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Bandana-wielding Bandits and a business boom

Founders of Bandits, Nicole and Connor Humphreys sell bandanas while also giving back to communities in need

Summary

Since launching in April 2018, Bandits has donated over $58,000 to worthy causes like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and World Central Kitchen. Here’s how they combined bandanas and hope using credit cards.

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Nicole and Connor Humphries

Nicole and Connor Humphreys

It would be tough to find two people who appreciate bandanas more than Nicole and Connor Humphreys. Their passion began in 2017 when they traded their professional lives – Nicole in nonprofit management and Connor in real estate finance – for a Balinese adventure.

Like many in Indonesia, the couple used motorbikes to travel around the island, but soon discovered that the typical bandanas used to block wind and dirt from their faces were scratchy and fell apart quickly. Confident they could improve on the concept, they founded Bandits.

Headquartered in Ojai, California, Bandits produces bandanas made from sustainably sourced, organic cotton via a Fair-Trade manufacturing partner in Kolkata, India. Additionally, the Humphreys find and work with talented artists from around the world to create a wide array of designs.

Moreover, the couple is using the platform to support worthy causes. Ten percent of the sales price goes to a charity determined by the artist. For example, Ella Rose Whitaker created a bandana called Justice, and buyers’ donations are sent to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. While Emily Kelley, who created the Stay Steady bandana, is donating to World Central Kitchen.

“Giving back was never not an option for us,” says Connor Humphreys. “The question was how we would do it. Nicole and I have always supported organizations that help the community, so we knew we wanted to incorporate it into the business. The lightbulb moment was letting the artists decide on their charity, not us.”

Today, Bandits is a successful business. Their bandanas are available online as well as in 200 retailers across the country – including REI, Backcountry and Uncommon Goods. Since the launch in April 2018, they’ve donated over $58,000. And without credit cards, it may not have ever happened.

See related: Turning travel into business

Did anything trip you up when you started Bandits?

Yes – international shipping because of its unpredictability. By sea or air, those costs can change month to month and shipment to shipment. You never know what you’re going to get, so not being able to predict the price was a challenge.

In some ways, we are a fashion brand, so figuring out what would connect without our customers was tough. Projecting inventory based on what may be popular is often a hurdle.

We also had some difficult financial moments. About 10 months into our launch, we had built the brand up enough so that we had a big holiday run. It was a huge order, ready to go. I flew to Bali to make sure it was finalized, but when I walked into my cotton supplier, they said they ran out of the cotton! This was after months of trying to find just the right weight and blend. I asked when they would get it back and they said they wouldn’t.

As an entrepreneur you just feel defeated at moments like that, so we took the opportunity to expand beyond Bali. There was significant expense in doing that, but it led to the partnership in India that’s still strong today.

Did you use credit cards to cover costs?

We did and still do. My grandmother gave me a small initial investment to start the business, but we really launched Bandits with the help of credit cards. I had a couple of personal cards and we put most of the start-up expenses on them. We charged everything from website development to design programs.

See related: Main differences between business credit cards and personal cards

And then you opened business cards?

Yes. After we upgraded the business and moved to the new supplier, we relaunched the company in 2019 and things really took off. We grew fast and shifted from a sole proprietorship to an LLC. At that stage, we transitioned from personal to business cards. Now we use The Business Platinum Card® from American Express and the Wells Fargo Business Platinum card. We chose them because we already had good relationships with those banks.

Of course, we use these credit cards for many of our business’ monthly operations, but we’ve also been putting the charitable donations on them. Each nonprofit organization has an online donation function. As we give to the charity, we accumulate points and miles, which is great. It’s so easy.

See related: Best startup business credit cards

How are you managing your accounts? Are you leveraged or debt-free?

When Bandits became an LLC, we hired an accountant to do the majority of the bookkeeping. I’m very grateful to give up some of that responsibility since it was definitely not my favorite part of the business, but I’m still monitoring all of our credit card statements and spending. I always keep an eye on the cash flow.

We do still have some debt, so we’re leveraged. But with our growth, we’ve been able to transition our longer costs from just credit cards to revolving lines of credit. With that line, we can pay for inventory.  We have to put large deposits down on product, and the return on those investments isn’t realized for six, eight or sometimes 10 months. Credit cards are useful but sometimes it makes more sense to finance those types of costs with lower-cost debt products.

How has the past year affected the company, and where are you going from here?

Our bandanas can be used as a face covering so we are very grateful to be one of the businesses that benefited from the specifics of 2020. You can use them in so many ways.

As a company, we’ve grown in the past year and now want to revamp our e-commerce business. We want to tell our story on our native website; to tell people, clearly and concisely, what we are doing and why.

We also have plans for licensing and partnerships. We’ll be going into music festivals, working with musicians and sustainable packaging.

Do you have any advice to entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

Once you have a plan in place, have a backup. You have to try to anticipate what could happen. This past year was such a rollercoaster and it taught us how to pivot. Our factory was shut down for almost a month when demand was the highest. Be ready. Don’t think you’re done because things will change.

Before you even start, though, talk about your business idea and keep talking about it to everyone who will listen – friends, family and colleagues. People who are experienced and those who aren’t. Leverage all the knowledge around you. Ask people questions and don’t be offended if it’s not what you want to hear. Really listen.

What have you learned about credit along the way that you want to convey?

Launching a business on credit cards isn’t for everybody. I did it later in life after being in the corporate world for 10 years and knowing how to manage the accounts. I went in with my eyes open about the risks of using credit cards for start-up funds.

You need to have the utmost confidence that you can and will pay off that debt in a relatively short period of time. Credit cards have high interest rates, so you don’t want to hang on to the balances!

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