Plutote: Tote bags for environment and style

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A business student with a passion to start a business of his own. A girl with love for tote bags. And an art student, who struggled to get his work sold. All these were needed when Plutote, a fashion brand for designer tote bags, was started.

Emir Süner and Chloe Trang Le started their fashion brand Plutote in November 2018. Only two months earlier Emir came from Turkey to Finland to study International Business. He had been in Finland earlier on business trips of his family company which produces working clothes for factory workers.

Emir knew that he wanted to start a business of his own when he was still living in Turkey. He just didn’t know what kind of business it should be.

During one of the business trips Emir met Chloe, who is originally from Vietnam and has lived in Finland for five years. Chloe uses a lot of tote bags and don’t even own a hand bag. “When I was younger it was expensive to get a proper bag for women”, Chloe explains.

She finds tote bags also useful. “A hand bag doesn’t hold anything. Tote bag is the easiest, cheapest and most convenient.”

Tote bags are also important for environmental reasons, in reducing the usage of plastic bags.

The idea of designer tote bags was born when Emir saw the problems his roommate in Turkey, an undergraduate art student, was facing. “He is a talented guy but there’s not enough possibilities for him to start selling his work.”

Emir and Chloe decided to start selling bags and to print young designers’ work on them. The idea is to help both environment and the designers.

“Finland is an entrepreneur-friendly environment”

Emir thinks the best thing in being an entrepreneur is the possibility to create his own thing instead of working for someone else. Finland is often thought to be a country which doesn’t make it easy to be an entrepreneur. Emir and Chloe don’t quite agree.

They find that the culture and opinions are friendly for managing your own business. “People actually support you and respect your decision of choosing to be an entrepreneur”, Chloe says.

Emir thinks that especially for a student it is quite easy to start a business in Finland, because schools provide many courses which aim to help in starting a business. On the other hand, for a foreign student it’s difficult to get financial support.

For example, Emir doesn’t get financial support for his studies from Finland. And as a student he cannot have the support for starting a business either, because one needs to be a fulltime entrepreneur to get support.

Both Emir and Chloe are only part-time entrepreneurs: Emir studies and Chloe has another job beside. “We are kind of stuck in the middle”, says Emir.

The language barrier

Emir and Chloe find that the most difficult part of starting a business in Finland is the language barrier. Emir has been in Finland only for a few months, so he doesn’t know the language.

Chloe has been in Finland for a longer time but she doesn’t know Finnish well enough to master the official paper work in Finnish. “Everyone in Finland speaks English, but of course all the government paperwork, everything is going through Finnish”, Emir says.

Being entrepreneur instead working for someone else means freedom but also loss of spare time. “It turns out you are just doing 24 hours business, there’s nothing else happening in your life”, says Emir.

Trying to take control of everything has led Emir to a kind of strange daily schedule: “I have been sleeping like Einstein, three of four times a day.”

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Teachers courage to keep on trying

Emir started Haaga-Helia StartUp School in September 2018. He is happy with the support he has received there.

They have needed help especially with Finnish language. “Our coach Päivi Kari-Zein has been mentoring us and helping a lot with the language”, says Emir.

Chloe finds important also the emotional support they received when everything didn’t go the way they planned. “Emotionally it’s very important that the teachers are there”, she says. “They courage you to keep on trying, make sure you don’t stop.”

Besides the help they have received from teachers they find important the support from other students. “There are other students having their businesses too and you have a good chance for raising your network.”

Emir thinks they would have started their business even without the support from school, but it would have taken a longer time. “We would have failed a couple of times and then we would have been able to manage it. But now we kind of got pushed through with the StartUp School.”

Selling out in one week

At the moment Plutote bags are sold only online. In near future Emir and Chloe are going to start looking for retailers in Finland. They are also planning to grow both the product range and the amount of designers and designs.

In future their product range will include not only bags made of cotton but also other natural materials. “We are also planning to expand to other housing textiles, like beddings or curtains”, says Chloe.

For Plutote it’s important to keep their products unique. That’s why production of each design is limited to 200 pieces.

At the moment Plutote has two designers. They have produced three designs and there are five designs waiting to be produced. The start has been even more successful than they were expecting. “Actually we sold out some designs in one week.”

Looking for new designs

In order to find new designers and designs Plutote is planning to start online competitions. “You will upload your design and if it gets enough votes, we will be producing that. So anyone can design one.” Emir says.

The designers Plutote have now are from Turkey. “We hope to get some local designers from Finland, especially from Helsinki.”

Plutote products are available online at https://www.plutote.com/.

Text: Riikka Kotiranta
Photos: Eemeli Sarka and Plutote