Meet the 28-Year-Old Behind the Bag We All Want
🍒 The following feature appears in Issue 04 of Selva Beat. Grab your copy here. 🍒
Sanetra Longno is a 28-year-old Corpus Christi, Texas native turned Austinite. Her background in Fashion Retail Management and love of all things beachy informs her sustainable, hand-woven bag business, Unravel Co. Founded in June 2017, their mission is to preserve traditional craftsmanship and develop sustainable areas of life for generations to come through their relationship with artisan weavers in Ghana. Editor in Chief Magdalena Antuña recently sat down with Sanetra to get the low-down on Unravel Co.’s bags and what makes the company different from other sustainable brands.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Magdalena Antuña: Take me through the moment that you knew you were going to go for Unravel Co. The moment where you said, “I’m all in.”
Sanetra Longno: When I received my first order from Ghana, with the bags. It was a huge order, and it was the first one that I got that had samples and some stuff that they just gave me, and I literally started crying, like, “This is real, this is really happening, I cannot believe it.” And Peter [my husband] captured it; I have it on my phone. I didn’t know he was doing it until he got into my face, and I was just like, “ Why are you doing this? I look horrible, I can’t believe this is happening, like this is real.” And so that got me into gear, like, “OK like I need to get this rollin,’ this is for real, I’m pursuing this.”
MA: Why bags?
SL: Because I have a bag obsession. Bags are just always something that I‘ve been drawn to, and I have an obsession with weaving materials. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved the beach and woven-straw products, because in Corpus [Christi], it’s always around. My mom had a lot of wicker home goods that I admired — that I wish we still had — and that’s when it all started. Once I started buying my own stuff in high school, I would thrift, and a lot of my stuff would be woven bags. I still have them, they’re kind of torn apart — it’s time to let them go *laughs.* Now I’m just discovering the statement designs that people love and am recycling that with small, exclusive designs here and there.
MA: How have people reacted to the natural aesthetic? Because right now, in New York and Paris fashion weeks, we’ve been seeing a lot of faux crystals and plastic and PVC, which I kind of thought was gone — Chanel did that, like, two years ago *laughs.* So it’s kind of a breath of fresh air, what you’re doing.
SL: Yeah, I’ve been getting great feedback about the clean look of things. So far people are loving the design and the natural look because it’s easier to work with, compared to having to figure out what you’re gonna wear with color. So, I’m seeing what designs people like first and then playing with color.
MA: When you entered this scene, specifically Austin, as a young, black woman, what was that like for you?
SL: When you’re in it, you don’t think of it sometimes. There are moments when I recognize that [it’s hard], and it’s true — all of the ethical brands that are really huge right now are mostly [run by] white women that have a lot of money. Being a woman of color — there’s not any. I think it’s just been a blessing to have people around me who are doing it already — Kirsten Dickerson [of Raven and Lily] is one of them. She’s been an amazing helper and leader to me, because there are really no other people in Austin that are doing [sustainable retail], besides Noonday and Purse & Clutch, but they fit the same demographic.
But I haven’t had any difficulties of any sort. I feel like it would be [different] if I was trying to reach out for investors, just because I’ve heard stories [that] it’s easier sometimes for people who aren’t of color, because of the stereotype — which is crazy to me. And it hurts to say that. I don’t want to do something like that [yet]; I kind of want to ride this as small business as long as I can.
MA: In my own experience, too, Austin has been a pretty positive place. But every once in a while, I’ll go to a mixer, and I’m the only person of color —
SL: Yeah, same.
MA: I will feel that sometimes, Austin is a very white place.
SL: It is. There’s not a lot of people of color here.
MA: How is Unravel Co. different from any other sustainable, bourgeois brand that I might see at a boutique?
SL: The difference about my brand is the mission that we’re trying to accomplish. A lot of sustainable brands want to work with communities that are already established, because they want to make sure that they can say “fair trade certified.” You have to go through stages to get those qualifications and it’s really, really hard, especially for the communities that you work with. But what about those communities? They want to get to that level, too, to be able to market to other buyers that would be interested, since now consumers are wanting to see, are these people getting paid fair? How are things being taken care of on the back end? People are becoming more aware. Our goal is to help this community to get [fair trade certified], it’s just not going to be really quickly — it’s going to take a couple years.
I also love the idea of playing around with design — creating something different that doesn’t look like everybody else’s, playing around with different ideas and inspirations from historical handbags.
MA: Let’s talk price point. I actually think that your bags are quite affordable, given the landscape and given everything that is entailed, like artisan weaving, and customs, and sending things over[seas]. How have people reacted to the price?
SL: I’ve had people that don’t mind the cost because of the mission and everything, but then there’s some people that just can’t afford it. They’re used to seeing the low price point that our industry feeds us to believe is great. I’m trying to look into a system that you can make payments, for example, Garmentory has it — where you pay it off in a three month span. I want to do that, because with sustainability, sometimes it’s not as easy to purchase because the prices are so high because of all the stuff that goes through it to create, compared to fast fashion. People like us, creatives, we’re on a budget, and we want to have stuff like that, because we appreciate it.
Editors Note: Since publishing, Unravel Co. has added AfterPay to their website, allowing customers to make purchases in 4 payments.
MA: What are five or less things that you carry in your Unravel Co. bag? The must haves.
SL: *laughs* A snack! People who know me know I always have a snack. I have to have a chapstick or a lip gloss. Of course, my phone — I didn’t want to say that first, but we all know that’s the first thing. And my wallet, of course. And…I’m very minimal, I don’t need much. I can’t think of a fifth one!
MA: I don’t think that’s a bad thing! Especially with the smaller bag, you’re catering to someone who knows themselves, they know exactly what their day entails, so they’ve got those things on lock, and then they go.
SL: And the Alobahe and the Fuseini can fit a camera — a Polaroid or a travel camera. My next things that I’m working on, design-wise, are a backpack and a travel bag. These designs probably won’t be coming out until the fall, because of samples, shipping it back and forth, making adjustments and changes, making sure they’re durable, and that they check off everything that they’ll be used for.
MA: You should make a clam shell bag.
MA: With a chain. So that I can buy it.
SL: *laughs* So you’re like, “I want this custom design.” That’s one of the things that I want to do — exclusive collections that are a collaborative design with someone, with an influencer.
MA: That’d be really cool!
SL: It’s a process. We have to break it down, break the design down [for the artisans] to understand, and have photos and videos, and then they teach themselves how to do something different from what they normally create. And then once they get that, they send pictures to me, and we go back and forth, and they send me those samples, and that’s when I check the durability, do the quality check or measurements — if it needs to be longer, smaller, shorter — and then once all of that has been written down and shared, then the official piece is made.
It’s pretty amazing. Now we just have to fund the whole concept.