How This Sustainable Company Found Their [Rare]Form

 

With Fall Batch coming to a close this week, we’re highlighting a brand that has not only been on Shark Tank (cool!) but has been a constant customer favorite within our showroom. We sat down with the Director of Communications from Rareform, Kara, to ask her questions regarding the company and their sustainability mission.

Batch_082418_detail_0002.jpg

Can you tell us a little more about Rareform’s founding story?

Alec was living in El Salvador working for a nonprofit when he noticed his friends in the village where he lived using billboards for a variety of uses: roofing for homes, lining baskets, etc. Then, it struck him that billboards are made from vinyl, are waterproof and are very durable. When he came home to the US, he found an auto upholsterer to create the first Rareform bag for him out of a billboard: a surfboard bag. He then started calling billboard companies asking if they were willing to give them their old billboards. Before you knew it, he had a truckload of billboards delivered to his parents' home in Camarillo, CA - much to their surprise.  

Do you pick which billboards will be used for your products, and are there some that you won’t take, like political ads or certain brands or advertisements?

We do not get to pick the billboards we receive, however, we are selective in which billboards (or portions of billboards) we use. We do not use faces, we obscure most logos and we avoid using any verbiage that might be considered offensive or demeaning by some. We also know which colors and styles sell better for different products, so in the cutting process, we make sure that we cut appropriately along those guidelines.

Is there a special team that takes the billboards down for you? How did you gain access to this material?

We have contracts with the three largest outdoor advertisers in the United States: Lamar Advertising, Clear Channel and Outfront Media. Their teams take down the physical billboards which are then shipped to our warehouse facilities/office space in Agoura Hills, CA where we hand cut, sort and wash the material!

What is the process for receiving and getting the vinyl into the production line and ready to sell?

Once we receive the billboards, we sort them by size and thickness. Certain thicknesses of billboards we use for certain products. Our team has cutting guidelines based on what colors and styles sell well for each product. We then ship the cut pieces to our manufacturers. We receive the products back to our warehouse in Agoura Hills, CA and manage all of our own fulfillment. For our online store, we individually photograph, edit and upload each product so the one the customer sees is the exact one they receive.

Batch_082418_detail_0007.jpg

How much has the company grown since being on Shark Tank?

We first appeared on Shark Tank in March 2017 and our appearance has helped our company's name be more recognizable in the public sphere. Having the Shark Tank stamp of approval is definitely something our customers enjoy and find credible. Often, too, I find explaining exactly what Rareform does a little challenging. In just a few seconds, I have to convince a friend or a potential customer what a billboard is made from, that each product is, in fact, one-of-a-kind, that we do not alter the billboard material in any capacity except for cutting, etc. Once, however, I am able to say 'we were on Shark Tank', I can tell the audience has immediate recognition and understanding.

Do you see billboard vinyl being used in other capacities other than just your products?

While there are some smaller companies that do private labeling using billboards, or make one-off products using billboard material, we are the only large-scale brand repurposing billboards into bags under our own name.

How do you hope to impact people and the way they think about living a sustainable lifestyle, and also buying sustainable products?

Once a potential customer understands that billboards are in fact a non-recyclable material and that the average lifespan of a billboard is typically 4-8 weeks, they become aware that this is clearly a problem for our landfills. Typically, I think customers are pleasantly surprised by the quality and aesthetic of our bags. There are many brands out there creating items from repurposed materials, but sometimes you have to forsake aesthetic or durability of your bag in order to make a more sustainable choice. We hope that customers don't have to compromise looking good for doing good in the world.  

Are there plans to introduce new styles or products to the line of inventory?

Yes! We are constantly introducing new products. Two I am really excited about are our DOPP Kits and Ella Purses which are launching in mid-November, just in time for Holiday. You can see what else is coming soon here: https://www.rareform.com/pages/coming-soon

 
Eleanor Silverstein