Saturday, September 12, 2015

Better Bets: "Muji of Women's Accessories"

The Sophisticated Travel Bag: Blu Salt

Rohini Shah

Rohini Shah describes her company, Blu Salt, as the “ Muji of women’s accessories.”  With a background in business (she has MBAs from the Indian School of Business and Yale and has worked in corporate finance, digital marketing and management consulting), she gained a sense of what types of bags were actually useful for professional women, rather for travel or everyday use.   When she founded Blu Salt, she set out to create a line of bags that allowed customers to choose from a “range of carry options that they could customize for their particular needs.”

Jyo Weekender,$610.00, available Oct. 1st

 Blu Salt bags are elegant, yet simple, embracing the emerging trend of the “anti-it” bag. They are made of earth friendly fabrics, in accordance with Shah’s principles of “Mindful Consumption.”  She discusses how Blu Salt has evolved into a manifestation of her personal and professional lifestyles.

 Can you talk about how the idea for Blu Salt came about?

Having traveled extensively for business and working in roles that required a rather buttoned-down dress code, I personally had a clear need for luxury bags that were actually functional. When I started to work full-time on designing these bags, I began to see what an impact business can have if it chooses to hold social responsibility as a core tenet. Hence, what you see of Blu Salt today is the culmination of 2 years of work in researching, creating and testing all aspects of our bags and business, from materials to packaging, to create a luxury bag that is as utilitarian and socially responsible as we could make it.

Jyo Weekender, $610.00

Blu Salt has a unique business philosophy.  Please explain the essence of that philosophy and how it relates to your design strategy?

Blu Salt was named for the indigo (Blu) that was one of the major exports of the British Raj and the salt tax (Salt) that Mahatma Gandhi used to galvanize the Indian Independence movement. He pioneered the philosophy of peaceful resistance, and today, I’d like to think that Blu Salt philosophy of “Thoughtful Luxury” will stand in peaceful resistance to the current models of business.

Social responsibility is central to our business. We call it “Mindful Production, Mindful Consumption” and simply speaking, it translates to us having responsibility to protecting and nurturing 3 constituents: our customers, our collaborators, and our community.

Our customers: We have a responsibility to them to design the highest quality bags we can for the prices we ask them to pay. From materials to design, we try to make the bags so functional, versatile and durable, that they reduce our customers’ need for any other bag. We believe in supporting our customers to “Buy Less, Demand More” – to consume fewer, but higher quality products that reduce our overall consumption as a society.

Our collaborators: Our collaborators are our suppliers, contractors and eventually, our employees. We have a responsibility towards them to provide a safe and fair working environment and to pay fair wages that allow them to live and work with dignity. We do this by ensuring no child labor is used, that there are fair working conditions and wages among our suppliers. In the end, we spend the majority of our adult life working and I’d like to think that Blu Salt isn’t a cause for misery to the people who make it possible.

Our communities: We have a responsibility to bear the true cost of our businesses. Social costs have to be accounted for. We use sustainable and cruelty-free materials to the extent we can. Similarly, our packaging is reusable too, to reduce discarded waste. Finally, we have a responsibility to the most destitute amongst us – to help them gain dignity and employment, and so we support Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development (CORD) with a % of each sale.

Ann Work Tote, $485.00, available Oct. 1st

What are the core pieces in your collection and what new bags will be added for fall?

We started the collection with a Clutch and Wallet design last year, and this October, we will be introducing larger bags – the Raju Laptop Sleeve, the Ann Work Tote and the Jyo Weekender. There are no core pieces as such because each design is pushed to be as complete as possible. I was highly influenced by Dieter Rams’ “Ten Principles of Good Design” and hope our collection is a worthy reflection of those principles.

We are currently redesigning our website to showcase the new bags launching in October, so sign up for our e-mails to be kept abreast of developments on that front.

 You have travel tips on your website for women who are traveling for business.  What tips do you have for women who are packing for a vacation?

I don’t know about you, but I feel like most travel magazine tips on vacations are for women much more put together than I am! So here is my Top 5 list of tips from the tried and true vacation traveler:

1) Think through your vacation travel: Plan on where you’re going to be and what you are going to do. Usually, I find that it saves me for omitting glaringly obvious necessities (e.g., shorts when I am going to the beach)

2) When planning what to take, don’t stray too far from how you’d normally dress on the weekend: There are fabulous pictures of models on “vacation” in most travel magazines, but really, you want to be comfortable wherever you are – spend time checking out sights, not pulling at that bandeau top that looked divine online.

3) When traveling abroad, skew conservative in dress: Let’s face it, anyone who travels abroad sticks out like a sore thumb. Since most places in the world tend to dress more conservatively than the US, dressing more conservatively than usual when traveling abroad is a way of showing respect and blending in.

4) Pack ½ of what you originally plan: Nothing is more annoying than lugging heavy luggage ½ way across the world and then realizing you’re not using most of it. Lean towards carrying less than more – you will be surprised how often you will be able to find most of what you need wherever you’re going (e.g., no need to pack the extra toilet roll)

5) Don’t take things that are too high maintenance: You are going on a vacation. Take things that are easy to use and care for. That dry-clean only, extra delicate, worth most of my paycheck, chiffon silk dress might look great for a night on the town, but really, is that the dress you want ruined with duck sauce in Shanghai?

- Rhonda Erb
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