We recently sat down with Natacha Seroussi, half of the father-daughter team behind Bobobark, to discuss crowdfunding, handbag design, and the family business.
When most people hear “haute-design handbag from Paris,” many things come to mind. Fashion-forward? Mais oui! Chic? Bien sûr! Luxurious? De rigueur!
But vegan? Ce n’est pas normal.
Father-daugher team Elie and Natacha Seroussi are changing that with their Bobobark handbag, which substitutes animal-based materials with cork and other sustainable fabrics. They’ve raised over $2 million via crowdfunding and are only getting started.
We caught up with Natacha in a recent Q&A to discuss crowdfunding, the family business, and drinking wine in the Burgundy region of France. Here’s what we discovered.
So how did it all begin? How did you become a family business?
Well, my dad’s been in the fashion and handbag industry for over 30 years, so I’ve always been in that environment. I literally grew up in an atelier as a child, and I’ve been playing with fabrics and materials for as long as I can remember.
Then when I grew up, I went in a different direction. I got into horses – horse riding, horse training. I even got my diploma to become a professional horse trainer. I also studied fine art, so as a young adult, I was passionate about art, my paintings, and my horses. I never thought I’d be in the family business.
Then one day my dad came to me and said, “You’re an artist. Why don’t you come work with me?” I resisted for a long time because of my other passions — horses and art — but after school I was also kind of broke, and we all know how that goes. I started working with him literally because I needed to make money!
I don’t know why, but I always thought fashion was this shallow thing, something for superficial girls. But when I got into it, really started working in it, I realized, no! Fashion is just art! You can make a statement with fashion, the same way you can with any other artistic medium.
So it turns out that my dad was right, that I’m an artist and that the family business goes pretty well with my passions.
Bobobark is a 100% vegan product, right?
It is. Art is one of my passions, but so is my love of animals. My dad’s traditional bags were amazingly beautiful, but they were leather. I always thought, but what about the animals? What about the environment? I owe a lot to my dad because even after working with leather for 30 years, he said, let’s go for it. Let’s try vegan materials. And that’s how Bobobark was born.
What’s the story behind the name Bobobark?
So, bobo in French is short for bourgeois-bohème. It refers to people who are bougie but bohemian — half hippie, half fancy. It’s sort of like the ancestor of the hipster. And it’s kind of a joke in Paris. “Hey, you’re bobo, I’m bobo, that’s so bobo.” Then you put it with the bark of a tree, because our bags are made of cork, you get Bobobark.
Let’s talk about the Bobobark handbag itself. What makes it different?
When me and my dad set out designing Bobobark, we started by asking a simple question: How do you create a bag that answers women’s needs day to day, and how do you do it sustainably?
The most sustainable bag is the one you don’t need to replace. And why wouldn’t you need to replace it? Because it’s perfect quality and because it’s versatile. So we wanted to make the perfect handbag. When you need a handbag, it’s here for you. When you need a backpack, it’s here for you. When you need a briefcase, it’s here for you. So the idea was to have a bag that could be all-in-one, and it could be something that’s elegant and chic even though it’s a backpack, not some big Notre Dame hunchback type thing.
How did this influence the design?
Design-wise, the inspiration for Bobobark comes from vintage handbags. It’s a very classic French style. I love the design because it’s so timeless.
When we decided to do a vegan bag, I started experimenting with other materials. In the beginning I was working with oilcloth, which didn’t work too well, and I even tried some polyurethane faux leathers, but that isn’t environmentally friendly, so that didn’t really fix anything.
Then I had the idea to use cork. It’s natural, it’s durable, and it’s beautiful. It kind of just clicked.
But the thing that makes Bobobark truly unique is how it closes. The clasp, that’s what gives Bobobark its final touch. When I was designing the bag, I wanted it to be chic, fun, vintage, and modern all at the same time. It’s a tough problem to solve. I remember I was at a big trade show in New York, and I saw these older, stylish ladies carrying bags with that big, iconic clasp, that old-style clasp. And I was like, wow, this is it. This could be so cool on a backpack. And we tried it, and it worked. And then it became kind of like our identity. This big brass clasp almost looks like a piece of jewelry. And it all made sense because my dad got his start in the jewelry world originally. So it all made sense.
And the rest is history?
No, not at all! At first, Bobobark was a huge failure! It was horrible. For two years, it was really, really hard. In hindsight, it makes sense because we were lacking a full team. I’m the designer. My dad is the production guy, and he manages our Paris store. But we still needed a computer guy.
