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S3: Hamilton Perkins Bags and Recycled Plastic #82

Hamilton Perkins

Hamilton and his team are working with Thread International to make bags and other accessories from some of the recycled plastics in Haiti. He has very interesting story. Be sure to stay tuned for a great Detroit artist group called The Infatuations. You will feel like you are transported back in time with their great song.

Bloomingdale_s Bloomingdale_s_SoHo Hamilton_interview_from_Truitier_Landfill_in_Haiti Hamilton_interview_for_Haitian_TV_from_the_first_mile_of_the_HPC_supply_chain (1) Barbara_and_Hamilton

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Welcome to another episode of the Bonfires of Social Enterprise. This is Romy. I am your host for this show. We had a little gap in our postings there, sorry about that! Sometimes I am doing too many things and it catches up with me. Well, we have a great guest today from Virginia. Shout out to our listeners in Virginia! Hamilton Perkins is the founder of a business called Hamilton Perkins. Hamilton and his team are working with Thread International to make bags and other accessories from some of the recycled plastics in Haiti. He has very interesting story. Be sure to stay tuned for a great Detroit artist group called The Infatuations. You will feel like you are transported back in time with their great song.

First, let’s check out our Fun Fuel

This is Natalie Hazen, and I am bringing you the Fun Fuel for this episode.

The popularity of recycling has had its share of bumps and bruises over the years, but who or what started this idea of recycling? Many give credit of first recycling to none other than Mr. T-Rex and his dinosaur buddies Mr. Stegosaurus and Ms. Triceratops for decomposing and then producing various oils and gasses. Way to go dinos!
But really, in 500 BC, it was Athens, Greece who organized the first municipal dump program in the western world. In an article written by Matt Bradbury in May 2014 for the Resource Center Powered by Busch Systems, he states that Athen’s local laws dictated that waste had to be disposed of at least one mile from the city walls. Quite a hike.
But for the United States, it was the year 1690 that the recycled paper manufacturing process was introduced. The Rittenhouse Mill near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania made paper from fiber derived from recycled cotton and linen rags.
Well, that wraps up our fun fuel and now onto the episode.

Thanks Natalie! What a fun connection to the history of dinosaurs. Love it!
Okay, let’s jump in to my conversation with Hamilton

Main Interview:
Romy: Hamilton, welcome to the Bonfires of Social Enterprise Podcast Show.

Hamilton: Thank you so much for having me, I’m really delighted to be here.

Romy: Now we’re on the phone together, I’m in Detroit, and you’re calling from … Is it Norfolk Virginia? That’s where you’re in?

Romy: All right, well let’s jump right into it. Let’s talk about the Hamilton Perkins Collection. We know already that you’re the founder, and you’re the sort of visionary, so it’s named after you. Can you tell us about the business?

Yeah, so we make bags out of recycled plastic bottles and recycled billboard vinyl. Every bag is different; every bag is unique. We source the plastic out of Haiti, and we also cut and sew the bags in Haiti as well. We started with a Kickstarter Campaign, a little bit over nine months ago. Had a $10,000 goal, we hit the goal in about a week. We had a couple hundred orders that needed to be sent out and had about a six month lead time. Took some time, we hit the business plan competition circuit; we were able to take home the grand prize of $25,000 at the Virginia Velocity Tour. From there we hit a trunk show at Bloomingdale’s, we hosted a one-day sales event in New York at the 59th street location. And came back to Virginia, and shipped out hundreds of orders to our first set of customers, and turned our own website on after that at

Romy: Oh yeah, and thanks for … It’s always great to give a shout out for those who kind of helped you with the steps along the way. Was it the Virginia Velocity Tour and Kickstarter is two I just wrote down. It’s great to let them know because those programs are essential to a lot of the startup entrepreneurs, aren’t they?

Yeah, totally. I think for us, our situation was we wanted to make a better bag. We figured there wasn’t as much selection I guess if you think about department stores, or online stores when it comes to a bag that kind of had impact, or a bag that had a purpose. By kind of collaborating, and working with different organizations, other websites that had larger audiences, we were able to figure out, “Okay, we can kind of get this in front of people that are already kind of looking for what we’re making.” From there it would make more sense to eventually see how can we expand our line, and get people that can help us with that, that have technical experience and basically are more subject matter experts.

Virginia Velocity Tour was great because it brought a lot of really seasoned business people together, entrepreneurs together, mentors together, and really concentrated the efforts so that we could basically tell our story, get feedback, kind of run through some rigorous kind of steps to actually pitch our businesses. It was really just a great turnout, we made great relationships from there, and we’re still moving ahead from now.

