The expansion of BUILT, one tote at a time

Oct 22, 2012

In 2003, industrial designers Aaron Lown and John Roscoe Swartz started BUILT, a New York-based design company that makes stylish bags and accessories for people on the go. Their founding philosophy was simple: Good design can make everyday life better.

The duo saw an opportunity to improve the way people carry everyday essentials like food, beverages, and computers. Their first product was an innovative wine bag made from neoprene—the lightweight wetsuit material—that insulated and protected bottles while out-shining its peers in style.

In their first two years of business, Lown and Swartz sold more than one million of these iconic totes. They were eager to innovate other ubiquitous products, but they knew that expansion would require investment far greater than the seed money they'd borrowed from family members to start up. So BUILT turned to Bank of America for help.

"When we saw a solid business led by great people with realistic expansion plans, it was very exciting for us to get in on the ground level and help them grow," says Erin McCloskey, a senior vice president and client manager in business banking who manages the bank's day-to-day relationship with BUILT. For the past several years, Bank of America has provided BUILT with access to capital and financial management support, freeing its founders to focus on their creative vision, diversify its product line, and expand its retailers. Today, BUILT products are sold in more than 10,000 retail outlets in 50 countries.

While BUILT has amassed an international fan base, the founders continue to look to their home base, New York City, to inflect their products with bold personality. "New York is always giving us ideas through its structure, whether it's the way the skyscrapers are built or how the subways are laid out," says co-founder Swartz, who is also the company's CEO. "And of course, it's the people here. Their diversity is so inspiring."

Lown, who is also the Chief Design Officer, and Swartz credit their success to a talented and dedicated team that has grown to 50 employees, plus a larger network of support at home and abroad. BUILT relies on its suppliers, contractors, neighborhood restaurants, and the fashion industry to help the company stay relevant and engaged, and to grow its offerings.

What started in 2003 as a two-person design project is now a multimillion-dollar brand with a global presence. BUILT is a story of entrepreneurship in the name of fashion and function—one that Bank of America is proud to support.

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