‘Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish, he’ll eat forever.’ Apolis CEO Shea Parton would like to tack on an addendum — “There’s plenty of well-trained ‘fishermen’ across the globe,” he says. “But they might just not have the right bait or a large enough pond.”
Apolis, a menswear design company with a crisp, clean aesthetic, employs smaller manufacturers around the world with the goal of helping these small communities to penetrate the global fashion industry. The potential is there, Parton believes. It’s just a matter of throwing someone a line and a pole.
Apolis is one of two featured designers at the Meet the Designer series in Willys Detroit, the new sister store of Shinola that opened last month.
An intersection point for fashion and advocacy, Apolis’ transcontinental resume consists of partnerships with co-ops and businesses in six countries, including Ethiopia and Bangladesh. These partners work to turn Apolis’ designs into reality — marketable, wildly popular reality that is then sold across the globe, giving employees the chance to see their handiwork shared and valued in other countries.
In Apolis’ Market Bag City series, 21 female workers in a Bangladeshi co-op handcraft jute market bags, which are then later distributed throughout other cities. The latest location — number 75 — is Willy’s Detroit, where Apolis has also set up its Nomad Market — a traveling installation that features products, films, and stories.
In a Q&A session, we spoke with Apolis’ brand director and CEO Shea Parton about how the brand’s global outlook will mesh with Willys’ own local focus.
Your Market Bag City series has inspired partnerships with 74 other locations, from Tokyo to Detroit. How do these relationships form?
Overall, we’ve come across a lot of feedback in our industry that [teaches us] to stick to our strengths rather than being in this spot of ‘a mile wide and inch deep.’ We’ve been blown away that just this simple farmers market bag has become such a huge drive for our business. We wanted to figure out more authentic ways to provide this local-global connection, and what that looks like is an exclusive product for our local retailer that gives them this sense of ownership, as well as ways to really feel like they’re investing in their neighborhood with a product that champions their neighborhood. And then [there is] a global association to how the product impacts the co-op in rural Bangladesh… It’s, in my opinion, just a really holistic story of how it’s all come together.
I’m sure that sense of ownership is felt in Bangladesh by the workers at the co-op, because now they have the opportunity to earn a steady salary in a sustainable way.
We’re by no means trying to act like we’re doing something revolutionary. There are some incredibly talented people on the ground across the world, and we’ve just been so thankful for key friendships in which we’ve come down to two truths. One is that friendships can transform communities, [granting] a sense of trust in people, giving them ownership to run with something. And not [adding] any rules or any incentives, just saying, ‘You’re talented, we’re going to get behind you.’ They take that ownership and make a product that sets a great standard of quality.
And the other truth is just that the world is smaller than it’s ever been before. We feel like the technology that we have in our hands that we take for granted made all of these things really accessible, and makes [it] clear that this word Apolis, which translates to global citizen, is about how people are created equal and should have equal access to opportunities.
What about Willys and Shinola appealed to the designers of Apolis?
We’re blown away by people that don’t go the popular route. It’s recently become more popular to think about the potential in a place like Detroit, but Willys was in front of that curve as far as vision for a common tagline that the Shinola team has used, [saying] it wasn’t that the product was bad or that American industry was dead, it was just that we got complacent. And to see that hunger for quality and innovation [on Shinola’s part] — it’s exactly what we’re about.
Apolis translates into global citizen. What does being a global citizen mean to you?
You travel and you think there’s all these differences, you think that languages and currencies, and plug outlets are what creates … opposition, but the more time that you spend traveling, the more you realize that there’s so many similarities. Everyone’s got the same desires to laugh and learn and really provide for their families. We’ve been really blown away that, when you focus on our similarities rather than our differences, it’s powerful … We’ve seen the opportunity for combining design with communities and co-operatives to come to a wider audience and a stronger market, and this word Apolis, translating into global citizen, just synthesizes that kind of vision… [It] isn’t just about clothing. It can tap into all industries.
Given that you’ve traveled to so many different places, is there anything about Detroit that jumped out at you as striking or interesting?
I love this resilience in Detroit because it’s got so much to be jaded by… To see this resilience that just [says], ‘hey, we’re not going to cut corners’ … Look at examples like Shinola, look at quite a few other examples of business that’s doing innovative things out of Detroit. [They’re] competing with everyone and not asking for a sense of ‘guilt marketing,’ by saying ‘well, it’s made in America.’ No. The quality is above everything, and that’s what we believe in as well.
Have you developed a sense of what the reaction to your Nomad Market has been like here?
We’ve only been here for two weeks. We’ve been really thankful to hear that it’s gone well, but it’s ultimately still very early.
Any places you might try to check out while you’re here?
I’ve been to a couple places while I’ve been in town. I’ve been to Astro Coffee — that place is great — and I’ve been by Belle Isle. I also went by the DIA to see the Bruce Weber exhibit.