Wow, that’s powerful. Well thanks to them. And you just hit on so many of the things that so many of the entrepreneurs in the social space have to kind of walk through all of those doorways, but those relationships, if done well, really conserve you during the lifecycle of your business. It’s great you gave them a shout out. Let’s go back to you. I … In the beginning, you said you are making the bags, and sourcing the materials from Haiti. I have a feeling that has something to do with the original, how this was all originally inspired. Can you take us there? What’s going on in through your connection with Haiti?

Yeah, totally. In the beginning, the idea was how we could make a better bag? The majority of the bag, there just wasn’t like as much, I guess transparency around how they were made, and who worked on them, and kind of what was happening, where the materials were coming from. We thought it would be great to tell that story, actually empower people that are traveling, while still supporting dignified income opportunities with the same product. There were a lot of forces that were happening. I mean my background coming into this, I work in banking, so I was working investment management. I got my MBA around 2014, basically was sitting in class and kind of thinking about, “How can all these different forces be happening as far as billions of plastic bottles are being thrown away every year.” And at the same time know vinyl from billboard advertising was basically being thrown away because the industry was growing.

It just made more sense for us to figure out a way that we could combine those two elements that were usually a problem, and then at the end of the day making a new product altogether from scratch.

Romy: Who’s we?

Hamilton: Yeah, so right now we have a small team. It’s a team of four. We have two full timers, two interns. In the beginning, it was really myself, my wife, and basically, that was it. Now we’re actually expanding so we have some help in different areas to give us a little bit of relief. We’re basically still very lean, still kind of getting things going. From there it’s just been building the team.

Well, that’s great, that’s great. How did you connect in with Haiti than?

Hamilton: Yeah, so we got connected to Haiti through our partnership with Thread International. Thread International is a certified B corporation. What they do is they go to some of the poorest countries in the world, and they basically help create jobs through buying plastic. It starts basically on the landfill level, so one of the largest landfills in the Caribbean, the Truscont Landfill is basically like the first mile of the supply chain. From there, you’re able to basically create entrepreneurship right there on the spot because you have so many different families that come from basically all over, from all types of backgrounds, but they’re able to sell plastic, and they can earn gourde, which is the Haitian currency. And then from there, they can immediately go buy soup, or they can go provide for their families.

Then from there, the plastic is processed at a local recycling center. Recycling centers than are able to sell that to Thread, and then Thread is basically packaging it into a yarn. The yarn is processed in the states. The states from there, they’re basically selling it to us. Then we cut and sew it with our billboard vinyl. Our billboard vinyl, we source that locally, and we source it out of Haiti. After an advertisement is kind of done running, it’ll go out of service. There’s tens of thousands of outdoor advertisements that are going up basically every year. We figure that it would be better to repurpose them or up-cycle them, and then make a creative and unique product that basically won’t be the same as the very next product. We were able to combine that.

Then, we sent it back to Haiti so that it could be cut and sewn in a factory. Our factory is not too far from Porter Prince, and basically, it started with about 20 employees, and now they’ve grown to over 100 employees. I think they still had expansion goals, so they’ll probably expand another 20%. We recently just got back from Haiti, and had a chance to kind of walk the full kind of supply chain from the first mile, to the cut and sew factory, and then after that, it comes back here to us in the states. Then when customers go to our website,, then we ship it to them directly to their door.

Wow. Thanks for walking us through that. We have so many questions that came in about supply chain when you’re trying to address fair trade and create jobs in other parts of the country and the world. I think sometimes …

Romy: I think sometimes folks get a little too hung up on, “Where are the jobs being created?” I have one of these philosophies of like, “If you can help somebody be self-sustainable with their family by giving them a way to make an income, I think sometimes we got just to understand that whether it’s here or somewhere else, it’s good.” Like it’s good.

Hamilton: Totally. I mean if you think about it, it’s like, it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and so by making an impact there the thought process is, “Can’t we make an impact overall quicker?” because it’s going to be hard to sort of incrementally make impact in places where things are already going well. My whole career’s been like centered around that, I always found the biggest problem, even when I worked in corporate America like I was always trying to get the project that basically had the most potential upside. We feel good about what is happening, and we really are invested and look forward to continuing to invest more.

