Matt Clough is a bag maker, an outdoors adventurer, and a humanitarian. After climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro as part of a quest to climb the highest summits on each continent, he was struck by the need to support education in Tanzania, and how a little money could go a long way there. Once back in the states he started a backpack company by the name of stone + cloth
. Their bags are designed and made in California, and part of the sale of each bag goes directly to supporting the Knock Foundation, providing scholarships in education, as well as support to lunch programs, in primary schools in Tanzania. Matt was so kind to give us a fantastic interview about stone + cloth below. Read on. Better yet, come check out stone + cloth bags at Revolver and Voyager!
How long ago now was your trip to Tanzania that inspired your venture with stone + cloth? What was your initial inspiration behind travelling there to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?
I was in design school at the time, and if I wasn't spending time in class, I was doing whatever I could to get outside and hike mountains. I had this dream of climbing the seven summits - the highest peak on every continent. My buddy presented me with the chance to take a free ride to Africa and climb Kilimanjaro, so I took it. It was my first opportunity to check one of those mountains off the list.
As seen from the mountain
What kind of physical and mental preparations do you have to make in order to undertake such a task? How long did you prepare to climb Kilimanjaro? How long was the actual climb?
Climbing Kilimanjaro involved a few months of training. The toughest part was the low levels of oxygen at the higher altitudes. The summit is above 19,000 feet. On the last night, I was experiencing hallucinations and a terrible headache and many in our group had to turn back before the summit because of the harsh conditions on the mountain.
Matt Clough, at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro
How did you end up partnering with the Knock Foundation in order to insure that children in Tanzania would be provided with scholarships for education?
We are partnered with The Knock Foundation because they're well established on the ground in Tanzania, and are very dedicated to awarding scholarships to students. I met Kim, who runs the foundation, through a really good friend. The wonderful thing about working them is that I'm able to communicate with her on a regular basis.
About how many children have benefitted from scholarships as a result of stone + cloth? Have you connected directly with any of the individuals who have benefitted from scholarships?
The Knock Foundation awarded over 30 scholarships this year, and we're proud to say that after our first year of business, we contributed to that and to their lunch program at Mrupanga Primary school. Going forward, we'll continue to support Knock with their scholarship program to support those students year after year. We look at this as a 10-20 year project, and we're just getting started.
Why is it important that your backpacks are made in LA?
It boils down to two things: quality and relationships. We love being able to drive a few miles to the cut and sew shop and oversee production. It ensures our products are being made to the standard we expect, and it's really fun getting to know the people that make our products. For me, it's a really enjoyable part of the business.
stone + cloth's Benson bag
I like in your About section on your website how you draw the connection between backpacks being used in both mountaineering and education. What considerations did you make in order to make your backpacks versatile enough to be used for both?
The design of our flagship piece, the Benson, was designed to represent the rucksack that my porter, Benson carried for me on the mountain. Taking a few simple elements from that (the rucksack flap and drawstring) seemed like a natural way to weave my journey into the product. Since we're focused on education, I took a lot of inspiration from my simple Jansport I used everyday when I was in school. The result is what is now our best-selling product.
Matt Clough and his porter, Benson, on Kilimanjaro
Did you have a background in backpack construction before you began stone + cloth? What has your education process been as you've developed your bag company?
When I was in college, most of my time was spent at the School of Design. I couldn't really sit still in one particular area, so ended up taking a year of Landscape Architecture, a year of Fine Art, and a mess of Industrial Design, Urban Planning, and Architecture courses along the way. I've always loved making things, but when I started this project, it began with me on a really old sewing machine figuring out how to put two pieces of cloth together.
Where is the future of stone + cloth headed? What are your goals?
Our goal is to continue to sell high quality products at good prices, build a brand that people trust, and use our business as a vehicle to help other people realize their dreams through education.
Get out and explore
What are the other highest peaks on the six remaining continents? Have you crossed any others off your list? Any plans to tackle another any time soon?
Elbrus - Europe
Acongagua - South America
Carstensz - Australia, Oceania
Denali - North America
Vinson - Antarctica
Everest - Asia
I have not crossed any of the others off the list, but get out and hike in southern california whenever possible.
What is currently inspiring you? Any future mountaineering plans?
Lately i've been really inspired by movement. I stayed on my buddies' boat for a few days two weeks ago and was in Colorado last weekend. It just seems that every time I'm moving, everything makes more sense.
(All images here within courtesy of Matt Clough & stone + cloth- all images copyright © 2013 / All Rights Reserved)