How Travel Links Humanity: A Q&A with Corroon Founder Kelly Corroon
Brands x Better is a coalition of like-minded companies fostering stability in a time of crisis. We asked 10 members of the Brands x Better family a few questions about what they do, why they were drawn to BxB, and what this pandemic has meant to their company. Meet Corroon, a company that makes beautiful bags for the well-traveled. We caught up with founder Kelly Corroon to hear more about how travel inspired Corroon's inception, why customer service really matters, and where she's traveling next. Here's what she had to say.
Tell us how Corroon came to be. What is your origin story?
I started Corroon after spending over a decade living abroad with my family. I had grown up in a household that valued travel as an essential developmental experience, so it was thrilling to have the opportunity to raise my own kids all through Europe and Asia. Between juggling the luggage that we used as family and staring at a lot of uninspiring black bags on baggage carousels, the wheels were put in motion for starting something that was functional but a bit more stylish. I had worked in marketing for companies such as Gap and Ralph Lauren, but I literally knew nothing about production and sourcing. Thankfully, we were living in Hong Kong at the time, so I had access to raw materials and factories, and I was very lucky to have two friends in production and merchandising who were instrumental in showing me the ropes.
What are Corroon’s core values? Do you have a mission statement? If so, what is it?
We aim to make pieces that are as vibrant and enduring as the places we go. We hope that our products help customers tap into the delight of an adventure from the moment they pull the suitcase out of the closet. I experience travel in a very sensory way: how a place will make me feel and who I want to be in that environment. To me, packing for a trip lays the groundwork for that self-exploration.
At Rhone we talk a lot about our customer’s pursuit of progress. How do you feel like you as a company help your customer progress?
I love this idea, what a great concept. We believe travel is a study of contrasts. Not only is it a vehicle for getting out of our comfort zone and learning more about ourselves, but it also allows us to see how linked humanity really is. Despite disparate customs and cultures, there are basic principles, like kindness, pride, and compassion that are universal. We love what a healthy mind re-set it is.
What motivated you to join Brands x Better?
As a small business during this crisis, we have been giving back to our local communities with donations of toiletry kits to hospital workers and funds to our local family crisis centers. Brands x Better, and its coalition of like-minded companies, help us scale our efforts exponentially. At the moment, we are doing our best to take care of our customers, pivoting with new products to keep our employees and factories working, while trying to work from the heart as part of a bigger picture every day. We love the idea of partnering with brands that are motivated by a similar sense of purpose and responsibility towards humanity.
As a member of Brands x Better, you have pledged to donate 10% of your proceeds until May 1. What charity are you donating to and how and why did you choose that charity?
We are donating to Doctors Without Borders or Medicins Sans Frontiers. As a travel-focused business, we wanted to support something with a global focus, and MSF has been directing its COVID-19 efforts on improving care for the most vulnerable and at-risk communities, such as elderly people in nursing homes, homeless people, and migrants living in precarious circumstances.
If you had one piece of advice to give to young entrepreneurs what would you say to them?
Go above and beyond with your customer service as much as you can, and you will build a loyal following that will fuel renewable sales. Personal notes, making “exceptions” to returns and policies, random acts of generosity and connection go a long way to securing a lifetime customer and company referrals.
What’s one of the hardest obstacles you’ve overcome as a company and how did it shape what your company is today?
Managing inventory is no doubt one of the toughest things to do with a physical product. We are fairly conservative with how we have scaled production, and at times this has hurt us with longer consumer delivery times and lost sales, but it has certainly worked in our favor during this COVID-19 crisis. Our sales have slowed down, but we are not in crisis mode over the amount of merchandise that we need to move. We have also always been a buy-now, wear-now company with very few season-specific items, so we are able to weather a lost season without too much stress on the bottom line.
What’s one takeaway you’ve had as a company during this recent pandemic?
Never stop thinking outside of the box! We have pivoted with products in totally new categories, like shoes and hats, just so we can keep our team of painters working. These new items have been in our top five products for the past month.
What mentors and influencers have been important in Corroon’s success?
I feel so lucky to have crossed paths with a stellar cast of characters along the way that have played a role in where we are today. The Veronicas from Veronica Beard were a great support and instrumental in putting us on the map with the hand-painting. I long ago worked with Mickey Drexler, and he always makes time to meet and give me his thoughts. I admire women like Gregg Renfrew from Beauty Counter and Lee Rhodes from Glassy Baby who both run organizations that epitomize conscious consumerism.
You make bags that are perfect for travel. How did your passion for travel play a role in Corroon’s creation?
My mother took me to Paris when I was 12, and I have been hooked on the experience of traveling ever since. I had also grown up with pictures and stories of our family from the early 1920s, traveling to a lot of super off the grid destinations, particularly the women. These have always been inspirational to me. I named the company Corroon to honor these women and the idea that travel can really shape the person that you are.
Though we can’t really travel right now, where will you travel when you next have the chance?
Everywhere! Just getting out of the house will seem like a big adventure. Home to Idaho is probably the first stop. I cannot wait to get back to hikes and fishing and the fresh mountain air. I take one of my kids on a solo trip every summer, and we were gearing up for a trip to Mallorca and Malta which we postponed. I have my eye on Beirut and Ethiopia for 2021. Keeping fingers crossed that we can travel as freely as we have before the pandemic.
What’s your favorite product you’ve ever made and why?
I would have to answer our “Big Daddy”, which was named after the tallest sand dunes in Namibia. I was blown away by the raw and ravishing beauty of the country. The bag is a vegetable-tanned leather that gets darker with age, just as the sand dunes do. I love the simplicity of the design and it is definitely my go-to travel bag.