Yeah, that’s so good. I love that, the most potential upside. Having come out of the investment field that resonates with me with this kind of work we’re all doing, that’s so great that you put it that way. Let’s stay lingering on this social piece for a minute before we go back over to the bags and the products themselves. What kinds of things, Hamilton, are you noticing from a social impact? Because people loosely use this word, impact, all over the place now, it’s sort of the new buzzword. So, I know we’ve talked about, we’ve got some job creation going on both locally and in Haiti, let’s go back to Haiti for one more minute, what kinds of things are you noticing when you visit Haiti that maybe even surprised you a little bit? Or a pleasant outcome from you using … You said, “Mile one, where you’re gathering the materials all the way to the factory there.” What are some of the observations you’ve noticed just from a social impact side?

I think working with the team over at Thread has been pretty eye opening. I got a chance to kind of connect with one of the field managers down in Haiti, his name’s Richardson, and he really just kind of shared these stories with me about just the impact that’s happening in the landfills and just basically the opportunity, because it’s really tough with unemployment being such a high number in Haiti compared to the US. I don’t know the exact stat on it, don’t quote me, I want to say it’s maybe closer to 2/3 of the population maybe, with unemployment.

So by the time you really digest that and then you’re looking at kind of the opportunity, he really shared just the story of a woman in her [inaudible 00:13:10] and how she came to a particular landfill and she didn’t have anything at that point. So when she came there, she was able to basically create a job for herself. She created a business for herself out of plastics. There was a couple there that they’re were like she was basically already doing the collection center like she had everything going, but eventually, her husband got into it. So now he’s got his own business that’s like collecting plastic, and from there they’re able to support their families.

I think it’s like those stories like on the ground like that that it’s definitely on the social impact side. You would never kind of, I guess, imagine or know until you actually go and talk to someone that’s actually working there, and for me, that was really eye-opening, and it’s like … I guess that was like last week this time actually is like when we were there, so it’s totally something that we’re excited about the fact that we can continue to do it because we’ll be able to create more opportunities and from there impact more people.

Yeah, when you go visit those places, and you get on the ground as parts of your supply chain, I feel like there’s an eye-opening moment. It’s either going to make you stick closer to that supply chain member, or it’s going to make you walk and seek another, but it’s so important for us as entrepreneurs, no matter what you’re selling to the public, making, even if it’s service providers, really understanding who all of your vendors are, who all those people are, because it can really keep the fire burning, if I’m going to use our analogies, for you as an entrepreneur on the why, right?

Oh, absolutely.

Romy: It really grounds you on the why of what you’re doing and why you’re picking those people.

Hamilton: Without a doubt. It’s really a … It’s this kind of a fascinating kind of overall process, from start to finish, and I’m not just saying that because I work at the company [inaudible 00:15:24], like seeing it kind of the evolution of it is, it’s incredible now what can be done through just internet and people that care and people that are basically brave and have courage actually to do it. So we’re thankful.

Yeah, and you know, I think this is a wonderful place, social enterprise in general, I think, is a wonderful place to give yourself a good excuse to go explore those things because we are not always looking to find the least expensive provider. Most social entrepreneurs, I think at least most that I’ve met, of the thousands I’ve met and work with that their why really is grounded and they’re why becomes stronger as they seek out different partners for their supply chain or service providers, any of those pieces. Then we’re not always picking the least expensive. we’re picking the folks that we feel we have a good relationship with and we can see this impact in their lives. And I just wanted to pause on that, that you’ve been doing this, and encourage anyone else who’s out there listening to, don’t be afraid to be brave about the choices you make. If you feel it’s right and a match for your company missionary, go ahead and do that. It paves the way; cheapest is sometimes what has caused some of our problems in this space.

Yeah, it’s always going to go back to the actual service or product. I think from just a practical standpoint because the customer still wants to be served. They still want to have a product that is going to solve the problem that they initially had, whether that’s carrying a bag or if it’s a service that they need, it has to check the box off, did it actually do what it’s supposed to do? I think now it’s like with the internet and just with more connected communities, I think we’re just able to find out more quicker, faster and that now it just leads to asking why again. Why does it have to be this way? Why does it have to be that way for this reason? For that reason, why does it need to continue to be the way it’s always been? So people are asking more questions, and I think that brands or companies, they definitely are starting to ask more questions as well, which that’s kind of how we got started. We wanted to know like, “Was there a different way to do this?”

Okay. Well, this is a super great transition point because I just wanted to start now to toggle over to the bags themselves. How did you land first at the very basic element of a bag, opposed to another product?

