Since childhood, the word ‘bresheh’ – the colloquial term for breadfruit – has followed Randy McLaren.
He is from St Thomas, where the food was first planted in Jamaica, and picked up the name ‘Mr Breadfruit’ because of a signature poem in his repertoire as a performance artiste. When he and his brother Davian McLaren decided to impact the world through Jamaica-made products in 2015, the name resonated. Call it destiny, but McLaren had even registered a website domain name with ‘bresheh’ about three years before launching the brand.
“The initial impetus was to get a brand developed in Jamaica that would travel with us across the world,” McLaren, also Bresheh’s managing director, told Flair. “We are known for reggae music, and we have so many iconic stars in culture and athletics, but we never had tangible products moving with the intangible items of our culture. We wanted to be that creative family that was closing that gap. We wanted a name that was culturally relevant; wherever you take our products, you’d literally be taking a piece of Jamaica with you.”
The dub poet and his brother, who was working at a department store in downtown Kingston at the time, saw an opportunity to not only build a family legacy, but revitalise the local textile industry, provide jobs, and reduce bag imports.
With a second-hand industrial sewing machine, Davian started making the bags on the verandah of their Rockfort, east Kingston home. Their target audience was the varied tiers of the school system, and the early style was vegan leather incorporated with fabric prints and canvas.
“We saw that then as one of the biggest opportunities, because we have a big school population and different stages of the education sector, so it was a booming market to work with schools, parents and students to ensure everybody going to school in Jamaica and the diaspora would be going [with] a product proudly handcrafted in Jamaica.”
They decided to restructure and streamline their product offerings in 2018 with Roast by Bresheh, a line aimed at “corporate executives, young professionals, and those with a discerning eye who want high-quality, personalised and handcrafted items, who are also strong on supporting Brand Jamaica”.
The features of the line retain the vegan leather aesthetic and pay homage to the nuances of a roasted breadfruit, with colours like grey, black and brown. The line offers compact and travel-friendly backpacks, duffle bags, pouches and masks, which can be customised with text or colours. The backpacks also offer a 90-degree opening, mirroring the usual way of cutting a breadfruit. The sleek interior further reflects what McLaren described as the “clean” look that is revealed when cutting a roasted breadfruit.
McLaren said shifting gears from the school audience proved to be a good business move in light of the pandemic.
“Schools were closed, so we would have been hit a lot harder by having those products alone. So we give thanks that we had the insight and could have made the strategic decision to branch off into Roast by Bresheh, which has paid off good so far. We are so grateful for the tremendous support that we continue to receive.”
For 2022, the company is looking to expand its horizon with more client engagement, new products, and even a relaunch of some beloved products.
“Also, expect for us to make a positive contribution towards our 60th (Independence) anniversary celebration. Hopefully, we will be doing some limited-edition items to mark the year as a significant part of our development as a nation.”
McLaren said the company stays committed to developing communities and helping families through job creation. Bresheh has around six “dream makers” (artisans), a sector McLaren said deserves more credit.
“I just want to use this platform to highlight the importance of our artisans and makers. Internally, we call them dream makers, because we literally come to work every day looking to make our clients’ dreams happen,” he said. “Raising the profiles of makers in Jamaica and the global space is very important to us, so I just want to highlight the importance of creative people. It’s not a small job or ‘little work’ that they’re doing; it’s a tremendous task, and I believe we should highlight them more and give them the props and respect they ought to get. All the clothes you wear, the shoes you wear, the bags we all carry, there is a maker somewhere doing this thing to try to support themselves and their family; so I want us to start talking about how we show that they are important to us.”