An economist and a lawyer walk into a shoe store...
It may sound like the beginning of a corny joke, but it’s actually how Liz Wirth and Jakob Lykke started their journey with Betterfelt.
They first discovered the brand while visiting Jakob's home country of Denmark and walked into a Betterfelt store in Randers, the city where he grew up.
“We really walked by the Betterfelt store, took a look and said ‘oh, we’ve got to go in there!’” says Liz. “Their practice of Fair Trade and the design and quality of the products appealed to us.”
At the time, the duo had decided to move from Denmark to Canada where they had met in the MBA program 14 years earlier and were looking for an entrepreneurial opportunity that would be meaningful to them.
Liz had been working in sustainable investment for a global service provider and Jakob had been working in a Danish bank with responsibility for a section of the credit department. They were looking to use their knowledge, skills, and experience to build a business with a mission to do good.
Coincidentally, Betterfelt’s owner also happened to be in the store when they came in.
“We were basically back home for Christmas 18 months ago and the store where we met the owner was in the town where I grew up,” remembers Jakob. “We walked in and talked to him. He sounded interested in the possibility of expanding the brand into Canada, so we exchanged numbers and got in contact.”
Not long after, an opportunity to purchase the entire company came up.
They knew it was exactly what they'd been looking for. They saw an opportunity to bring a fresh and new perspective to help the business grow.
Building a Fair Trade certified wool felt brand
Liz and Jakob valued the history and code of ethics behind the brand. They also fell in love with the beautifully designed, cozy products and the way they were ethically sourced and produced by the workshop the company co-owns with their partner, Sabina Matangi, in Nepal.
In fact, it was Betterfelt’s close connection and long-standing commitment to its workshop and colleagues in Nepal that made owning the company an interesting and unique opportunity.
“It was the fact that the company was directly invested in Nepal that made it a lot more interesting to us,” says Jakob. “That’s what makes Betterfelt different from most other Fair Trade certified companies out there.”
Betterfelt wool felt slippers – Canadian-owned, Danish design, Nepalese craftsmanship
Today, Jakob and Liz run Betterfelt from their headquarters in Toronto, along with their partner Sabina Matangi in Nepal. They know all the makers in the workshop in Kathmandu by name. They know where the wool originates, and that the sheep are treated well. They are also deeply committed to retaining – and growing – the team of creative artisans in Nepal who hand-make the Betterfelt products.
Betterfelt is a global company that primarily sells its products directly to customers through its websites in Europe as well as in North America on Betterfelt.com and Betterfelt.ca. It still has one Betterfelt branded store in Randers, Denmark managed by Thomas Hornebo and its products are also available at a chain of shoe stores in Scandinavia as well as in several small stores in Denmark, Norway, the UK and Canada.
As the company continues to grow with Liz and Jakob at the helm, they say their focus will continue to be creating high-quality products that embody “hygge” (a Danish word meaning ‘enjoyment in a relaxed and cozy setting’), and to strengthen Betterfelt’s relationships in Nepal.
“Technically, the people in Nepal are our employees, but I actually feel that we work for them,” says Jakob. “Bringing the brand to North America made sense because we’re physically present here. But really, what it’s all about to us is creating meaningful, stable jobs in Nepal and selling a great product,” says Liz.
And that’s no joke.