dbramante1928: Classic design and human aid – two sides of the same (phone) case
Text: Signe Hansen | Photos: Dbramante1928
Classic phone, iPadand laptop cases produced in the best-quality full-grain Indian leather – it might not sound revolutionary, but it is at the heart of a story of success in both business and human aid. Danish Company dbramante1928 sells its products in 30 countries, and as the sales continue to grow, so does its support for the Danish charity Little Big Help, which works to create better opportunities for the women and children of West Bengal in India.
With a good idea, the desire to do things right, and the design principles of a very old Italian, CEO and co-founder of dbramante1928, Dennis Dress, has turned a simple concept into a hugely successful business. In 2011, focusing on high-quality leather covers, cases and straps for smart phones, laptops and other electronics, Dress and co-founder Jan Muntz began their production in Kolkata’s booming and highly experienced leather industry. The company almost immediately struck a chord with the quality and design-conscious buyers of leading smartphone brands. “The first iPhone was out in 2011, but in 2013, with the release of the iPhone 4, the market changed definitively – that’s when everyone started buying smartphones,” says Dress. “And, the kind of people who buy high-end smartphones are people who are into quality and design – they don’t want a cheap plastic cover with pink monkeys on, they want something in high-quality materials and elegant designs, and they want something that will last. It also makes sense environmentally, rather than just buying and throwing away cheap plastic products.”
Having started out with a production site of 60 employees in Kolkata, India, dbramante1928 today has three production sites employing more than 600 people, and products are sold in more than 7,000 shops all over the world. From every product sold, dbramante1928 donates a fixed amount to the charity Little Big Help.
Classic design and eye-catching colours
As the name reveals (Donato Bramante was an Italian renaissance architect who designed the plan for St. Peter’s Basilica), dbramante1928’s designs are based on an admiration for timeless principles, such as the golden ratio. The classic and durable designs immediately made the products a hit with consumers of the same mindset as the founders, mainly men. However, to reach the more detail-orientated female audience, Dress realised that it was necessary to get a bit more fashion savvy. “Three years ago, we came up with the idea of creating a range of products in Saffiano leather, a type of leather made through a process that makes it possible to dye in fashionable colours, without compromising the leather’s resilience and resistance to water and scratches,” he explains. “To do this, we teamed up with a great fashion agency, Femmes Regionales, because, while we’re really good at leather, we’re two 40-year-old men, and we had to accept that we didn’t know anything about those little details that appeal to women. But Femmes Regionale do, and they’ve done a splendid job. They’ve been a great help in ensuring that everything from the design to the packaging and branding has been just right.”
This collaboration resulted in the MODE collection, a range of stylish covers, straps and bags made in trendy Saffiano colours. Launched three years ago, the MODE collection is now the company’s fastest-growing product category.
One million leather workers
Taking into consideration that the cow is a holy animal amongst India’s Hindus, many might find it surprising that the country has a booming leather industry. But as a matter of fact, India has among the world’s biggest livestock – about 500 million of India’s population are non-Hindus or non-practising Hindus – and that means that the leather industry is never short of materials. “The only thing it means is that it is not legal to kill a cow for its skin only, so all the skin we get is a biproduct from the meat industry,” explains Dress. “That in turn means that it is cheaper than other places, and combined with the fact that it’s a huge industry with a lot of very skilled people – Calcutta’s university has a four-year course in leather and tanning – this makes it the perfect place for our production. It is the reason why we can sell the best full-grain leather products at the prices we do – put simply, it allows us to produce ‘affordable luxury’.”
Like all other companies producing products for the EU,dbramante1928’s production follows the EU’s REACH regulations for the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals in the tanning process. And unlike what many people think, the fact that Kolkata’s leather industry is more than 100 years old and employing more than one million people also means that it is better regulated and controlled than many newer leather industries, says Dress. However, he adds, there are of course some moral issues that need to be addressed when producing in a country like India. “We try to implement what we internally call the ‘do good’ principle, and that means that we aim to give something back to the society we produce in. We do that in a lot of ways, but it starts in our own factories, where we work with the SA 8000 standard to certify that we have fair work conditions. To get the certification, our factories have to go through unannounced check-ups to ensure that everything is in order, that the employees are not exposed to chemicals, that there are no underage workers, that employees have proper toilet facilities and so on – it’s just the right way to do things, but it’s also a way for us to guarantee our vendors that they will never risk getting bad publicity by working with us.”
In addition to meeting the SA 8000 standard, dbramante1928 provides all its regular employees and their families with health insurance, something that not only gives the employees security, but also makes the factories a popular workplace. “It all means that we are able to attract and keep the best of the area’s workers, so that way, it also makes good business sense,” stresses Dress.
A Little Big Help
There is one part of dbramante1928’s work in India, however, that is not driven by business sense, but purely by the urge to help those worst off in the West Bengal society. That is the company’s work with and support for the Danish charity Little Big Help. The organisation, which was founded by Danish Lisbeth Johansen, has been featured in several Danish documentaries, and is well-known for its work for homeless children and their families. Dress and Muntz were introduced to Johansen by dbramante1928’s Indian production manager, after he had seen the horror that the meeting with India’s many homeless children sparked in the two Europeans. “Little Big Help has nothing to do with business – it’s just something we have to do. Once you’ve been here and seen how things are – thousands of children sleeping on the street – you have to do something, to give something back,” says Dress matter-of-factly. “We give the charity money, but we also try to involve our customers; for instance, we have the ‘what can you get for five kroner’ programme with Telia Norway.Through that, we donate five kroner to Little Big Help for every product sold together, and though five kroner doesn’t sound like a lot, it can actually send a child to school for a month or provide three meals a day for five days,” stresses Dress, and rounds off: “It’s a way for us to help spread the word about Little Big Help’s important work and the difference that can be made by even small contributions. We do what we can, and knowing that when our business does well, so does Little Big Help, is a great feeling.”
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