Hamilton: Yeah, so bags were basically the need. I was working in banking, I kind of had done some sales and did good in sales and went back to get my MBA. I was getting my MBA, my health had not been the best, I was trying to basically lose weight, just be healthier, and I was drinking water. I saw that water bottles will quickly add up and from there I was able to see that there was a lot of water bottles to be thrown away, like billions of water bottles being thrown away every year, and not necessarily going to a good place. Now I still had time in the MBA where I was going to be traveling, so we were doing a global immersion. We were doing one trip that we were going to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and we were also going to be gone to Athens and Madrid, and I wanted to have a bag that I could carry on the trip that would be kind of cool, kind of unique, something different.

When I looked for that, I really couldn’t find it. So, I decided that I would make it for myself, and when I did that I had a classmate that were also interested in the idea, so they pre-ordered the product from me, and I said, “Well if I can actually deliver this in six months, then it’s probably worth like actually making it into a product that could be made like commercially.” So from there, that was how we kind of landed on bags, and now we’ve kind of expanded to apparel because we can also …

Hamilton: And now we’ve kind of expanded to apparel because we can also make apparel from the same fabric, which is made from recycled plastics. We have shirts that are 50% plastic, 50% cotton. So much less water being used to create. But at the end of the day, it still supports income opportunities.

Romy: So great, so you have a bag and apparel, and what are all the pieces of apparel? We’ll give them your website too, at the end here, but you have t-shirts, and have- Do you have other apparel?

Yeah, so, right now it’s only basic shirts. We figure if we can do one thing, let’s just do one thing well. We have crew neck shirts, we’re just about to roll out v-neck shirts, and then we have basic duffel bags right now. So that’s our line up. We will be introducing some new projects by holiday of 2017, so we’re excited about that.

But we’re really just getting started. We did the Kickstarter, got the pre-orders out. Really have been kind of … not full inventory levels yet, but we really have just been kind of setting things up for the first time, really, like, designing, making sure that things are the way we want them. And listening to customer feedback, like early customers, bringing them in for sessions and hearing from them and meeting the people that are making our products, learning more about how we can work better together.

That’s our line up for now, but we’re really excited for the future.

Romy: Yeah, and so, who’s your main buyer so far? For the bag?

Hamilton: Our buyers are online. 98, 99% of our shoppers are online, so, they sort of end up flowing into an online savvy customer profile. Does skew more female, and, kind of skews, I’d say 30-43, 42. Around that range.


Hamilton: But we have customers that are younger, and customers that are older, lots of other social entrepreneurs. Or folks that work in non-profits. Our customer base is pretty wide represented from who we actually sell to.

Was that surprising to you? Because you designed a bag for yourself that would work for you. Were you surprised it wasn’t more men that bought them?

Hamilton: I wasn’t necessarily surprised, because I kind of did some research, and I saw that women were three times more likely to buy a bag, versus a man. Guys on average will buy four in a year, if you average it out, looking at the big data, but, we’re men, we’re once a year if you really kind of think about it.

I figure that if we could just make a product that really spoke to a real specific person, someone that just wanted a product that had a purpose, that the rest of itself would work itself out. It wouldn’t necessarily be one of those things where, and we’re gonna know exactly who the customers are, for on day one. That’s really hard to do. But I did get surprised, I guess, from basically seeing the different cities that come in. When the city orders come in, I’ll see it, and I’ll say, well, I’m thinking, I’m always thinking like, “Do I know someone there?” Or like, “Is that a friend of mine?”

But it’s been really cool and pretty neat just to see the whole thing get done, and I’m constantly learning, so, that’s why I made the career-switch.

Yeah, and when you came out of corporate life, were you surprised- was it easier, I guess? Let think about what I’m really trying to ask you. Was it harder or easier than you thought to launch this?

Hamilton: I think it was prob- I didn’t really have too much expectation about the difficulty level. My thing was just that I knew what my work ethic was, I knew I worked really hard at my job, and I knew I worked really hard in school, and I also had worked in retail prior to this, so, to me it was like, more about shifting the focus and bearing a lot of the risk of, “How are you going to make sales? How are you going to produce? How are you going to build a team?” Like all these things that normally someone else thought about those things.

In my career, now I would be able to do it. But I wanted to continue to learn, so, this was the way I felt like I could learn the fastest. I can’t really think of anything else I’d rather be doing. So that’s how I knew it was the right thing to be doing, no matter how hard it’s going to be, and I felt like, my window for doing it was probably closing.

So I think the timing was also a factor because it just gets harder to do things the more you wait so I went ahead and made the leap.


