INTERVIEW: Bandits Bandanas Founders
Written by Sofia Deeb
Photos by Savannah DeHaven
Nicole and Connor Humphreys, founders of BANDITS Bandanas, are certainly no strangers to adventure. After years of working unfulfilling office jobs, the Santa Barbara natives decided it was time to pack their bags and set off on the journey of a lifetime. They settled all the way across the world, in Bali, Indonesia, and at the time, they had little idea of how this decision would come to drastically shape the course of their careers. But alas, from the quaint island, the idea for BANDITS Bandanas was born.
BANDITS is more than just a bandana company—it’s an opportunity for local artists to get involved with something bigger than themselves. Not only do the artists get to have their designs featured on beautiful, sustainably-made bandanas, but they also get to choose a charity for their work to benefit. The company is proud to offer a wide range of designs that support fair trade and sustainable fashion efforts, along with a variety of charities all across the globe. I sat down with Nicole and Connor to learn more about the work their company does.
What factors drew you to Bali to start a business?
We went on our honeymoon in Bali in 2016, and immediately fell in love with the island, the people, and the way of life we saw during our trip. For two people that spent their entire careers in offices, the combination of colorful fabric markets, incredible artisan craftspeople, and barefoot entrepreneurs working from beachside coffee shops was too appealing to pass up.
Within a few months, we quit our office jobs, sold most of our possessions, and bought one-way tickets to our new entrepreneurial adventure.
How have your travels influenced the growth of your company?
In the early days of building BANDITS, our business went wherever we were (and wherever we could get a decent wifi signal). Whether it was beachside in Bali or a cafe in Copenhagen, our travels taught us to pack light, be nimble, and stay frugal. As we’ve grown we’ve done our best to keep that spirit alive by maintaining a lean and efficient operation, always with the goal of being able to run the company from anywhere in the world.
What inspired you to center your business around fair-trade and environmentally sustainable practices?
Aside from the business, thinking about our impact has always been important to us. We do our best to live as sustainably as possible.
So it may sound a little cheesy, but from the beginning we set out to make our bandanas better “from farm to forehead.” To us this means making every part of our supply chain as ethical and sustainable as we can. It means always considering the impact our business has on not only our customers, but also on the planet and the incredible people that help to bring our bandanas to life.
How have bandanas made a comeback from fast fashion?
It’s still a relatively recent trend, but there’s been a major increase in customer awareness around the environmental and human impact of the entire global fashion industry. That awareness has translated into customers demanding more transparency and accountability from the brands they buy from, which we think is incredible.
More and more, consumers are understanding that there’s a hidden human and environmental cost to that cheap bandana you see hanging on the rack at the drugstore—and they’re demanding better. They’re changing the industry by supporting brands like ours who have committed to sustainable, ethical manufacturing and who commit to giving back. We’re hopeful that our example might inspire other emerging brands to do the same.
Can you tell us about your artist-driven giveback program?
When figuring out how (not if) BANDITS would give back to the world, we decided to put the choice in the hands of the artists who create our one-of-a-kind designs. With each bandana sold, 10% of proceeds are donated to a charity chosen by the artist who designed it. Since our launch in 2018, BANDITS has created over 40 different artist-designed bandanas that have helped them donate over $70,000 to incredible charities around the world.
Ranging from environmental charities such as the Environmental Defense Fund and Greenpeace to social justice nonprofits like the ACLU and the NAACP, this choice allows our customers to feel a deeper, more personal connection to the designs they choose.
What is it like running a startup with your significant other?
It’s a rollercoaster some days, but we love it! Strong communication and appreciating each other’s strengths have been crucial. We also make a point each day to spend time relaxing together and NOT talking about the business.
How do you use both you and your partner’s professional backgrounds to your company’s advantage?
Before BANDITS, Nicole spent years running non-profits. She’s great with organization, overseeing multiple projects at once, and managing our day-to-day operations. Her skills keep us sane with so much going on!
Conversely, Connor’s business school and finance backgrounds have been crucial from a strategy, marketing, and funding standpoint. We definitely balance each other out nicely and have figured out our specific “roles” when it comes to the business.
How have you managed to stay inspired throughout the pandemic?
Honestly, what’s kept us inspired is giving back. Especially during the pandemic, being in a position to help so many incredible causes made us want to do even more. In addition to our 10% donations for bandana sales, in the past year we helped to raise money for Feeding America through an online raffle, donated bandanas to front line workers across the US and asylum seekers at the border, and collaborated with our partners in India to help fund lost wages and extra costs incurred by factory workers due to Covid and related lockdowns.
We’re inspired to keep growing the business because we know it will allow us to support more artists, give to more charities, and continue finding more ways that we can use our platform to create positive change.
What’s next for BANDITS Bandanas, and what are you most looking forward to in this next chapter?
We’ve got a lot of great stuff in the works—a collaboration with performance apparel brand Vuori that supports the ocean conservation non-profit Oceana; four exclusive new designs hitting REI this summer that each support different environmental charities; and an exciting project in the works with the Independent Restaurant Coalition that’ll help support local restaurants around the country.
Nicole and Connor are proud to have their products featured at Ace Rivington on State Street, their exclusive BANDITS retailer in Santa Barbara. You can also shop their exclusive line of sustainable, artisan pieces at banditsbandanas.com