An exciting new company has launched on Kickstarter. Sonoma-USA’s mission is to turn waste into usable products, and it has captured the zeitgeist. The Californian apparel manufacturer will divert used materials from the landfill, transforming them into unique, individual and exciting products – accessories such as bags and totes. Sonoma-USA is about reuse, it is about upcycling and using the imagination to give life back to otherwise lost materials.
We caught up with Steffen Kuehr, founder and CEO of the company, to find out more.
This is a very exciting project with a hugely relevant philosophy behind it. What mission do you wish to accomplish with Sonoma-USA?
I’d like to bring more sustainable textile and apparel manufacturing back to the US, to create valuable skilled jobs here in Sonoma County and help divert materials from the landfill to make sure we don’t turn our beautiful rolling hills of Sonoma vineyards into mountains of trash. By partnering with local businesses and engaging the local community we hope to change people’s way of how they look at used materials and start rethinking waste.
You have a pretty diverse background coming to the US from Germany, having lived and worked in London, then in Silicon Valley before joining the Sonoma textile firm BPE-USA six years ago. This sounds like the perfect resume for running Sonoma-USA…
When I came to BPE I had to learn a lot of new things, but it felt very rewarding to make actual, physical products and not just work in the digital, virtual world. Having a marketing and business background certainly helped to bring in new aspects of branding, social media marketing as well as product diversification
How did you come up with the idea for Sonoma-USA?
Over the years I have been collecting a ton of scrap materials and fabric leftovers which are a regular side product of our production process at BPE but also in other local manufacturing businesses. Materials that are already paid for, with often cool patterns that are simply too valuable to throw away – military camo nylon from our knee pad production, fleece and water repellent nylon from our dog raincoat production and a wide range of other fabrics from different contract sewing jobs for different clients.
In addition to those materials we have been experimenting with materials like reclaimed vinyl banners and billboards that usually end up in the landfill as well – and those are very durable and fun materials to work with.
Have you always had a passion for issues surrounding sustainability?
Yes, but my desire to create something better and more meaningful has developed much stronger over the last few years. The passion has grown the more I got involved in the local community and the more I got to know the apparel and textile industry.
Considering the environmental challenges we face, especially with overseas mass production but also in the US where people still live one of the most wasteful lifestyles on the planet, and raising three little kids, I think it’s just not fair to leave the next generations with piles of our trash to clean up.
How involved are you with eco groups?
Sonoma County, where we are based, is very advanced when it comes to environmental awareness and social consciousness. I’m involved in organisations and movements like the Sustainable Enterprise Conference where I was a speaker for the last two years, and we are guided by the principles of the UK-based One Planet Living movement for our manufacturing business.
Besides tracking and monitoring our environmental impact, we also monitor the social impact of our activities on our employees and our local community. To ensure all these aspirations are fully developed in our business model, we are legally structured as a Benefit Corporation and have started the one-year process to become a certified B Corp.
How do you see Sonoma-USA evolving in the future?
I have a pretty big vision of what I want to build moving forward, and the Sonoma-USA brand is only the first step… the low hanging fruit. There are tons of materials such as banners or billboard out there that we can collect from businesses in the local community and transform into unique and purposeful products.
For instance, with one of the businesses we work, Sonoma Raceway, we will take their old banners off their shoulders. They save the money it would have cost them to haul that stuff to the landfill, it frees up valuable storage space, and it contributes to their sustainability efforts since we have already helped them to keep over 2000lbs of banners out of the landfill. On top of that their customers can buy a very unique piece of Raceway history since each product will be one of a kind.
Furthermore, we will donate a percentage of our proceeds from the products made with Raceway materials back to a charity of Sonoma Raceway’s choice, so it is essentially a win-win situation for everyone.