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Sustainable Living with Shujan Bertrand

Inspired by the French Art de Vivre, Shu created Aplat in homage to her lifestyle which involves daily rituals of sharing homemade food and wine with family and friends.

Aplat’s origins started with a cellophane wrapped bouquet of flowers from a neighborhood market. At that moment in the store, Shu had the insight to create the first sustainable and reusable garden tote for gifting flowers.  Since then Aplat has continued to make sustainable culinary products like food and wine carriers, bread bags and bowl covers.

We recently chatted with Shu about zero waste design, her life spent between California and France and her tips for a stress-free, sustainable holiday season.

Tell us about yourself.

I come from an immigrant Korean family who owned dry cleaners. When I was younger I folded clothes and trimmed fabric at my parents business. I was very attracted to textiles and garments and obsessed as a kid with origami and paper making. We couldn’t afford Barbie so I made my own paper dolls to play with. Later my parents got into the restaurant business and I would do everything from cook to serve. I remember making kim chee in the middle of the night with my mom. 

I come from a foodie family and married into a foodie family but in a totally different European way. My husband’s family is French and we lived in Nice for several years. My in-laws had their own garden patch which they ate from. They baked their own bread which they stored in cotton, made their own wine and harvested lavender to perfume their sock drawers.

I started Aplat as a way to encompass this way of living – a brand that intersects food, wine, bread and garden.

How has the pandemic changed your business?

It was a huge surprise that our intention of making masks for donations has turned into our lead selling product. It took us seven days from conception to production – it usually takes me a year or two for product development! I prototyped fifty masks in every scrap material I could get my hands on and made my husband and kids test them out. We were one of the first manufacturers of masks in California and we had thousands of orders in days. I called our factory across the street and begged her to do it for the hospitals. Within two weeks we made 5000 masks and since then have ramped up to 50000.

It’s a lot for us!

What part does sustainability play in your business?

When my first purchase order came in from Heath Ceramics I had no money. I had to buy a bolt of organic material and figure out how to get all these products made. I only had one roll of cotton and knew I couldn’t make any mistakes. I came up with a bullet proof pattern that was a perfect rectangle with no waste in the fabric. That principle of zero waste has guided Aplat ever since.

From a design perspective – I use the aspect ratios of perfect squares so any packaging or graphics is a puzzle that fits. I don’t have any challenges when it comes to things like hangtags, packaging or box sizes because I have perfect numbers to work with.

Tips for holiday entertaining?

We usually have people over but because this year we can’t I plan to cook more and try to make things from scratch that I wouldn’t normally make. On the list is home made Nutella which has less sugar and is healthier.

I’ve been gardening more and I’m planning to make edible bouquets for my friends as gifts. I’m filling our Jardin tote with rosemary, thyme and edible greens and leaving it on their door knobs as a holiday surprise. 

What’s Next?

I’ll always stay committed to food and sustainability. I have a product road map and strategy and have forty products on there that I want to make! They are all centered around the same categories. I would love to refine our masks because I think there is a lot of opportunity for innovation but it takes me further from my core business. The designer side of me wants to keep exploring but the brand side of me wants to focus on growing the food and garden category.

One thing we are planning to launch is a pet line in Spring. Our puppy is eight months old and we know everything he likes to chew! I have a lot of scrap organic cotton that is perfect for dogs to chew on. It’s safe and can easily be thrown in the compost. 

Shop Aplat here.