Influencer: Jimmy Lau
Co-founder Jimmy Lau speaks to Grace Brewer about how two guys with no start-up or design experience launched the bag and briefcase company Stuart & Lau, best known for their all-encompassing Regimen Gym Bag and back-to-basics business approach.
What were you and Matthew doing before Stuart & Lau?
Both Matt and I were in very mobile professions. I was consulting, based in New York, which required mobility throughout the day, dashing between client meetings. Likewise, Matt was working in Hong Kong for Ralph Lauren in a real estate capacity, evaluating store locations and running from site to site as well.
How did you come up with the idea to work together?
It started as a passion project that we had no intention of launching into a full-time venture. We simply wanted a better briefcase that was lightweight, weatherproof, and smart in function. At the time, it did not exist, as all the men’s bags could fit into two categories: designer brands that created them as an afterthought to their women’s line; and luggage brands that used leather, canvas, or ballistic nylon as the body material, all of which are heavy and not suitable for navigating the streets of New York and Hong Kong. Remember, three years ago, heritage or sartorial style was still in vogue, and bag brands were more focused on the provenance of leather or marketing an artisan angle and less concerned about melding modern function and technical materials with timeless design. We saw an opportunity and the start of a market shift, and we went for it. Through the process, we realised how much we enjoyed the experience and concluded that this was something we could wake up energised to do every day.
Did you use a funding platform like Kickstarter to get your company off the ground?
We considered it, but we pursued a traditional launch. I’ve only backed two projects personally, and both were the biggest flops in Kickstarter history. It’s okay for projects to fail, but it’s not okay for them to bypass backers and go to retail without first delivering to backers – which happened in my case, both times. My experiences withstanding, I think that crowdfunding offers obvious benefits through improved cash flow, reaching new audiences, and creating buzz around a product. It works well for visual products that solve problems and offer smart functionality, which can be readily explained in a brief video. So we see the fit for us, and now that we have established our brand, we are open to using these platforms for future product launches to generate excitement and expand our audience.
What have you learnt throughout the startup process?
Two lessons come readily to mind. First, there really is no such thing as “right place, right time”. If you keep putting yourself in a position to succeed, it will happen. Secondly, as much as you can, keep things in house. That’s not to say we do not outsource specific functions, but no one cares about your business as much as you and your team.
You run the business based on a minimalist approach, which you also apply to your products. Can you tell us more about this?
Our business philosophy originates from how we approach product design. When we start with a prototype, we look for ways to distil down to the essentials and create a more efficient form. It quickly dawned on us that this can be equally applied to all facets of the business model.
What makes your bags so unique?
They each have their own story, purpose, and personality. Each bag represents what we believe is a best in class offering for that particular function, like a briefcase or backpack. They are the culmination of everything we and our customers want in that type of bag, and they certainly represent an effort in quality over quantity.
You’ve launched eight bag designs now, plus an accessory product line; what’s next for Stuart & Lau?
We have some exciting projects planned for 2019, but I’ll just say that in the interim, we have even more accessories and small leather goods set for release ahead of the holidays.