So we brought in a friend of mine who’s really good with tech. He built us a web site, and things started to flow better. Then we had a marketing guy help us out who suggested crowdfunding, then bam! It’s just happened. After two years of nothing, it just happened.
What happened when your crowdfunding campaign went live?
It went from zero to sixty in a single second! It was crazy. It was completely crazy. It was truly insane. The first day we launched, I remember sitting there thinking, what is this?! What’s happening? I was so surprised, and of course my dad too. Honestly, we weren’t prepared for it. It was that huge.
The whole experience was so surprising. Especially how honest and transparent our backers have been. People really want to become involved in your project. They really care. I was surprised with everything that happened — surprised by how involved the community is, surprised by how supportive people are, surprised by how honest everyone is.
The most incredible part of it is that people are actually backing you. They don’t care about getting the product right away. They want to support your vision. They do it because they believe in you.
How has it been working with the backer community?
Working with all the backers has been beyond cool. I’ve learned so much from them. Their honesty is worth everything. They say what they have to say. “Hey, I love your design, but you know what? This other thing would be a great idea.” I have learned a lot from them.
And they’re also so dynamic, enthusiastic, and supportive. Of course, they can be horrible sometimes. I’ve had some people that were overly harsh, but overall our backers are there for us. They really are a community.
Our backers are honest. They’re supportive. They’re positive. They’re energetic. They have great feedback. They’re full of good vibes. And real vibes. It’s infectious. It doesn’t matter if I get a hundred emails a day, I’m going to answer those one hundred emails.
What about working with your dad? What kind of working relationship do you have?
It’s really wonderful. I really enjoy it. In the beginning, when we started working together, we definitely had some conflict, and it took some time to adapt. But we work really well together as a team. He’s given me a lot of room to come up with my own ideas. He’s never patronizing and is always listening.
I’m really lucky because working with family can put you in a position where you feel like you didn’t earn it – that you’re just there because you were the child of the person who created the business. And he hasn’t done that at all. He put me to work like anyone else. He certainly didn’t make it easier for me, and he taught me so much in the process.
He’s given me a lot of spiritual guidance along the way too. After all, it’s that kind of spiritual guidance that allows you to bring creative projects into existence. He’s always given me the room to grow as a designer and to grow as an entrepreneur.
What about your dad? What does he think of all this?
He’s in Burgundy right now, probably drinking wine in the sunshine, poor guy. But he wanted me to share some of his thoughts with you. He said that for him Bobobark is very important because he felt that he could pass on his knowledge and his profession to his daughter and feel like there is continuity in what he’s been doing his whole life. He’s very proud that he can pass on his expertise and adapt by being eco-friendly and vegan, which has been a change. It was hard for him in the beginning, but he realized that this is the world we live in now. And he’s proud to be able to pass his knowledge on into the future.
He also wanted to share that he is very happy that we have a new store devoted to Bobobark. This is a very big deal for him. Having a physical place in the world is important, especially when the world is getting so digital. He’s very proud that we hold true to our values — that we’re a family-owned store and that people can come to a physical place and see us and meet us. No matter how digital and how crazy the world is today we have this store. We are family. We work there every day.
What does the future hold for Bobobark?
I’m always working on a thousand different designs. I have something like seven designs that are in play right now, and I have a lot of things that could be opportunities in the future. And I have one in particular that you maybe, maybe will see available soon. But that’s a surprise. Don’t tell anybody!
Also, our storefront is a huge deal for us. Until recently, it was mostly our leather bags. And now because of Bobobark, we decided to make it 100% Bobobark. All the leather bags are gone. It’s 100% environmentally friendly, it’s 100% vegan. That’s very exciting. And there is a whole new collection that is available in the store right now. It’s not available online yet, but it likely will be in the future. But at the end of the day, we’re still a Parisian boutique. We stay true to our Parisian roots.
Anything else you’d like to add about your experience with Indiegogo?
Yes! It’s all about the community. It’s crazy that even with all the delays with corona, people are still like, “Yeah! We still support you. It’s fine.” Some people have been waiting for the bags for six months, and they’re just like, “Yeah, I didn’t I didn’t support you because I wanted the bags. I supported you because I believed in your project.” And that’s amazing. It’s such a beautiful example of community work and people coming together.
In the end, we’re a perfect example of just random people coming up with a project and then crowdfunding making it happen. Now we’re a brand.This was just an idea for me, using my father’s background and concept then making it vegan and sustainable. It happened 100% because of crowdfunding. This may sound kind of lame, but I’m going to say it anyway: Crowdfunding, done the right way, actually makes dreams come true.
Want to explore some other great crowdfunding campaigns? Check out some of our current favorites.