it also gave me an idea, one that happened while exploring the Philippines.

It was three idyllic weeks in paradise. No office jobs to think about and no hectic London life, just a chance to really think about the future and how to make the leap into bags. The vision was to create a range of bags that people would never stop using, wherever the destination. Bags that could go anywhere and do anything because they had been designed to last.

Then in March of 2017, after two years of researching, prototyping and planning, we sold our first Stubble & Co bags.

I love the tagline ‘The Only Bag You’ll Ever Need’. In your opinion what sets Stubble & Co apart from other bag brands today? What have been the biggest milestones so far?

Our design-first approach and the fact we put quality at the very centre of everything we do. Materials, techniques, layouts, features and every little detail in between. We focus on it all so that we’re left with a product of exceptional quality and, one that we sell at the most affordable price possible. 

The other key focus is the customer experience. We want to exceed every expectation from the moment someone discovers our brand, all the way through, so that we’re still part of their experience years after they’ve purchased one of our products.

We believe our products are exceptional and our promises are bold, but we still do everything we can to over deliver on them and put the customer first in every single decision. That’s the most important factor in our entire brand and we’ve now sold bags to over 25,000 customers.

Stubble & Co is all about blending functionality and performance with a strong sustainable and ethical ethos. Could you tell us more about your sustainable practices?

We’ve got a long way to go before we’re perfect, but we’re constantly looking for ways to make our entire process more sustainable. That’s always been our mission. First and foremost, we want to produce bags that make every journey easier, but if we don’t look after our planet and environment at the same time, we’re not doing all we can as a business. That’s why we’ve made sustainability an inherent part of our vision, working hard on every aspect to become more sustainable than we were yesterday.

To do this, we’ve made sure our bag designs are timeless over ‘fast-fashion’ and we’ve begun launching even more products made from recycled-plastics.  We also offer an in-house repair service, offset our transportation carbon footprint, work out of a carbon negative warehouse and make sure all our packaging is 100% recyclable.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an entrepreneur so far?

As you can probably imagine, 2020 was a pretty big challenge. Our whole ethos has been to make bags that are built for travel, whether that’s a commute to work, a road trip into the wilderness, a weekend away and every other type of journey, all of which were grounded at the start of 2020.

So we flipped our mindset and changed our attitude. Rather than worrying about how many bags we were selling in the short term, we doubled down on creating inspirational and educational content that would help people get ready for when travel was possible again. We also looked deeper into the changing market and found ways to develop even more essential products, like our Roll Top backpack. Agile, versatile, functional, sustainable, we wanted to design a bag that would let our customers explore the world on their doorsteps by foot and by bike.

Do you have a favourite piece in the Stubble & Co line? If so – why?

We’re proud of every product we’ve ever designed, but the Adventure Bag has to be our favourite. It’s the Swiss Army knife of bags. The kind of bag the 10 year old adventurer in us would have designed in a treehouse, while imagining we were explorers going from sea level streets to snow-capped peaks. That was the passion that fuelled the Adventure Bag.

Made from seriously robust recycled materials, this 42L bag combines the utility of a holdall with the functionality of our most practical backpack. But it wasn’t until we read the first customer reviews that we realised just how special this design was. On one hand it is tough, durable and enhanced with 8 purpose-built compartments so that every journey is made easier and on the other it is exceptionally lightweight and comfortable, with nothing rigid within the bag, so that it can be packed to the limits of any airline. It’s the ultimate sidekick.

Stubble & Co has a decidedly streamlined range – how do you go about designing a Stubble & Co bag? 

First of all, we sit down and think about the sort of problems we want to solve with each bag and then we brief our epic designer — who has worked with some of the best known bag brands out there — to come up with exciting new ways to make the little details exceptional.

After that, we put out surveys and talk to our customers because they know our bags better than anyone. That’s how we are constantly able to improve. Every single product we have brought out has featured an improvement, whether that’s something big and obvious or small and essential.

What’s next for you and Stubble & Co? Any new exciting projects in the pipeline

Hopefully a lot more travel and everyday adventures. We started Stubble & Co to solve a problem we were struggling with, so we’d love to get back to living the brand day in day out, getting out into the wilderness, testing our products and finding even cooler ways to improve them. And while we envisage always having a small permanent collection of bags, we want to keep finding ways to stretch what’s possible in every perspective: the materials we use, the features we offer and the ways in which we build each bag. There’s only one way to do that: get out there and test them in the wild.

What advice do you have for those looking to take the leap and start their own businesses too?

The first step is always the hardest part… and the scariest, especially at the beginning. You suddenly realise how much effort and time is actually required as you start working hours that are far, far longer than you ever imagined, with numerous sacrifices dotted along the way. All the late-nights, stressful moments, nervy decisions, everything. When you start seeing your product worn by strangers on the street, everything just becomes worth it and you’re left feeling incredibly proud of what you’ve achieved. So, hang in there, because if you’ve got passion and a love for what you’re building, you’ll make a success of it and that’s worth all the hardships.


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