One of our favorite makers, Àplat is hitting San Francisco with us this weekend! You won’t want to miss out on their goods this year – they are the perfect gifts for foodies, or if you’d prefer to treat yourself, there are many ways to justify the purchase. Designer, Shujan Bertrand created Àplat in honor of her family lifestyle in France and the daily rituals of sharing the good things we cook, eat, drink and gift.
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting history behind?
Àplat pronounced “a-pla” in French means “a dish” and lead to the naming of each product in the line; a-plat (for a plate), a-fleur (for flowers, a-vin (for wine), a-pain (for bread). We went through many names – it took about 2 months to finalize. I was sure that it had to be french as my inspiration for starting aplat came from my experience living and working in Europe. (please see question #11)
Have you always been passionate about design?
My childhood dream was to be a gallery painter. In College I pursued fine art at Cal Poly and illustration at Art Center College of Design, but after my first year into Illustration I discovered Design and switched majors where I received a 4 year scholarship with a bachelors in science degree in Industrial Design. I started my career with had two internships while at ACCD with European Brands – BMW’s studio designworks USA in LA and Design Continuum Milan italy. Since then I’ve been designing in the SF Bay area for almost 17 years. I spent a few years designing in Milan and Munich for brands like LG and Seimens.
When/Why did you start working in this particular craft/field?
Although my for the past 20 years has been focusing on consumer electronics, I’ve always had a passion for fashion and bags. My first real design project was with Nike (Presto and ACG) and fell in love with the soft goods design process. Several years after being in tech-consumer electronics, I became design director of Incase. While being a working mom of two beautiful children I felt that soft goods was an area where I could have the most impact and focus on designing responsibly and more sustainably.
What do you think sets your designs apart from others?
There are many wonderful pie/casserole totes out in the world, for wine and bread as well. However, aplat hopes to be beyond a reusable bag, but an inspiring experience that is deeply rooted in a culture of food & friendship, where socializing is more than a verb it’s a life philosophy, and where generosity is a daily ritual. Àplat is where stories are made and shared with good food, Àplat focuses on sponsoring and donating to non-profits and globally responsible brands in the industry of farming, food, restaurants and education.
Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
Àplat’s biggest insight since launching in Nov 2014, has been in local production and manufacturing. The biggest challenge which turned into a success was finding the right vendors to source sustainable raw materials. After witnessing the amount of waste there is in the cut/sew appearel factories I decieded to commit to aplat being a zero waste brand. I’m considering cost and carbon footprint for each product. Which is why you don’t see me producing flyers or making pretty packaging. Àplat shipping is 100% compostable and each bag is made with zero waste in raw materials.
Have you sacrificed anything to create your business? If so, what was it, and do you have any regrets?
I’ve sacrificed sleep, a lot of it and weekends at the factory away from my family. No regrets.
Although starting a business in local manufacturing has been a challenge, the learning and appreciation have been far greater and positive. I consider Àplat a family business because my husband and children are my source of inspiration. Aplat would not be where it is today without the support of my family, friends and trusted network of colleagues.
What has been your proudest/favorite moment since creating your business?
Every day I am grateful and appreciate the engagements I’ve had through aplat. My favorite aplat moments are the spontaneous conversation I’ve had with customers – personal stories about moments of bringing food to special gatherings. My proudest moment have been at Renegade (really) when returning customers who are happy to see me and purchase more product for their loved ones.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
Àplat SF – it’s a foodie city. Love the diversity of people and flavors. San Francisco is amazing for it’s ability to bring sustainable and conscious farm-to-table restaurants and locally sourced farmers market startups services like good eggs and pop-up dining experiences like eatery and feastly. And just over the bridge in Berkeley, amazing paleo restaurant cafe Mission Heirloom.
What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?
I’ve worked for design consulting firms like Astro Studios and IDEO as well as larger corporations like Steelcase, LG Electronics and Incase Inc. Designing for brands for almost 20 years both in consumer electronics, lifestyle products and furniture/space design have all helped me to understand the creative process and product development for the consumer market.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
Àplat started with a moment of gather with friends: The first tote in the collection was the à-Fleur bouquet tote.
I was on my way to Renee Zellweger’s gallery opening of Summer School and I wanted to gift her a beautiful bouquet for her new launch. When I was handed the bouquet I couldn’t see the flowers anymore because they were covered in paper and cellophane and tied with a ribbon. It didn’t feel like a gift anymore.
This was the moment of insight for me: “A bouquet should be quiet–not crinkly plastic. And you should be able to see the flowers and let them be seen.”
That evening I began to sew prototypes of what I thought a bouquet tote could be. I shared this design idea with my husband and his parents, who were in town from France. That next day we brainstormed the possibilities of something good, something new. I was excited.
I let the samples incubate for about a month. Then I decided to share it with someone I trusted, who would give me honest feedback. I showed it to Cathy Bailey, owner and creative director of HEATH Ceramics. She loved the collection and wanted to help me test it by putting 100 a-plat totes in HEATH stores.
It took me exactly 6 months to produce those first 100 aplat totes – from engineering the totes for production, to finding the organic materials and the right factory to naming and designing the assets. aplat was launched on October 2014.
What are some inspirations for your work?
The notion of “French Art of Living” is truly a way of life in the Bertrand family. My “French” husband Blaise and I lived and designed in Italy and France for several years before returning to San Francisco.
I created àplat in memory and translation of my family lifestyle in France and the daily rituals of sharing good food, drink, and good company.
I’m Korean-American born and raised in Manhattan Beach, California. Although my husband and I share similar family values and daily rituals, they are, of course, completely different culturally.
My life changed after meeting my husband and then living in Europe. I started to experience the “French Art De Vivre.” Everyday routines had new meaning and the mundane things around me felt like art and poetry.
My in-law’s home in Nice, France, is perched on a small hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. They built this house with their bare hands. They have a small fruit and vegetable garden they pick from seasonally. In the summers, they pick from their lavender bushes to make sachet pouches.
Their home is ALWAYS filled with friends and neighbors coming over to eat. And to drink their homemade wine.
Every member of the Bertrand family started their personal wine collection at an early age and it’s stored in the basement cellar. Each bottle has a personal story of where it came from. And when you decide to share the bottle, that story gets shared.
You might call this an old way of living, but it was new for me. It was beautiful.
There are many types of tart and pie carriers available. But the ones I admired in France were my mother-in-law’s. They were made of old linens from her mother. A bread bag hangs in every kitchen in France. Wine is carried in crates and baskets.
These different carriers have been around for a very long time in every country. I simply brought them together into one community, the àplat collection of culinary totes.
This is why I say that àplat originated in France and is deeply rooted in a culture of friendship, where socializing is not a verb but a life philosophy, and where generosity is a daily ritual. Àplat reminds us to find joy and pleasure in making the everyday beautiful.