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This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We ask readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories.
Introducing Jonah Brotman, the co-founder of StashBelt, a money belt for travellers.
1. Let’s start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
StashBelt is on a mission to change the world through safer travel. Founded in 2012, StashBelt is a for-profit social enterprise that produces the world’s best travel money belt. Designed with a conveniently hidden zippered pocket and on-board data storage, StashBelt is a wearable insurance policy aimed at both intrepid travellers and happy weekenders.
Besides cutting-edge style and travel safety features, StashBelt also boasts ethical sourcing and socially responsible manufacturing as key components of its corporate identity. Handmade in Nairobi, Kenya, StashBelt is an innovative partnership between Canadian entrepreneurs and African leather artisans putting StashBelt at the forefront of the conscious consumerism movement.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
After studying journalism and communications at Carleton University, I interned at a radio station in Ghana in 2007 where I wrote the international and African news updates. I soon realized that I learned from two months of travel than from four years of lectures and labs. Returning home, I co-founded Operation Groundswell, a non-profit organization dedicated to ‘backpacking with a purpose’. We’ve since taken over 1000 students to over 20 countries and raised nearly $1-million for community-requested projects abroad.
Starting a travel organization soon made me realize that travellers are seeking fashionable peace of mind with a social conscience. StashBelt was a natural next step.
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
StashBelt has two major customer segments: vacationers and backpackers. Vacationers are short-term travellers, often taking a cruise, visiting an all-inclusive or heading to Europe for a week. StashBelt is a modern update of the fanny pack or sweaty nylon money pouch. Vacationers appreciate how the StashBelt is inconspicuous and stylish.
Backpackers are long-term travellers, often on trips of six weeks to six months or longer. Seeking experiences over stability, stories over possessions, backpackers enjoy the versatility and are comforted by the fact that as long as they keep their pants on, StashBelt will get them out of a jam.
Most customers find us through our website, social media presence or in boutique travel stores across the country.
4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
Like many startups, the three co-founders of StashBelt are ‘jacks of all trades’, often interchanging roles on a daily basis. Jeff Davis, Seth Rozee and I all bring unique skill sets to the table. The key is that we are travel veterans having visited over 100 countries combined.
We are proud to employ up to 23 Kenyan leather artisans based out of our factory in Nairobi. We pay well above market wages and focus on the “workers guild” model of apprenticeship so that our workers can one day open their own shops.
5. You’ve been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
At the core of StashBelt is our commitment to social purpose in addition to financial profit. As millennials, we view sustainable development through the ‘trade not aid’ lens and practice empathy rather than pity.
A key element of our recent success has come from appearing on Dragon’s Den recently. To say our business has exploded would be an understatement. Massive exposure like this has propelled us to tons of new sales, new retail opportunities and some exciting partnerships. Stay tuned to our website as we plan on launching StashBelt 2.0 very soon.