Standing high atop the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro Matthew Clough felt exhilarated and thankful. While testing his own personal limits both physically and mentally, Clough developed a deep admiration for his local porter Benson. "While I was descending from the top, I learned that Benson, who was waking me up with tea, cooking my meals and carrying my heavy rucksack, earns less than a dollar a day, which isn't enough to put a child through school," he says.
To commemorate his journey and give back to the people of Tanzania at the same time, Clough created Stone + Cloth, a utility-based accessories line anchored by rucksacks inspired by the heavy ones carried by porters aiding Mt. Kilimanjaro climbs. A portion from every purchase goes directly to the Knock Foundation to support local children's tuition, school supplies and lunch programs.
"Arriving home, it felt natural wanting to create something here that would benefit them there," says Clough. "I wanted to create a product that represented my heavy rucksack that Benson carried up to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I also wanted to create a symbol for education. The Jansport I grew up with was something I always associated with going to school." To further the personal connection, Clough named the original bag design for the porter who climbed with him, and the Benson has since become the brand's flagship piece.
Clough bought an old sewing machine on Craigslist and enlisted technical help from design consultant Jonathan Grey of Creative Objectives. They created eight prototypes and launched the products online. Clough also recently debuted a selection of iPad cases designed to modernize the idea of traditional text book covers. "iPad cases, to me, are like the new age symbol for a book," says Clough. "I look at an iPad or an e-reader as educational tools and thought that it was a natural extension of the line."
Stone + Cloth products are always made locally in a handful of cut and sew shops around Southern California and, according to Clough, they've just found a factory downtown that will handle all production going forward. "There are obvious reasons for this, but the one we love the most, is that we're able to oversee the quality of the products that are being made, and ensure that everything is being constructed to our desired level of detail," he says.
Stone + Cloth sources denim from small boutique suppliers in downtown LA as well, mainly purchasing from Sanaz Fabrics and Premium Denim Outlet, who source denim from all over the world, from Italy to Japan. "We select our fabrics based on quality, color and weight. With The Benson silhouette, we always try to use at least a 13-14oz rigid denim to make the life of our bags last longer," adds Clough.
Having worked as an intern at TOMS, Clough was inspired by the giving nature of the one-to-one business model and sought to emulate it with his own altruistic donation program, for which he has received full support from his former colleagues. "The culture at TOMS is very open, everyone just wants to see the next person succeed and was open to helping. [TOMS founder] Blake Mycoskie recently bought custom backpacks for all of the employees over the holidays. I'm so grateful for their support and can't say enough good things about the impact they're making around the world."
Creating the opportunity to help so many children in Tanzania spurs Clough to work harder and develop more products. "Our goals are to shine a light on the important role that education plays all around the world," he adds. "We want to show people that commerce is a great vehicle to create a better world."
The recently released iPad cases and mainstay backpacks are available directly through Stone + Cloth online for between $39 and $74.