Buying a bag can change someone’s entire life.
The proof is on the back of Parker Clay co-founder Ian Bentley’s business card. The card’s flipside shows a school report card with top marks. The grades belong to an Ethiopian boy, Eyob whose mother, Meselu, works with Parker Clay. Meselu used to leave her two sons in front of a church at night while she did what she needed to do to provide. Now her job as a weaver brings stability to her and sons’ lives.
Santa Barbarian high school sweethearts Ian and Brittany Bentley feel a deep connection to Ethiopia, which began when they adopted their first daughter from the country in 2011. Just a year later, they packed up their young family (their sons Parker and Clay) and moved to Addis Abba, Ethiopia’s capital.
One day, Ian was looking for a birthday gift for Brittany and discovered a beautiful leather bag. After doing a little digging, he learned that some of the highest quality leather in the world comes from Ethiopia. However, high quality leather products are made in countries like Italy. Ian and Brittany saw an opportunity to make goods—bags, wallets, belts, shoes—from Ethiopian leather using traditional Ethiopian craftsmanship. More importantly to the couple, they envisioned creating employment opportunities for vulnerable women, like Meselu, to become economically independent.
“We built Parker Clay on shared experiences and strong relationships,” Ian explained. Ian and Brittany have cultivated years-long relationships with the Parker Clay craftspeople. Ethiopians have a deep sense of family and community – a sentiment the Bentley’s reciprocate. Since moving back to Santa Barbara in 2015, the parents of five prioritize maintaining these relationships by going back to Ethiopia a few times a year.
“If you open yourself to being more vulnerable by mixing relationships and business, it’s going to be hard, but ultimately you’ll get a better product because of it,” Ian said.
Staying true to their values is paying off for Parker Clay. The company sells most of its products online with sales growing organically to include every state and over 20 countries. In the coming year, Ian plans to expand the factory in Ethiopia, hire more people there and increase the supply of raw materials. Stateside, Parker Clay will focus on expanding its online reach through strategic marketing efforts along with some exciting celebrity collaborations.
While solid business figures are important, they will always remain secondary to people. The time Meselu showed off her son’s report card underscored to Ian that they aren’t just changing the life of one woman; they are changing the lives of their children and future generations. As Ian adds, “This becomes a ripple effect that impacts the community, the world.”