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Sitting Down with Smathers & Branson

Smathers and Branson

Helen​ ​Jon​ ​believes​ ​wholeheartedly​ ​in​ ​making​ ​the​ ​most​ ​socially​ ​responsible  decisions​ ​about​ ​how​ ​we​ ​run​ ​our​ ​business.​ ​We​ ​deeply​ ​respect​ ​—​ ​and​ ​often​ ​learn  from​ ​—​ ​the​ ​many​ ​other​ ​companies​ ​who​ ​share​ ​this​ ​value​ ​system.

Our​ ​world,​ ​now​ ​more​ ​than​ ​ever,​ ​needs​ ​careful​ ​consideration​ ​and​ ​attention.​ ​This  can​ ​be​ ​expressed​ ​through​ ​business​ ​practices​ ​and​ ​in​ ​how​ ​we​ ​treat​ ​one​ ​another. Smathers​ ​&​ ​Branson​ is​ ​an​ ​excellent​ ​example​ ​of this.​ ​We​ ​are​ ​so​ ​pleased​ ​to​ ​introduce​ ​you​ ​to​ ​Peter​ ​Smathers​ ​and​ ​Austin​ ​Branson, two​ ​fine​ ​businessmen​ ​who​ ​had​ ​a​ ​dream​ ​and​ ​a​ ​vision​ ​—​ ​and​ ​discovered​ ​a​ ​way​ ​to make​ ​a​ ​difference​ ​while​ ​creating​ ​a​ ​beautiful​ ​and​ ​timeless​ ​product. 

Tell​ ​us,​ ​how​ ​—​ ​and​ ​when​ ​—​ ​did​ ​you​ ​decide​ ​to​ ​make​ ​a​ ​business​ ​out​ ​of needlepointed​ ​accessories? 

In​ ​2004,​ ​while​ ​roommates​ ​at​ ​​Bowdoin​ ​College​,​ ​we​ ​decided​ ​to​ ​start​ ​a company​ ​that​ ​offered​ ​needlepoint​ ​belts.​ ​We​ ​had​ ​each​ ​been​ ​gifted​ ​a needlepoint​ ​belt​ ​from​ ​our​ ​then​ ​girlfriends​ ​and​ ​became​ ​intrigued​ ​with​ ​these unique​ ​accessories.​ ​After​ ​looking​ ​to​ ​buy​ ​finished​ ​belts,​ ​we​ realized​ ​that there​ ​wasn’t​ ​a​ ​company​ ​that​ ​featured​ ​these​ ​timeless​ ​items.​ ​From​ ​the​ ​start, our​ ​goal​ ​was​ ​to​ ​make​ ​the​ ​belts​ ​more​ ​available,​ ​attractive​ ​and​ ​affordable.​ ​We had​ ​always​ ​shared​ ​an​ ​entrepreneurial​ ​spirit​ ​and​ ​after​ ​discovering​ ​a​ ​concept that​ ​we​ ​were​ ​passionate​ ​about,​ ​we​ ​started​ ​working​ ​on​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​that​ ​has become​ ​Smathers​ ​&​ ​Branson. 

Smathers and Branson

Your​ ​business​ ​is​ ​a​ ​“cottage​ ​business,”​ ​providing​ ​tremendous​ ​support​ ​and opportunity​ ​to​ ​communities​ ​and​ ​villages​ ​in​ ​rural​ ​Vietnam.​ ​Being​ ​two​ ​guys​ ​who went​ ​to​ ​Bowdoin,​ ​a​ ​small​ ​liberal​ ​arts​ ​college​ ​in​ ​Maine,​ ​how​ ​did​ ​you​ ​get​ ​from​ ​there to​ ​here?  

Our​ ​biggest​ ​challenge​ ​was​ ​finding​ ​and​ ​training​ ​skilled​ ​artisans.​ ​We​ ​had​ ​been given​ ​contact​ ​information​ ​for​ ​our​ ​current​ ​manufacturer​ ​by​ ​a​ ​friend​ ​who had​ ​met​ ​him​ ​at​ ​a​ ​trade​ ​fair.​ He​ ​knew​ ​nothing​ ​about​ ​needlepoint,​ ​but​ ​he​ ​was willing​ ​to​ ​learn.​ With​ ​our​ ​options​ ​quickly​ ​running​ ​out,​ ​we​ ​decided​ ​to​ ​spend the​ ​fall​ ​in​ ​Vietnam.​ Meeting​ ​our​ ​stitchers​ ​face​-to​-face​ ​enabled​ ​us​ ​to​ ​perfect our​ ​product​ ​to​ ​meet​ ​the​ ​high​ ​quality​ ​standards​ ​we​ ​set.​ ​Without​ ​realizing​ ​it, we​ ​had​ ​laid​ ​the​ ​groundwork​ ​for​ ​a​ ​cottage​ ​industry​ ​that,​ ​within​ ​a​ ​few​ ​years,  would​ ​employ​ ​and​ ​provide​ ​opportunities​ ​for​ ​thousands​ ​of​ ​people.​ ​As​ ​our company​ ​continues​ ​to​ ​grow,​ ​we​ ​have​ ​the​ ​satisfaction​ ​that​ ​our​ ​​artisan’s​​ ​level of​ ​success​ ​grows​ ​as​ ​well.

