A brand selling eyewear and bracelets supports nonprofit organisations helping wildlife.
by Portia Ladrido
What have you done to follow your dream? For Sebastian Durelli, he sold everything he had. “I even got divorced. I did everything to follow this dream,” he said. It sounds rather cliche to “quit your job and follow your passion.” Others have argued that following dreams simply does not apply to everyone. Some people are beholden to circumstances that cannot allow them to simply follow passions, mainly due to understandable, practical reasons.
But there are the chosen few — and also the most daring ones — who would literally give their all to follow a dream that continuously gnaws at the heart. Durelli is certainly one of them. Why would he give up a comfortable life for a cause that didn’t guarantee him success? Some could say it’s insanity, but for dreamers like him, they call it passion, a purpose, a calling that they want to live for.
INKLINE talks to Sebastien Durelli about his brand The WildFolks, what he does to help endangered animals, and where he wants his brand to go.
INKLINE: How did The WildFolks start? What’s the story there?
Sebastien Durelli: I was living in China for 11 years. I moved there from Italy because I was following production for Italian brands there. Gradually, I became a designer. I started to work first for my clients, then, I made a startup for shoes and then the last thing I’ve done, I started my own eyewear brand with a good friend of mine. This was almost six years ago. I was very happy, the brand was going well, we were selling in 30 countries, but somehow, it was not enough for me.
So, besides the sales achievement or whatever, I really wanted to do something different. Something more, I would say. My big dream was to combine all my passions together — animals, travelling, photography, and designing.
I had the idea of starting an eyewear brand initially and then I said, ‘Okay, let’s do a lifestyle brand, where people can buy all sorts of product, and with the sale of each product, we can support organisations’. I worked on this project for ten months before the launch.
I: What are the products that you offer now? And which organisations are you extending help to?
S: We started initially with a small line of eyewear. I wanted to help the first four organisations that I really fell in love with. They are Animal Asia (an organisation in China and Vietnam), Bos Foundation (the biggest orangutan centre in Borneo) and then Care for Wild (a very important sanctuary for rhinos) and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. We donate 20 dollars to the organisations for every product sold.
In Borneo, we launched our second product which is the bracelet. With the bracelet, we started to help organisations that are close to the sea. We support Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), which is a nonprofit organisation protecting marine wildlife. This is only the second product. I still want to work with elephants, turtles, the ocean cleanup, many, many different things.
I: Where did your passion for wildlife or caring for animals start?
S: It’s the kind of thing that you can’t really explain. The passion has been with me since I was a little kid — the books with animals, the documentaries, everything. I think my mom told me that the passion for animals in general is because when I was born, we already had a dog. So for me, it’s not based on a reason, it’s with me since day one.
What drove me to do this is because I lived for 11 years in probably the country that, in my opinion, does the worst for animals, at least for endangered animals. I was already reading stuff about rhinos and why they’re being killed, but in China, I learned so much more. When you educate yourself by reading more … We learn why rhinos are killed, why moon bears stay in cages, why sharks are killed, etc. So I felt like I was given an extra reason to do this because I lived there as a non-Chinese, and I really wanted to be able to, not just educate the others, but at least with my social media, with the product, to have the chance to help.
I: What part of the operations or the process of starting your brand did you like the most?
S: At the moment, I’m doing all of the work. My sister started to work with me part time to help me with social media, and with the volunteer project. When I was living in China, I was also doing this for other companies, other brands. Design is, of course, my first passion. But I was also always involved with production or managing a staff of people. From art directing to general managing, these are the kinds of jobs I was doing. Of course here, it’s my own company and it’s a startup, so you end up doing everything.
I: What were the challenges that you faced when starting this business?
S: I tried to research about organisations I wanted to help, and I was already donating money to some of them as an individual much before starting this brand, but when you write them, telling them about a company that still doesn’t exist, you simply don’t get a reply.
On the other side, there are some people who might not be so sure why we are a for-profit brand helping non-profits. It’s a matter of trust. For several months, I really didn’t get any reply from organisations, including those I’ve donated money to. This was the first, biggest challenge. This was when I lost a lot of my energy and time, trying to convince people why I was doing this.
I: What are your plans for The WildFolks? What do you dream for it to become?
S: My plan is my dream. I want to be the first lifestyle brand helping entirely, directly the wildlife. There are other brands in the market that do one thing or another. They sell one product, for example, helping one organisation or one animal. There are other brands donating a little percentage of their turnover to a generic organisation that protects animals in general.
“Let’s make a product for them, let’s make a difference.”
In my opinion, it’s like a secondary thing that they do. It’s not really the mission. It’s something extra they do. For me, it’s really my mission. It’s first to help animals, and then second, to sell products. We donate more in terms of donation per single product sold. And we work with very specific organisations. These are organisations where you know exactly who the founder is, what he does all day long.
I really want to sell all sorts of products, and I also don’t want to give up the quality and beauty of the product. I want to still do it in the way I was doing it before, but also giving back to animals. We are using reusable, triple layer stainless steel bottle. We are working on espadrilles, backpacks, socks, T-shirts — I have a lot of products I dream to do. This is because I dream to help more and more organisations, and more animals. Let’s make a product for them, let’s make a difference.
Portia Ladrido is a multimedia journalist specialising in social justice, culture, and the arts. She is a human rights journalism fellow at the Philippine Human Rights Information Center and the Metro Manila hub coordinator of the Solutions Journalism Network. She currently writes speeches for the Philippines’ first female socialist senator. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at CNN Philippines.