A Good Direction - Bolso Bags

A Good Conversation with Theo Meryanos

I met Theo while he was working at Casa de Olas in Nicaragua and eventually ended up sharing an apartment in New York City. Between our late night chats and bottles of  $3 red wine Theo spent alot of his time working on what were the beginnings of Bolso Bags, a leather goods business based out of Guatemala. On a recent trip to San Pedro I was more than excited to see his vision coming to life with business partner Lesly Bronfield.
Theo’s sheer determination and belief in his own instincts provide a lesson to us all.
Here is his story…
 

Give us your story, who you are and what has happened in the last 10 years to get you here.

I was raised in South Carolina, in modest circumstances, was the first in my family to graduate university, where I studied Finance and Economics.  Following university I moved to NYC to pursue a career in investment banking, where my primary responsibilities were raising capital for public and private companies, equity research, and communicating with the investment community.  After almost 8 years I decided to leave my career to travel and plan a business where I could achieve a series of goals that would allow me to lead a more fulfilling, relaxed, and interesting life while creating a positive change.

 
What made you quit your job?
Ultimately I became bored, what was stimulating and exciting before faded as I learned more about what I was doing.  The mysticism and appeal of the job was replaced with toxic relationships and a constant wariness of impropriety.  Through and through I was checked out, but I had a great year and waited on my bonus, which ended up being another God forsaken experience and my final straw.  After my bonus conversation with the head of my firm, I left and went home with a bottle of tequila to buy a one-way ticket to Nicaragua for two months.  It ended up being over a year of travel before beginning the in-country work for Bolso.

 
Who/What is Bolso Bags?

Bolso is an idea that through responsible commerce a business can solve social and environmental issues through a more efficient and effective model.  We accomplish this through being structured as a triple bottom line business utilizing local resource to produce premium leather goods, in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala.  20% of our net proceeds are invested directly into social and environmental projects in San Pedro that we design, build, and oversee.

 
Where did the idea for Bolso Bags come from?

Wondering through Guatemala I bought a briefcase in Antigua for a ridiculously cheap price and casually thought there was an opportunity to import them to the U.S. and make a small profit.  That being the genesis it has evolved dramatically into a ultra-high quality focused, complete hand crafted product, providing an enormous opportunity for local leather artisans that have historically been employed as independent contractors or as informal workers.  Our artisans’ minimum wage is twice the local average wage and based on their current pace it will provide them with a year’s wages six times the local average.  We have commenced on our first social project, building a communal yoga platform that will facilitate youth programs focused on language skills and financial literacy free of charge.

 
What have been the biggest struggles?

My belief that if people apply themselves any level of results are possible, with that being said the x’s and o’s of the business haven’t been the most taxing.  Rather the unknown has been the most troublesome part for me, particularly when people very close to me openly doubted what I was doing.  I had faith in my plan and did all I could do to materialize it, taking steps forward every day and reminding myself of the life I didn’t want and how much closer I was getting to the one I did want.

 

What are you up to now and your plans for Bolso in the future?

We began operations on January 2nd 2017, at this stage we have moved through our initial designs and are now in production.  We have two artisans now and are hiring two trainees in the next month.  Our goal is to have a workforce of twenty artisans by the end of the year, having completed three social and environmental projects along with a project targeting street animals.  We are expanding our technology line and launching a pet line in the coming months, will be attending a number of fashions shows this year, and have a series of collaborations we are very excited about.  Beyond a year I can’t say I have any visibility other than if we execute on our plan we will be in the position to continue to make good decisions that are inline with our ethos.

 
The lows? The highs?  

I went through a relationship that was very tough, I was broke at many points, working with people that didn’t deliver when I was counting on them, but even with that they weren’t numerous.  I took the crap that was inhabiting my life and let it motivate me to keep moving forward.  The highs have been too many to count, accomplishing things every day provides a constant flow of positive experiences that has resulted in the happiest period of my life thus far.

 
How do you define success?  
I think success is meeting your goals, but there are varied levels of success and I try to appreciate them all.  Having a clear path of goals won’t only help you in achieving your objective, but allows you to clearly measure where you succeeded and where you should focus more.  I think even in failure you should take the positives away as they are generally what you’re more skilled at and if you pay attention to the positives they can guide you in a better direction.

 
Compare your life now to your “former” life

I am writing this on a lake front patio 20 meters from my shop having a Bloody Mary while the bar is singing a song.  We never sang on Wall Street.  Even with the money and fanfare there is zero comparison, the ironic thing is that being in that position you think you have it made, nothing could be further from the truth.

 
Your advice to the youth of the world

You will always have to learn so don’t shy from it.  Do something with your time that resonates with all of your life’s objectives. Do your research, but trust your instincts and enjoy yourself!

 

A huge thank you and congratulations to Theo and Bolso Bags 

Check out their website and instagram for more goods