Smathers and Branson

As​ ​the​ ​world​ ​today​ ​so​ ​often​ ​seems​ ​more​ ​divided​ ​and​ ​compartmentalized,​ ​what are​ ​one​ ​or​ ​two​ ​universal​ ​truths​ ​that​ ​connect​ ​people,​ ​despite​ ​geography​ ​and personal​ ​experience? 

Loyalty​ ​comes​ ​to​ ​mind.​ ​​As​ ​we’ve​ ​grown​ ​our​ ​business,​ ​we’ve​ ​stayed​ ​committed​ ​not only​ ​to​ ​one​ ​another​ ​as​ ​business​ ​partners,​ ​but​ ​also​ ​to​ ​our​ ​Vietnamese manufacturing​ ​partner.​ Our​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​grow​ ​our​ ​business​ ​is​ ​essentially​ ​limited​ ​by the​ ​number​ ​of​ ​trained​ ​stitchers​ ​we​ ​have​ ​making​ ​our​ ​beautiful​ ​products.​ Rather than​ ​setting​ ​up​ ​workshops​ ​in​ ​other​ ​parts​ ​of​ ​the​ ​world,​ ​we’ve​ ​allowed​ ​our​ ​producer to​ ​do​ ​his​ ​best​ ​to​ ​increase​ ​capacity,​ ​while​ ​maintaining​ ​and​ ​improving​ ​our​ ​signature quality.​ A​ ​loyal​ ​business​ ​relationship,​ ​particularly​ ​in​ ​a​ ​supply​ ​chain,​ ​can​ ​be fleeting,​ ​but​ ​we​ ​have​ ​found​ ​that​ ​by​ ​working​ ​so​ ​closely​ ​together​ ​with​ ​our​ ​supplier,  we’ve​ ​built​ ​a​ ​rock​ ​solid​ ​foundation​ ​for​ ​our​ ​business​ ​-​ ​and​ ​theirs. 

All​ ​of​ ​us​ ​at​ ​Helen​ ​Jon​ ​believe​ ​that​ ​persistence,​ ​courage,​ ​awareness​ ​for​ ​the  greater​ ​good​ ​-​ ​and​ ​a​ ​bedrock​ ​belief​ ​that​ ​​doing​ ​good​ ​and​ ​doing​ ​good​ ​business​​ ​-​ ​can​ ​and  should​ ​be​ ​intrinsically​ ​linked.​ ​Do​ ​you​ ​have​ ​a​ ​mentor,​ ​or​ ​philosophy that​ ​helped​ ​shape​ ​your​ ​business​ ​acumen? 

We​ ​were​ ​each​ ​lucky​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​be​ ​raised​ ​and​ ​educated​ ​to​ ​appreciate​ ​our​ ​very fortunate​ ​place​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world.​ ​​Bowdoin​ ​College’s​ ​mission​ ​of​ ​serving​ ​the​ ​common good​ ​helped​ ​teach​ ​us​ ​how​ ​to​ ​approach​ ​our​ ​duty​ ​to​ ​serve​ ​others.​ ​​ ​We​ ​have​ ​a​ ​pretty simple​ ​view​ ​that​ ​it​ ​should​ ​be​ ​the​ ​responsibility​ ​of​ ​a​ ​successful​ ​business​ ​to​ ​give  back,​ ​but​ ​we​ ​don’t​ ​make​ ​it​ ​a​ ​gimmick​ ​of​ ​our​ ​business​ ​that​ ​customers​ ​need​ ​to  support​ ​us​ ​because​ ​we​ ​do​ ​good.​ ​​ ​Rather,​ ​it’s​ ​through​ ​personal​ ​and​ ​private,​ ​but  generous,​ ​commitments​ ​that​ ​we​ ​are​ ​able​ ​to​ ​do​ ​good​ ​for​ ​important​ ​causes. 

Do​ ​you​ ​have​ ​a​ ​favorite​ ​pattern,​ ​theme​ ​or​ ​symbol?

Austin: What​ ​we​ ​both​ ​love​ ​most​ ​about​ ​our​ ​brand​ ​and​ ​our​ ​designs​ ​is​ ​that​ ​we speak​ ​so​ ​much​ ​to​ ​each​ ​individual​ ​with​ ​themes​ ​and​ ​icons​ ​that​ ​represent​ ​so many​ ​of​ ​our​ ​shared​ ​passions.​ ​​ ​Personally,​ ​I​ ​most​ ​often​ ​wear​ ​our​ ​Island​ ​Time belt,​ ​because​ ​it​ ​reminds​ ​me​ ​of​ ​where​ ​I​ ​was​ ​married​ ​in​ ​Antigua,​ ​our​ ​Bowdoin College​ ​belt,​ ​and​ ​finally,​ ​whichever​ ​DC​ ​pro​ ​sports​ ​team​ ​is​ ​currently​ ​in​ ​season.

What​ ​is​ ​the​ ​most​ ​unique​ ​personalization​ ​that​ ​you’ve​ ​ever​ ​been​ ​asked​ ​to complete?

