This Trendy Brand Won the Internet Even Before the First Bag Was Produced
It was in 2013 when the Gouache (gwäSH) team turned to The Spark Project, a local crowdfunding website (taking after Kickstarter.com) that enables Filipino start-ups to get a head start with the help of monetary support from backers. The site brings together a community of entrepreneurs who share the same vision of fostering local creativity, innovation, and talent. For Gouache owners Louie Poco and Ann Enriquez, this was their ticket to putting locally made waxed canvas and leather goods on the map.
“[Gouache came about] when Louie was in need of a good camera bag but couldn't find one that fit his style and budget,” shares Ann. “Since he was also taking entrepreneurship classes, he decided to [design and produce his own bag], and put the idea to the test. We made prototypes and showed these to our photographer friends to check if the overall aesthetics and functionality would appeal to them, as our target market.”
The good feedback received thereafter prompted the Gouache duo to find funding for the first batch of waxed canvas bags.
“We created our pitch page in The Spark Project and filled it with photos of the camera bag prototypes,” Ann shares. “Our pitch page included a homemade video introducing ourselves and showing shots of our product’s functionalities. It also disclosed the people we will be working with: bag makers from Marikina.”
The team originally set a P60,000 funding goal for the first batch of bags, but was able to raise almost P200,000 in just 30 days. “The people who contributed weren’t personal friends, but random people who just chanced upon our pitch page,” Ann says. “We were also able to attract and close interested distributors and retailers during this time.”
It’s been almost four years since Gouache’s Spark Project stint, with the initial P200,000 seed money being more than sufficient for the business to take off. “Since then, our team has grown from three to 25 and we now produce a thousand bags a month across thirteen styles,” Ann says. “Aside from the money, the best gift we got from crowd funding was the concept of validation. A successful campaign meant there was an existing market for our products, thus, giving us more confidence to pursue ideas on waxed canvas materials.”
Each one of Gouache’s travel goods is designed for active and artistic urbanites, hobbyists, and enthusiasts. Products are considered art pieces, each item meticulously handcrafted and aligned with the very essence of the brand name: a painting technique in which opaque pigments ground in water are infused with a special wax mix. No two creations are the same. Louie says, “Like leather, your waxed-canvas bags age and grow more interesting as you wear them.”
Production of each Gouache piece begins with a design, a collaboration between Louie and other professionals and enthusiasts, which is then translated into a prototype to test for durability and overall aesthetic.
“We choose classic and timeless designs and then we integrate functionalities based on the design purpose of the bag,” Louie says. “Usually, our bags are weather resistant since the waxed canvas gives that durable and water repellent feature. The waxing also gives the bags a unique texture and makes their color more saturated, giving a vintage look.”
Once the prototype is approved, the team gives the green light for full production. Louie says, “We then cut the panels and sheets based on the prototype pattern sheet, wax these with our special wax mix, then our talented bag making community assembles the bags with excellent craftsmanship.” The team works with artisans from Marikina and Cogeo Rizal.
“These are families of skilled artisans who have been in the bag making industry for generations but have now found it very difficult to compete for projects in the midst of globalization,” says Louie. “As advocates of local talent, we help our bag makers be more competitive by providing fresh designs that can help reconnect them to the market.”
Of their products, the camera bags and satchels are noted bestsellers, specifically the Harvey Bag line (P1,900 each), which was designed by street photographers for street photographers. The team has also explored waxed lifestyle home products such as artisan aprons (P1,200 each), lunch bags (P700 each), and toiletry kits (P680 each).
At the moment, Ann and Louie are bent on expanding and improving operations given the demand for their products. “The team has a lot of design ideas in the pipeline but right now we believe in improving our service first,” Louie says. “We’d like to take our scaling up at a steady and organic pace.” Gouache products are currently available for retail in Manila, Cebu, Baguio, Singapore, and San Francisco.