In Conversation with Nicole Humphreys of BANDITS

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Describe your business in a few words?

Based in Southern California, BANDITS is on a mission to build a better bandana. Featuring exclusive original designs by artists from across the globe, BANDITS bandanas are as impactful as they are eye-catching. With each bandana sold, 10% of sales proceeds are donated to a charity chosen by the design’s artist, transforming this centuries old icon into a platform for positive change. Washable, durable, and ready for adventure, BANDITS bandanas are ethically handmade from sustainably-sourced, 100% Organic Cotton. From farm to forehead, BANDITS is building a bandana that is better for you, better for the planet, and better for the incredible people that help us to create them. You can find BANDITS in REI, Huckberry, Paper Source and online at banditsbandanas.com.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

In 2017, after 10+ years working for non-profits, I moved to Bali with my husband Connor to pursue a dream of creating our own philanthropy-focused company. One day, on the back of a motorbike, traversing the island and fed up with our old, scratchy bandanas, Connor came up with the idea for BANDITS – a brand of sustainably sourced, artist-driven bandanas. I quickly joined forces with Connor as Co-Founder and COO with a mission to build BANDITS as a platform for positive change. I established a new kind of giveback program driven by the artists – with each bandana sold, 10% of proceeds are donated to a charity chosen by the artist who designed it. Only two years after launching, BANDITS has created over 40 different artist-designed bandanas that have helped us donate over $58K in give back funds to artist-chosen charities across the world.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

I worked in the non-profit sector and worked with various incredible organizations. My most recent position was as the Director of Operations for a foundation focused on health, education and conservancy efforts in Kenya.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I always had an entrepreneurial bug but the most important thing to me has always been how to have impact. I loved my time working for non-profits but knew I could create a lot of change by creating a company with a mission of doing good.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

We did a lot of trade shows and festivals! Yes, it definitely helped us grow our customer base and get the word out about our brand. That and social media was a great way to connect with our customers.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

Our earliest challenge was finding the right supplier. After spending months finding the perfect cotton for our bandanas we launched the business. When we went to place a new order of it, they told us they had discontinued that type of cotton. It was devastating because months of R&D had gone into that (finding the right softness, the right cotton that we could screen print on, that is machine washable, etc.). The hunt led us on a mission to find a new cotton supplier and a new manufacturer. It was a long and challenging journey complete with several failed attempts and LOTS of miles logged on international flights. Eventually, it all worked for the best and we were able to find our perfect suppliers in Kolkata, India. The journey taught us to never give up. Even when it felt like all the cards were stacked against us and we were hitting roadblock after roadblock, we kept pushing and working hard. It pays off in the end!

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

To date we have donated $58,000 to incredible charities and we are so proud of that (and very grateful)!

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

A pivotal moment for us was when Covid hit in March 2020. Our main focus for the business prior to that was doing festivals and trade shows to get our brand out in the world. We had a festival or trade show planned for every single weekend of 2020. When Covid hit and the world shut down, we really thought it could be the end of our business. Fortunately, a few weeks later the CDC’s cloth recommendation led to an increase in traffic and sales that we could have never predicted. We pivoted the business to focus more on e-commerce, adapting to the new reality while maintaining our focus on helping others that weren’t so fortunate.

In response to supplies shortages we donated hundreds of bandanas to hospitals, nurses, and essential workers across the country. We also organized a raffle with a few other brands that raised over $7,000 for Feeding America’s COVID-19 response. 

In 2020, we also faced major issues with our supply chain and shipping. Right when demand was through the roof, our partner facility in Kolkata had to shut down due to Covid. When they finally reopened, a cyclone (no joke) hit Kolkata and they had to shut down again. We had been working on a collection with REI for almost a year and had shipping windows we had to hit but our factory was closed down and it was all out of our control. It taught us to be flexible and that sometimes you just have to surrender to what is meant to be (we ended up hitting our REI shipping windows but it was very close!). 

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

We have some incredible collaborations coming out in 2021! We are in the process of working on two new collections for BANDITS and two new collections for REI. You can expect to see lots of incredible new designs and artists, all while getting to support amazing charities along the way!

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

To surrender when things are out of your control and try to make the best of every situation. 2020 has really taught us we can’t be in control of everything so learning to pivot and adapt is crucial.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

How much of a self-growth journey running your own business can be! You have to be prepared to learn to be your own best cheerleader, how to be humble and learn from your mistakes, to manage your time and energy so you don’t burn out, and to constantly be growing and evolving. I have learned so much about myself through the process and it’s not always easy but it is definitely worth it!

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

I think work/life balance is crucial! We have to take care of ourselves if we are going to put out good work. Having an organized calendar is my best tip for this. I schedule everything so I know I have time for all the things that light me up in life while also being productive with work. I schedule my morning meditation, journaling, hikes, yoga classes etc. Having my day laid out for me and knowing I can fit in self-care between my work engagements makes it a lot easier to have balance.

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

I’m obsessed with playing games and intensely competitive! My husband says I’m an “expert Hearts player” haha – his words, not mine! 😉

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

  • Meditate in the morning (taking 10 minutes to do this makes me SO much more productive during the days). 
  • Keep an organized calendar and to-do list.
  • Nourish your body throughout the day – I love to start my day with Four Sigmatic mushrooms in my coffee (makes me so much more productive) and then take time to eat nourishing meals throughout the day.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Going for your dreams regardless of if they scare you! Being fearless and brave and pursuing your goals. Entreprenistas inspire me everyday! We got this 🙂

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