Rothy’s is trotting out a whole new category: bags.
Best known for making comfy-chic ballet flats out of post-consumer recycled plastic bottles (and later merino wool), the cult footwear brand is looking to transform the way premium handbags look, feel and stand the test of time.
“We started with shoes, and brought a new kind of design, function, comfort and sustainability to footwear,” Erin Lowenberg, the San Francisco company’s senior vice president of merchandising and product, told Sourcing Journal. “For our next step, we wanted to expand into a category that we could transform for modern life on the go. The Bag Collection was a natural next step.”
Debuting Tuesday, each bag is three-dimensionally knit to shape using a proprietary blend of Rothy’s plastic-bottle yarn and reclaimed marine waste.
Ocean-bound plastic, collected within 30 miles of coastlines and marine environments, is a new material for the brand but an important one, Lowenberg said. According to the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans every year—and that’s in addition to the 150 million metric tons already churning in their depths.
“This unique construction and combination of our signature thread and marine plastic results in handbags and accessories that are incredibly soft, structured and durable,” Lowenberg said.
Like Rothy’s shoes, they’re also completely machine washable—hardware and all. (To prevent scuffs, the use of an included wash bag is recommended.)
Those details aside, the carryalls are designed to be indistinguishable from their top-of-the-line counterparts. Available in colors such as bright poppy, midnight navy and sage green, they come in five silhouettes: a classic handbag with a removable strap, a spacious tote, a dual-zip crossbody, a trio of zippered soft-shell boxes and a pouch. Prices start at $65 for the smallest of the catchalls and top out at $350 for the handbag.
Bags don’t require the same size and fit considerations as shoes, but even so, Rothy’s expansion is “unprecedented,” according to Lowenberg.
“It’s very challenging for companies to move into a new category so quickly due to the complexities of perfecting a design and production process—and the lead time required to get it right,” she said.
Its “whole brand” approach—not to mention its sole ownership of a 1,000-employee-strong, 240,000-square-foot facility in Dongguan in China—has helped, however. Thanks to its vertical integration, Rothy’s was able to design, develop and produce the Bag Collection in a little over a year.
Investing in its infrastructure didn’t hurt, either. In 2019, the brand added 225 3D-knitting machines to support the development of the Bag Collection while continuing to grow its shoe business.
“Because of our direct line of communication with our factory team, we can rapidly prototype and make changes overnight that would typically take weeks in a traditional contract manufacturing arrangement,” Lowenberg said. “This is a first-of-its-kind model for consumer brands and so important for our quality standards and ability to innovate.”
What’s next for Rothy’s? Anything is possible if deliberately considered. To be sure, Rothy’s “looks for purpose” in everything it does, said Lowenberg, who works weekly with the company’s development team to sample new ideas and revise prototypes (sometimes overnight—another perk of operating your own factory).
“We always look for products that we can transform in our own Rothy’s way, and bring something new to the customer and the industry,” Lowenberg said. “At the end of the day, we create beautiful, functional, sustainable style staples that people love—and always live at the front of the closet.”