Yeah, so we basically did three trunk shows at Bloomingdale’s, two locations, kind of just came from pure word of mouth. We’re really a direct consumer brand at this point; we’re open to a wholesale. One of our customers that made an introduction for us and from there we basically kind of went to them and we met in their offices, and they gave us the ideas about what they thought about our products and they loved it, but they were trying to figure out, from support standpoint, who would sell it? That was kind of the question.

So I came back to Virginia from New York, and I did the Virginia Velocity Tour, and I thought about it, I’m like, “Why don’t I just come in and I’ll sell it? I’ll be the support staff; I’ll educate customers on what we’re doing, and, I’ll be the salesperson.”

So that’s how it started. It kind of started with an ask and from there you can kind of create opportunities. So I think it’s great awareness for us and top retailer in the world, so, for us, it’s definitely a win and working on the team there has been great, so I’m looking forward to rolling out some new stuff with them.

Well, shout out to Bloomingdale’s.

Hamilton: That’s Right.

Romy: That’s good, you spoke to something about relationships helped get you in. We often think about the supply chain, about our manufacturing, or how we make our product or service as we did earlier in the interview. But then there’s also this supply chain into the marketplace to our customers, right? Sometimes it’s a friend of ours that’s part of our network that’s helping us as part of our sales supply chain and sometimes if you think about supply chain towards your customer too, there’s a whole set.

It could be a network referral; it could be the online world of online e-commerce, it could be walking into a place and cold-calling your way into the marketplace. But there’s all these folks in the supply chain to your own customer, too. It’s not just one way anymore; it’s heavily relational-dependence still. Which is great.

Hamilton: For sure. Omnichannel, in retail, what’s happening- there’s a lot of shake-ups happening in different parts of our world whether it’s brick and mortar or e-commerce, and just being able to create relationships with customers, so, we feel like it’s a pretty exciting to be doing this type of work. It’s probably never a better time for this type of opportunity. So it’s really just taking it one day at a time and really understanding what’s happening in the moment and try to react to that and not necessarily already having a decision about something before you kind of get there.

Right, right. Well, that’s a great note to kind of wrap it up on. Let’s give the listeners how they would reach you, first of all. Maybe give them your website and places you’re on social media.

Yeah, so our website, Social media is all @hamiltonperkins. Instagram is pretty much where we are. We’re there, we’re on Twitter, Facebook, and as I’ve mentioned, I definitely would love to offer your audience a discount code. We’d love to have you come to our store and check it out. It’ll offer you ten dollars at check out if you answer, BONFIRES, in all caps, so B-O-N-F-I-R-E-S. And we’d love to hear any reviews; we’d love to hear what your thoughts are. So feel free to reach out at

Yeah, thank you for that discount code, let’s repeat that for the audience. So if any of the listeners, or your friends, go to, there’s a discount, all capital letters, BON like Nancy, F like Frank, IRES like Sam. BONFIRES. Thank you for that, we appreciate that. Well, I encourage everyone to go over to the website and check it out and Hamilton, is there anything else you’d like to share about your journey with our listeners?

Yeah, no, we just thank you so much for this opportunity, we’re just getting start, we’re making travel bags, offering them at an affordable price, trying to hold high standards of environmental performance. Accountability, transparency. We’ve been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, The Washington Post, Money Magazine. And we continue to expand our network through the internet. We’d love to engage with anyone that even hears this, leave us a comment, send us an email; we’d love to hear how we’re doing. So thank you so much.

Yes, and, thank you for being on here. We know we have a large pocket of listeners in Haiti. So right now, before I forget, we’re going to give them a shout out and let everyone know we’re a big world, yet we’re all small in this world of social enterprise. Thanks again Hamilton.

Hamilton: Thank you so much, I appreciate it.

Thank you to Hamilton for the time and conversation. Also a big thank you to all of the incubators, accelerators, crowd funding platforms, people and organizations that make social enterprises more successful. You are a very important part of the ecosystem.
Okay! Assemble Sound of Detroit introduced me to this great band in Detroit called The Infatuations. You will begin to hear a lot of music on this show from them. Here is a song from their album titled ‘Detroit Block Party’ titled ‘Tonight We Celebrate’…Woohoo!
Until next time, keep those bonfires burning!

Thank you to Hamilton for the time and conversation. Also a big thank you to all of the incubators, accelerators, crowd funding platforms, people and organizations that make social enterprises more successful. You are a very important part of the ecosystem.
Okay! Assemble Sound of Detroit introduced me to this great band in Detroit called The Infatuations. You will begin to hear a lot of music on this show from them. Here is a song from their album titled ‘Detroit Block Party’ titled ‘Tonight We Celebrate’…Woohoo!
Until next time, keep those bonfires burning!

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