GOT Bag’s products have been on a journey, starting from a swirling ocean trash gyre and eventually transforming into desired objects stocked both on the glittering store shelves of a New York City department store and in the nation’s largest outdoor retailer.
The environmentally-conscious brand, which started in Germany, is new to the wholesale channel in North America but is growing rapidly, including landing in high profile accounts such as Bloomingdale’s and REI.
Shocked by Plastic in Ocean
The idea for the product came from a trip founder Benjamin Mandos took to Southeast Asia. He was horrified by the images of the floating garbage patches mainly formed of plastic. He knew he had to do something about it and launched the company in 2016.
Now, much of the raw material used to make GOT Bag products starts from the ocean plastic found on the other side of the world. The company’s network of almost 2,500 fishermen in Java, Indonesia collect the specific type of plastic that can be reused to make its signature roll-top bags.
GOT Bag collects and recycles up to 9.9 pounds of plastic from the ocean for every bag made. To date, the company has recovered and recycled more than 1.4 million pounds of plastic.
Its signature products are roll-top bags. The company also makes other bags and accessories.
North American wholesale distribution began in 2020. At the end of 2022, GOT Bag had more than 300 wholesale accounts in the United States and Canada, and more are being added this year.
The company started selling to REI after becoming part of the retailer’s Greenlight program. The program allows smaller brands to apply to have their products on REI’s shelves.
“We were originally supposed to launch with them in October of 2022,” said Jay Sheldon, GOT Bag’s head of sales and growth. “But because of their distribution centers being logjammed with a lot of product coming in all at once, they asked if we could push it back to spring.”
GOT Bag products debuted at five REI flagship stores in April of this year. REI is selling five GOT Bag SKUs thus far.
GOT Bag also won an Innovation Award at Outdoor Retailer in 2022.
Breaking Into Bloomingdale’s
Stores like Bloomingdale’s have sustainability goals that products like GOT Bag’s help them to meet.
Prior to selling at the store, GOT Bag brought out the “white-glove service” to try to land the Bloomingdale’s account, he said.
They sent a custom box of GOT Bag products to the house of a Bloomingdale’s vice president’s with a handwritten note, explaining what the brand was all about and emphasizing sustainability.
The VP passed along the products to his buying team, and they got in contact with GOT Bag.
“It was awesome to see Bloomingdale’s put their money where their mouth is,” Sheldon said. “They aren’t just saying ‘we’re trying to be sustainable.’ They’re doing it.”
Sheldon said his team was nervous that a large retailer such as Bloomingdale’s might “put the screws” to them in terms of the discount they expected GOT Bag to give them in order to achieve the desired margin they’re accustomed to with their bags and accessories.
“But they were honestly such a pleasure to work with, and they genuinely love our mission and story,” he added.
Sheldon pointed out that a lot of major brands have to pay for store real estate, but Bloomingdale’s recognized this smaller company’s limitations. Instead, GOT Bags are selling via pop-up and carousel-type presentations.
For example, Earth Day this April had a sustainability focus for Bloomingdale’s and GOT Bag put together a product assortment that launched in Bloomingdale’s flagship location in New York City.
Continued Clean Up Operations
Companies can only use certain types of plastic for bags, and in the past the Indonesian fishermen would burn the rest of the trash or throw it back in the water.
Now, GOT Bag buys the whole trash load, usually by the ton, then it’s sorted. The company uses about 11% of the trash. The rest is donated to an Indonesian energy company that converts it into thermal energy, rather than burning fossil fuels.
“We’re providing energy with the excess material we can’t use,” Sheldon said. “We’re also cleaning up the ocean and the villages.”
In the next year or so, the company is planning to launch two more clean up locations internationally. Sheldon couldn’t provide specifics because of the ongoing negotiations with local governments.
Also, the company will be launching hard-shell luggage in Germany soon, with plans to debut luggage in the U.S. in 2024. That product will allow GOT Bag to incorporate thicker recycled plastics.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.