In June 2010, Marco Murillo's Portland-based company, The Good Flock, launched a line of protective iPhone covers called iWooly’s that are so eco-friendly, Murillo swears you can bury them in your backyard. Here he explains how he applied his values to building the company top to bottom, and how you can do the same.
When the iPhone first hit the market four years ago, Murillo instantly saw an opportunity to create a renewable product that would stand out in the sea of, synthetically made, plastic phone covers and accessories. Rounding up a team of six people, he laid down a value-driven business plan revolving around three key components: Use wholesome materials found in nature, produce locally, and minimize waste. “Each product has to solve a problem,” Murillo says. “We wanted to be really clear about what would be different from this company.”
Before production on the iWooly could even begin, Murillo had to identify his target consumer. “We knew it was someone who was design-minded and eco-conscious,” he says. “They wanted to know where our products were made and who they were made by.” By identifying his customer base, Murillo figured out how to meet their needs in ways other companies weren’t. “We sort of created a market for ourselves,” he says. “We weren’t competing for the same consumer as others.”
Each iWooly is made from credit-certified wool produced at local wool mills in Oregon, along with vegetable tanned leathers crafted in the United States. But the buttons were a challenge. Using plastic, neoprene buttons made in Asia was a cheap option, but went against the company’s values. Instead, Murillo chose a lesser-known material, the tagua nut. Harvested from the tagua palm in South America, tagua nut buttons are naturally sustainable.
The price of using man-made materials is low, with most synthetic leathers costing between $2 to $4 per square foot to produce in Asia. Buying raw materials for an iWooly can be two to three times more expensive, with domestically tanned leathers running between $6 and $8 per square foot. Still, Murillo says, using U.S. labor to produce high quality materials is worth any extra cost. “We’re boosting our local economy, which has tremendous value,” he said.
The wool for each iWooly is produced at wool mills 30 miles away from where the products are assembled in Portland, allowing the company to have a smaller footprint while exercising more control over manufacturing. Plastic products made overseas must travel more than 5,000 miles from factory to warehouse, Murillo estimates. “It has to transfer through a lot of hands,” Murillo says. “That’s something we’re trying to minimize.”
“Many times the packaging can be equal to and sometimes greater in volume and weight than the actual product being shipped,” Murillo says. Each iWooly comes packaged in un-dyed paper and vegetable plastic that is easily recyclable, thereby minimizing any unnecessary waste. Murillo also looks for local partners who share similar, eco-conscious values. About 50 percent of the company’s sales are with retailers. The other half comes directly from online sales, where customers shell out $29 for an iWooly iPhone case.
Rather than spend money advertising, Murillo turns to social media and word-of-mouth to promote his brand. “In the last couple years, the importance of social networking has really gone up,” he says. “Anyone starting up now should make sure that its part of your plan.” Murillo says that rather than allot 5 percent of his budget toward advertising, he reinvests that money back into product development. “That’s a huge difference for us,” he says. “If the product is right for customers, they’ll talk about it.” --Kathryn Kattalia