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Meet Pierre Barlier of KeepCool, Out of the Woods

Today we’d like to introduce you to Pierre Barlier.

What was your inspiration behind creating the Out of the Woods line?
For more than two decades, KeepCool has been a pioneer in innovating sustainable fabrics to produce custom, eco-friendly bags for major retailers. While that continues to be our core business model, when we came across a washable paper, we felt that giving it and its related finished products meaningful names were the best way to create widespread awareness of a material with qualities that are so relevant and desired by consumers today. From this realization, we embarked on a creative journey that led to the naming of Supernatural PaperTM and the finished bag designs, Out of the WoodsTM.

The bags and products are made with “supernatural paper,” what exactly is that?
Supernatural PaperTM is a sustainable material that looks and wears like leather but is 100-percent animal-free and washable. It’s just as strong and durable as leather but is sourced from certified forests. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies that trees are responsibly harvested and reforested and that our paper meets their environmental and social principles.

We refer to this material as “supernatural” because of all its incredible qualities: It’s strong, vegan, washable, nonflammable, lightweight, and, of course, originates from a renewable natural resource. It’s pretty amazing.

Out of the Woods was created by your parent company KeepCool, which was one of the early innovators and advocates of reusable bags throughout the US and abroad. Can you tell us a little but more about the importance of reusable bags, and will this trend continue to grow? What is the importance of it?
Some reports state that using a reusable bag keeps six single-use bags from entering circulation. The numbers vary, but that’s a conservative estimate. More importantly, consumers who use reusable bags are more likely to be environmentally conscious in other areas of their day-to-day life, such as buying organic food. But the impact reaches far beyond the bag’s user. A reusable bag sends a message to other shoppers as well, not just the person carrying it. When others see a reusable bag in the store or on the street, it reinforces the idea that being socially conscious is the norm. So, it’s like a chain reaction of thought.

Voyage LA is all about celebrating all things LA- where can people in Los Angeles find your products?
We first launched Out of the WoodsTM bags with our long-standing partner, Whole Foods Markets, with Southern California being one of the first regions. However, we’ve been told the bags are quickly selling out, so you’d better hurry! Other Whole Foods Market regions are coming on board, with more retail partners launching in early 2019. Due to strong consumer demand, we are also looking at making our bags available online.

You are clearly an innovator and leader in the business world, what advice would you have for people who are just getting off the ground with a brand-new business?
Knowing your end-users and your customers who serve them is key. By learning these wants and needs, you’ll be better able to offer what they truly need, not just what they think they want. Henry Ford is often credited with saying that if he’d asked consumers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse. There’s some doubt about whether Ford ever made such a statement, but there’s a reason the story persists: Because we as consumers are more accustomed to describing our problems than solutions to those problems.

That’s why, a couple of years ago, many of us at KeepCool took it upon ourselves to be grocery-store baggers. In addition to getting a better appreciation for the pressure at the end of a checkout lane, we were able to see ways in which our bags could be improved to make the bagging process, as well as the transport home, much easier. This led to us reinforcing the sides of our bags so that they stayed upright. We’ve had many consumers tell us that simple design tweak was a game changer. And we might not have implemented this change if we hadn’t understood how our design affected a bagger’s everyday job.

What tips would you give an entrepreneur who is looking to break into the sustainability business, specifically?
If you really want to make an impact, it’s not enough for your product to appeal solely to the eco-conscious niche. It has to have mainstream appeal. If you can’t break out of the niche segment, you won’t move the needle on protecting the environment. What’s more, you won’t see dramatic business growth.

So, you have to go back to the traditional key characteristics of any successful product: aesthetics, quality, function, and price point. You have to deliver equal or better than your mainstream competitors on all those points while also living up to your promise of sustainability. Only then, will you see mass adoption, and with that comes positive environmental impact and business success.

Aside from working with the KeepCool team and launching Out of the Woods, do you have any other projects coming up?
Back in 2007, KeepCool became the first company to create bags made from a recycled PET, the material used in plastic water bottles. That was a breakthrough for its time. And we want to continue pushing the envelope when it comes to finding new, environmentally friendly sources for our materials. I can’t say too much just yet, but what I can tell you is that we’re working towards using a wider range of post-consumer waste plastics to encourage a circular economy, which means keeping waste from landfills and oceans. If our research pans out, the result will be a game changer — and I don’t use that term lightly.

What are some of your favorite products from the Out of the Woods line?
I’m proud of all our new products, but it’s the everyday bags — the ones we call our Daily Carryalls — that I use most often myself. Perhaps it’s due to my time sailing, but one of the bags I’ve gravitated towards is the Cord Shopper, which is nautically themed. The Iconic Tote is another that I use to and from work and the tennis court, while the Boxed Lunch is my bag of choice for when I bring midday meals from home. I like that it holds in potential leaks and keeps my sandwiches refrigerator-fresh. And, of course, all of my wine-loving friends will be getting gifted with our two different wine bags.

Where can we find you online?

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