Each​ ​of​ ​our​ ​pieces​ ​is​ ​stitched​ ​entirely​ ​by​ ​hand,​ ​so​ ​we​ ​have​ ​the​ ​ability​ ​to customize​ ​just​ ​one​ ​of​ ​any​ ​of​ ​our​ ​great​ ​items.​ ​​ ​Our​ ​Life​ ​Belt​ ​program​ ​allows customers​ ​to​ ​design​ ​their​ ​own​ ​belt​ ​with​ ​a​ ​variety​ ​of​ ​icons​ ​that​ ​they​ ​cherish most​ ​-​ ​somewhat​ ​like​ ​a​ ​charm​ ​bracelet​ ​for​ ​a​ ​guy.​ ​​ ​It’s​ ​an​ ​incredibly​ ​unique and​ ​thoughtful​ ​way​ ​to​ ​buy​ ​a​ ​gift​ ​for​ ​the​ ​guy​ ​who​ ​has​ ​everything​.

The​ ​iPhone​ ​case​ ​is​ ​the​ ​perfect​ ​example​ ​of​ ​marrying​ ​the​ ​old​ ​with​ ​the​ ​new.​ ​Do you​ ​have​ ​any​ ​other​ ​ideas​ ​for​ ​future​ ​S&B​ ​offerings?

We’re​ ​always​ ​adding​ ​great​ ​new​ ​products​ ​to​ ​our​ ​line.​ This​ ​fall,​ ​we’re​ ​very excited​ ​to​ ​be​ ​launching​ ​needlepoint​ ​headcovers​ ​for​ ​golf​ ​clubs.​ It​ ​might​ ​not​ ​be exactly​ ​“old​ ​with​ ​new,”​ ​but​ ​it’s​ ​an​ ​entirely​ ​new​ ​product​ ​for​ ​a​ ​very​ ​old​ ​sport!

Preppy​ ​is​ ​as​ ​preppy​ ​does…​ ​and​ ​it​ ​never​ ​seems​ ​to​ ​waver.​ ​Was​ ​there​ ​ever​ ​a​ ​time when​ ​either​ ​of​ ​you​ ​delved​ ​into​ ​a​ ​passing​ ​trend​ ​or​ ​fad​ ​that​ ​you​ ​now​ ​look​ ​back​ ​on and​ ​wince?

Peter: We​ ​love​ ​that,​ ​in​ ​general,​ ​the​ ​traditional​ ​style​ ​our​ ​guys​ ​wear​ ​hasn’t​ ​changed much​ ​in​ ​50​ ​years,​ ​and​ ​probably​ ​(hopefully)​ ​won’t​ ​change​ ​that​ ​dramatically​ ​for​ ​50 more!​ ​​I have a hard​ ​time​ ​looking​ ​at​ ​old​ ​pictures​ ​of​ ​myself ​in​ ​pleated​ ​pants,​ ​and Austin​ ​still​ ​laughs​ ​at​ ​the​ ​fact​ ​that​ ​he​ ​didn’t​ ​get​ ​a​ ​proper​ ​pair​ ​of​ ​jeans​ ​until​ ​his​ ​late 20s.  

​We​ ​recently​ ​added​ ​a​ ​Monogram​ ​Shop ​to​ ​our​ ​website,​ ​which our​ ​customers​ ​seem​ ​to​ ​love!​ ​Feels​ ​like​ ​a​ ​natural​ ​complement​ ​to​ ​Smathers​ ​& Branson.​ Tell​ ​us,​ what​ ​would​ ​the​ ​ideal​ ​Smathers​ ​&​ ​Branson​ ​accessory​ ​be​ ​for​ ​a​ ​day in​ ​the​ ​life​ ​of​ ​Helen​ ​Jon?  

A​ ​monogrammed​ ​tote​ ​or​ ​pillow

Smathers and Branson

Thank​ ​you,​ ​Peter​ ​and​ ​Austin.​ ​We​ ​have​ ​always​ ​loved​ ​your​ ​product​ ​line.​ ​But​ ​it​ ​is even​ ​more​ ​special​ ​now​ ​that​ ​we​ ​know​ ​the​ ​backstory​ ​and​ ​understand​ ​how​ ​the creation​ ​of​ ​these​ ​products​ ​helps​ ​people​ ​all​ ​the​ ​way​ ​across​ ​the​ ​globe.

You​ ​can​ ​read​ ​more​ ​about​ ​Smathers​ ​&​ ​Branson​ ​and​ ​their​ ​authentic​ ​and​ ​deep commitment​ ​to​ ​improving​ ​lives​ ​here

And,​ ​don’t​ ​forget​ ​to​ ​order​ ​your​ ​very​ ​own​ ​needlepoint​ ​belt,​ ​key​ ​fob,​ ​hat,​ ​you​ ​name it,​ ​while​ ​you’re​ ​there.​ ​You​ ​will​ ​get​ ​something​ ​you​ ​will​ ​love​ ​—​ ​and​ ​you’ll​ ​be​ ​doing good​ ​at​ ​the​ ​same​ ​time.​ ​Win,​ ​win.

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