We recently interviewed the creator of Tusk to learn about their inspirational story of starting a bag brand.
Not everyone dares to leave a long-standing family business and cross half the world to start from scratch. Where did you get your courage?
Isn’t that what all immigrants do?
Starting in the 1960’s and even before a small but very well educated group of Indian students looked to the US as a place where they could succeed especially if they were in the sciences. The two largest areas were engineering and business. Given the financial constraints imposed by the Indian government, most of them came for graduate studies. I completed my MBA at the University of Illinois.
I was also fortunate to have family members living in the US who I could rely upon. My uncle had come to the US in 1947 and he was my source of inspiration. He was my mentor, guide and teacher. I always wanted to follow in his footsteps.
Finally, I think most of us were too young to understand the implications of our move.
Will you explain to us the story behind TUSK?
A friend of mine and I fell into the business. His father-in-law was making bags and shoes to sell locally in India. He suggested we try marketing them in the US. Most of the designs were pretty bad and we were having a difficult time selling them. Just as we were ready to give up we started getting orders. We didn’t even have a brand name. Before our first shipment arrived I approached a friend of mine who was a marketing professor at Columbia University to help me come up with a brand name.
We laid out four criteria:
• We wanted the brand to reflect my Indian heritage and also have a global feel. It should not, however, sound too ethnic. India did not have the resonance in the US as it does today.
• It should be easy to pronounce and remember.
• It should work across product categories, such as jewelry, perfume or even a restaurant.
• We did not want a fake American nor Italian name. We were sitting in his living room throwing names at each other when he came up with Tusk in less than 5 minutes. As soon as he said it I knew we had our brand name.
You have an interesting algorithm for naming your bags. What’s it all about?
Well, we started out by using the names of Indian cities. At some point we ran out of names that were easy to pronounce and remember. We then switched to women jazz musicians. We next turned to Indian women’s names, both friends and or Indian women who were mainly in the Arts or Journalism.
Why did you choose to use full-grain leather for your products?
Because it’s the best. It looks good, is sustainable and eco-friendly. It has a good hand and feel. We do have one collection that uses split leather, and is therefore PU coated. But the tannery follows eco-friendly methodology.
How should people go about selecting the best leather for them?
That’s very personal so difficult to answer. You can check the company’s website to see what they have to say about the leather they use. The new trend towards vegan “leather” is actually not very eco-friendly once you dig deeper into the manufacturing process.
How do you see your consumers: are they modern / youth who want something new or people who appreciate classical forms and tastes?
Our customer profile is quite broad. They are brand aware but not brand conscious. They do not need the imprimatur of a designer logo. They are therefore confident about who they are.
They like the fact that the designs are minimalist, elegant, contemporary and also timeless.
We find that people who are in the design or the arts identify much more easily with the brand. We also find that the European and Far East customer to be very receptive.
Is there a bag model that is iconic for you (doesn’t have to be your own brand)?
Our Gotham security Backpack.
What products do you recommend when it comes to taking care of one of your bags?
We recommend Chamberlain leather care products which we sell on our website.
What advice do you have for people who come to your educational program?
• Enjoy what you do, work and play should be synonymous..
• Maintain the integrity of your product.
• Don’t sacrifice margin for volume
• Find a mentor or role model who can provide inspiration and guidance, both from a business standpoint and also on ethics and values.
To learn more about TUSK, please visit their website at tusk.com. If you’re in New York City, you can visit their store at 1133 Broadway, Suite 531 New York, NY 10010.