If we had to rank our handbag, purse, tote bag, and backpack fetish on a scale of 1 to 10, we’d be somewhere around a gazillion + 10. We’re not sure exactly how many zeroes that is, but we know you get the point—and that’s how we also knew you’d love to hear about our latest find: Esperos bags.
Esperos, based in Austin, Texas, was founded by Oliver Shuttlesworth, a former advertising and SEO expert. He liked his work just fine, thanks, but wasn’t feeling terribly fulfilled, and had been mulling over the idea of starting his own business. He had a side gig tutoring elementary and high school kids, and one of his students was on the verge of dropping out of school. Oliver convinced the student to stick it out and gave him some tips for classroom success, and the boy wound up not only graduating early, but also heading off to college. “That had a pretty profound effect on me,” Oliver recalls. “That was one of the turning points.” The experience underscored what Oliver already intuitively knew: when kids feel like they have opportunities and people are invested in them, the sky’s the limit.
So Oliver started thinking about how to pair his passion for education and design with his skill for business. He did some research, and came face-to-face with a pretty shocking reality: in most third-world countries, the majority of students can’t afford to attend school . . . but they could, for just $7 and $20 a year. (No joke: in Haiti, for example, a country Oliver has visited several times, the per-student cost is about $10 annually.) “I saw an opportunity to build a brand and tell a story—a powerful one,” he notes. “I wanted to get people excited about purchasing an everyday product and making a difference.”
After a year and a half of planning and prototyping, in 2013, Esperos, from the Spanish verb hope, released its first product, the Classic Backpack (chosen for its close association with education), with a portion of each sale earmarked for donation to different philanthropic partners. Through word of mouth, especially on Twitter, the company sold out its initial run of 50 bags. Then the Today picked up the story, and 100 additional bags flew out the door. Oliver knew he was on to something, and began to expand his product offerings. Esperos bags are now sold in boutiques and in Whole Foods stores across the country, and in a few dozen stores throughout Asia and Europe.
It’s easy to see why Esperos bags have such wide appeal, for both men and women. They have a punchy, classic-meets-modern look, thanks to their streamlined design and smart colorblocking. And they’re crafted of rough-and-tumble (and water- and stain-resistant) military cotton duck canvas, with superdurable webbed and leather trims. The canvas is a cinch to clean (machine wash for bags without leather trims; spot wash for those with leather), and it wears more attractively over time, leaving those nylon and poly bags in the dust—speaking of, this type of canvas won’t collect dust and dirt. But our favorite features are the cleverly designed organizer pockets on both the exterior and interior, which help you keep your everyday essentials—from cell phones and headphones to pens, notebooks, and keys—in order, without encouraging you to carry everything plus the kitchen sink on your back or shoulder.
The Classic Backpack may be Esperos’ flagship product, but we also love the Market and Everyday totes, as well as the Weekend Warrior, a generously sized yet still lightweight weekender bag. Most styles come in at least five style-savvy color combos, and some of the Everyday Totes also bear the Esperos slogan, “Carry hope.” Oliver is currently working on a line of crossbody bags for fall, and waxed-canvas bags for later down the line—all at the company’s familiar, accessible price point.
The cotton used for the canvas in Esperos bags is grown, dyed, and woven in the United States and then shipped to Shenzhen, China, to be assembled by expert sewers in a factory committed to ethical labor standards and wage models. (An on-the-ground team in China monitors the factory regularly, with U.S.-based Esperos staff also paying visits.) As for the sales proceeds, those go toward a variety of education-related projects—such as bookmobiles, school construction, and providing school supplies to teachers and students—in countries like Honduras, Kenya, and Haiti. Oliver recalls his first trip to Haiti, when he was able to meet with some of the families who have benefited from the sales of Esperos products. “It was really impactful,” he says. “Many of them live on less than $2 a day. Just hearing them tell us their stories, share with us, was really a special thing.”
To be part of the experience—and carry your own bit of hope—take a trip over to Esperos.