ROKA London’s Emma Katz takes us inside the company’s Natural History Museum collaboration

Emma Katz – CEO at ROKA London – on how a partnership with the Natural History Museum aligned with the company’s own values.

Emma, it’s great to tie-in. Before we dive into your Natural History Museum collaboration, for anyone new to ROKA, how would you describe the company and its values?
ROKA London was the partnership of my husband Brett and I. We met while Brett lived abroad and when he moved over here he was thinking about what business he would start… While walking around Oxford Street trying to get inspiration, he experienced all four seasons in one day. When he got home later that evening absolutely drenched, he said: “I know exactly what I am going to do. I am going to design a bag for everyone, every day, everywhere.

Everyone. Every day. Everywhere. Nice line!
Well everyone needs a bag. Students, mothers, tourists, office workers, people going to meetings… They all need a bag that is stylish, water resistant and can be used for all purposes.

So, inspiration had struck. What next?
Low and behold he went off designed the bag, sourced all of the materials and suddenly had a bag. We then needed a name for our new brand, so used the first two letters from each of our surnames – RO and KA – and created ROKA.

Fast forward six years and we are now a global lifestyle brand. We have taken the same desire that Brett had from that very first day – we make products that are for everyone, every day, everywhere. We have always ensured that our personal values are being carried through into the business, which are: ‘Have care, go light, live bright and be real’.

“The Waterhouse was designed from a brief by Museum scientists who were in need of a field bag.”

We concentrate on our people and planet, whether it’s our employees, our customer, our partners or our suppliers. We are always honest, open, fair and want the best for them and our planet. This is why we create sustainable products, we give back to our planet and our people and are now proud BCorp accredited.

Fantastic. And how did this partnership with Natural History Museum come about? What made the brand a neat fit for ROKA?
Emma Russell, the Natural History Museum’s Senior Licensing Manager, got in contact after she kept seeing ROKA London bags everywhere… On the tube, on the backs of visitors to the Museum and even on some of her Museum colleagues.

Emma loved that we had the same ethos as the Museum around sustainability and creating advocates for the planet – and also liked our bags! Following initial conversations, we found so much in common with both the Museum and our own brand that a collaboration was the next natural step.

Emma Katz, ROKA London, Natural History Museum, Fashion, Experience

There’s an added layer of authenticity to this too right, with the Museum’s scientists needing bags that properly serve their needs?
Yes! Emma had chatted to one of the Museum’s scientists and they lamented that well designed, practical ‘field bags’ that met their work needs were not hugely accessible in the general high street. When scientists and researchers are out in the field conducting important research, they often need to carry – and keep separate – a great number of tools and kit that can assist with observation, collecting, recording and storing specimens safely.

At that first face-to-face meeting, it became apparent that both ROKA London and the Museum had a shared vision for purposeful, sustainable and fashionable product – and that the initial idea for a practical, contemporary field bag had fantastic potential.

This resulted in the creation of Waterhouse bag. Talk us through the design of the bag and the ways in which it nods back to the Natural History Museum?
The Waterhouse was designed from a brief from the scientists at the Museum who were in need of a field bag. They wanted something that was stylish, durable, sustainable and – most of all – was something they could take with them in the field. They needed something that they could use to carry everyday things, as well as wet and dry equipment for work. It totally brought together the design of a bag that would be for everyone, every day, everywhere!

Emma Katz, ROKA London, Natural History Museum, Fashion, Experience

The Museum’s licensing team collected suggestions and rationale from their network of world-leading colleagues and experts on how best to develop and improve the field bag. This insight was passed onto the development team at ROKA London who designed, sampled, and tweaked until the version you see today was agreed.

With sustainability at the core of the product, the bag’s main waterproof canvas material is made from recycled plastic material. Sourced from post-consumer plastic such as water bottles, this collection is breathing new life into non-biodegradable material.

One of the last – and most important – decisions to make was the name of the bag. ROKA London is known for bestowing memorable and iconic names for their ranges and this latest design was no exception. It was decided that ‘Waterhouse’ was the most fitting; a tribute to the original architect of the Museum’s iconic site in South Kensington, Alfred Waterhouse.

A nice touch. And what have the Natural History Musuem team been like to work with?
Absolutely brilliant. Everyone at the Museum was open and enthusiastic about taking us into their world. With the help of both their incredible licensing team and some of their 370-strong world-leading scientific experts, they used their knowledge and experience to help us create something both practical and stylish.

Everyone we speak to is not just nice and genuine, but they are super passionate about everything they do, and our collaboration. I really do believe that this is a great collaboration built on shared values and a desire to create sustainable fashionable apparel with broad appeal. There’s so much more that we can explore, and this is just the beginning of a fantastic relationship, with lots more to come!

Emma Katz, ROKA London, Natural History Museum, Fashion, Experience

What do you think is the key to a successful creative collaboration like this?
When we first came on board with the Museum, their licensing team emphasised the Museum’s mission to create advocates for the planet and that they looked to champion and reflect this in all their licensing collaborations. For ROKA London, this is absolutely one of our core values at the forefront of everything we create. Having this shared ethos is a must for a creative collaboration to find success.

Beyond this, being open and honest, always communicating and – most importantly – having fun while you do it!

Absolutely. Fun is often an overlooked component! Before we wrap up, you mentioned this is just the start for this partnership…
Yes. The launch of the Waterhouse Field Bag was such a success that for both us and the Museum this is absolutely just the beginning of our collaboration. We cannot wait for the next project!

We’ll keep our eyes peeled. Thanks again Emma!

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