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Q&A with Sam Payrovi of Saintly Bags

A former bond trader on Wall Street, Sam Payrovi knows that having a successful career doesn’t mean giving up having adventures. Before founding Saintly Bags, Payrovi would embark on weekend trips, but would still need to remain connected via his work computer. He sought a stylish yet conventional bag that would be able to carry his laptop and other items, but couldn’t find one that quite fit what he was looking for.  After consistently experiencing the annoyance of bringing multiple bags on his travels, he decided to create his own line of bags. In our exclusive Q&A with Payrovi, we learned more about how he started the luggage company and how he plans to scale his business.

FashInvest: Can you give me a little bit about your background?

Sam Payrovi: I grew up in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley, but ended up in NYC somehow. After deciding against [medical] school, I came out of UCLA in 2001 and went straight to work on Wall Street. I spent 14 years in bond trading and weathered the crisis, and much of the early portion of that was spent working 100+ hour weeks. I never had time for week long vacations, so I began to champion the long weekend trip since it was all I could take.

A more senior position I took in 2006 furthered this, but required me to keep my laptop on me at all times. I could be called upon at 3am on a Saturday night to make a change to deal documents, but I had already made the decision that I wasn’t going to be permanently tied to my desk.

I basically decided that I would keep taking my weekend trips and would always take my laptop with me. My colleagues had a joke that I had structured more deals in international waters than I had at the office. To me, that was a statement of success.

FI: What inspired you to create this company?

SP: During my weekend travels, I despised showing up to all my trips, even the beach house, with separate luggage — my rolling carry-on and also a laptop bag. I searched everywhere for luggage that was compartmentalized or even modular, so that I could take one piece, but I never found it. What little there was out there was not attractive, and didn’t carry my laptop or separate my shoes.

When I came across the idea of fully customizing bags during a trip to Southeast Asia, I realized this solved all the issues. Not only would it allow customers to include up to two shoe pockets and laptop pockets, but also to get a leather type and color they wanted.

As I observed the demand and exuberance people expressed about my bags, I added more and more customization without complicating the hand production process.

FI: What’s makes your bags different from the sea of other bags out there?

SP: While there are many competitors, the market for weekender bags is highly fractured. Brands such as Tumi, Wilson’s and Coach cater primarily to business travelers, whereas Moore & Giles, Saddleback, Ghurka, J.W. Hulme and Will’s Leather goods cater to different niches within the luxury market.

Within that sector, each brand’s aesthetic is highly unique and their products vary wildly. For example, Saddleback makes indestructible bags that are appropriate for the Wild West, while Ghurka is a high fashion label that cuts corners in quality.

While they all make beautiful bags, none of them offer the three features that set Saintly Bags apart. [They are] fully customizable to match each individual’s aesthetic taste as well as travel requirements, [and are] highly functional with integrated laptop and shoe pockets, eliminating the need for a second travel bag. [The bags are] handmade in New York City for production perfection and a build quality unmatched by any other bag.

FI: What do you have to do as a fashion company to stay alive when it comes to the business side of things?

SP: There are so many sacrifices that you make as an entrepreneur, but on the flip side, there is so much inspiration that we can draw from everyday. There are constant 3 a.m. nights of emails and developing marketing materials, canceled trips, avoided brunches and outings with friends. Also, your personal and romantic lives takes a back seat until you feel you’ve reached a modicum level of success.

There is, however, a joy to building a brand and business. My hardest hustle days where I run dozens of errands around the city are my favorite days, because those are the days I feel the brand progressed the most. If one successful day isn’t enough to push you through the next one, one only needs to look so far as Shark Tank or a WeWork office to see so many others chasing their dreams. You realize that sacrifice isn’t only necessary — it’s part of the joy of the process.

FI: Do you have a business partner?

SP: I don’t have a business partner when it comes to ownership. However, I have surrounded myself with two individuals who offer tremendous value to their own parts of the business. Upon funding, they’ll be coming on full-time.

Rebecca Bullen’s 15 years of experience in luxury merchandising for Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Burberry and Barneys position Saintly to enter the retail marketplace. She is currently setting up simultaneous meetings with all the major luxury department stores so we can strategically identify our ideal retail partner.

Joe Megie’s background in developing partnerships bolsters our ability to leverage relationships with travel industry partners as well as other luxury brands. In addition, his ability to work with the non-profit sectors opens another marketing avenue for Saintly. He also has tremendous experience in finance and accounting, and maintains our books.

FI: How were you initially funded?

SP: We’ve been funded by a combination of my personal money and sales. Being a customizable made-to-order product, we have very little overhead and maintain virtually no inventory. That’s why sales have been able to help sustain the business on some level.

As we prepare to find our wholesale partner and launch that growth business, we’re developing an advance lead of materials to drastically cut down production times.

FI: Anything else our readers should know about Saintly Bags?

SP: Besides a line of fully customizable travel and other leather goods, travel is a very large passion of mine.  We’ll be slowly building a travel blog, which over time will become a curated list of suggested travel partners across the globe.

Through cross-marketing promotions, we’ll be able to drive customers from these partners to us initially, and back to them later on. This opens another potential revenue source, but more importantly, is a tremendous marketing mechanism for a luxury product.

Interview by Ashley Paintsil, Intro and edits by Katie Alteri

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