UT grad Oliver Shuttlesworth has built his Esperos line on the promise of helding to educate children in poor countries around the world.
Oliver Shuttlesworth, the soft-spoken 28-year-old founder and CEO of Esperos bags, was working at an advertising firm in Austin when he just “kind of decided” that he didn’t want to do it anymore, he explains over iced coffee at Caffé Medici on a recent warm afternoon. “It was like—all right, I’ve got enough saved to try to launch this thing, and if I fail I will go get another job I don’t like,” he says with a laugh.
His new “thing” seems to be anything but failing. Esperos, a socially conscious lifestyle brand of high-quality backpacks and bags, is on track to increase sales at least five-fold from last year. The company, which brought on Sid Jawahar as its new president and executive chairman, recently opened an office/ showroom on East Sixth Street. In addition, the bags are available at dozens of Whole Foods Market stores and boutiques around the country, as well as online. While the bags have an aesthetic that is all Austin—classic-looking canvas backpacks in a range of color combinations—they are not the company’s sole concern; Esperos donates 10 percent of the proceeds of every sale to help fund education projects for children in the developing world.
After graduating from the University of Texas as a corporate communications major, Shuttlesworth taught English in Chile before returning to Texas and landing that aforementioned advertising job. But the extreme poverty in South America, especially its debilitating effects on the children in those areas, haunted Shuttlesworth and was ultimately the catalyst for creating his company. His original concept was to come up with a “sustainable solution that works and can have an impact,” explains Shuttlesworth. “But I knew we couldn’t do it without a good product.” And so the Victoria, Texas, native with no background in fashion or design went to work, looking to companies such as Apple and J.Crew for inspiration. “I want [the bags] to be simple. We’re doing a lot of clean lines, smart color blocking—that’s what people really like about our products.” The bags are designed in Austin and manufactured at an ethically run facility in Shenzhen, China, which offers employees three meals a day, free housing, and full benefits.
The name Esperos is a loose translation of the Spanish verb “esperar,” which means “to hope,” so the idea is that consumers are buying more than a bag; they’re carrying hope.
The philanthropic element of the label also appeals to savvy shoppers. The name Esperos is a loose translation of the Spanish verb “esperar,” which means “to hope,” so the idea is that consumers are buying more than a bag; they’re carrying hope. In fact, #carryhope is the popular hashtag among members of Esperos’s dedicated social media community. Shuttlesworth approaches the social enterprise side of his company with just as much ambition and thoughtfulness as the design of his backpacks. Esperos recently joined with The Nobelity Project, the Austin-based education and action nonprofit, on initiatives based in Honduras and Kenya. Esperos and Nobelity are building a modern, two-classroom preschool in Alamach, Kenya; in Honduras, Esperos is helping Nobelity bring a second bookmobile to students in 14 remote fishing villages.
Shuttlesworth explains: “More than peppering, we want to be able to maintain active relationships with communities.” The best way to do that, he says, is with the right partners—it’s a matter of finding people who have been on the ground and know the communities, like Turk and Christy Pipkin of Nobelity.
“It has been pretty incredible to see this year go as quickly as it has,” Shuttlesworth says of his company’s third year. “We’ll keep bringing out new silhouettes in the bag category. As far as totally different products, yes, I do think we’ll do that, but not for a while. The mission and message of ‘carrying hope’ can be applied to a lot of things.” 2124 E. Sixth St., Ste. 101, 888-791-6610