Get to know twin brothers responsible for creating WANT Les Essentiels, WANT apothecary and GOODEE
* S’ABLE LABS talked with Dexter and Byron Peart last month, before the police killing of George Floyd and the ensuing global protests.
A good partnership truly is truly inspiring, and there is no better example of this than what we find in the Peart twins, They credit their success to the quality of their collaboration. We love their commitment to a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry. Sustainability does not have to come at the sacrifice of beauty; Goodee is proof of this. The brothers lead a global marketplace and set an example for all to follow.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with the Peart brothers (virtually) to learn a little more about how they’ve grown from selling T-shirts in highschool to conceptualizing GOODEE – the sustainable goods marketplace in partnership with the UN’s Ethical Fashion Initiative.
At the time of the interview, both Dexter and Byron had the unique experience of living (in their respective condos) in Moshe Safdie’s architectural masterpiece, Habitat 67. Trust us; this place is worth googling.
They very kindly offered to announce themselves before speaking. We were immediately struck by how friendly and warm they both were. Not only do they look alike, but their voices are very similar. Being identical twins, their partnership, was in a sense, imprinted in them from birth. Very early on, the brothers found out that working together was their “superpower”.
Why they chose to work together
We just seem to do better together. Some of that fear that creeps in when you try to do something on your own goes away when you have someone that you can wholly and completely trust in the process; someone that helps push you along when things start feeling like they’re not going to come together. I think in a lot of ways, we’ve been that for each other as brothers, but/and also as partners. (and) The most exceptional outcome from this has come from the fact that we’ve been able to displace some of those fears.
What is pre-ordained, and what do you choose? In some ways, our lives are just together, right, and symbiotic in that way. If I could think of any time when we had a choice of whether or not to work together, (because it was harder to figure it out 20 years ago,) was when we sold our company and exited Want Les Essentiels in 2017.
Before 2017 Byron and Dexter were at the helm of the world-renowned luxury accessory brand, Want Les Essentiels. They saw a need in the luxury travel market that was not being met, so they partnered to create a range of functional, timeless and impeccably crafted leather goods After selling Want Les Essentiels and Want Agency, the brothers took a step back. For Dexter, that meant spending time with his wife and kids in Montreal, while for Byron, it meant time primarily enjoying life in New York City with his husband. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the brothers had the option to go their separate ways; the option to be just brothers.
We did make a choice. We said, “you know what, we’re doing this together, and we’re all in, recognizing that that meant at least another 20 years of business and personal and professional unity all intertwined.
What we’ve achieved collectively was born mainly out of the fact that we know that this other person is there pushing and lifting you up and vice versa – We don’t take it for granted!
Over the last 20 years of working as a duo, Byron and Dexter have learned how to bring out the best in each other in business. Initially, there was a temptation for both brothers to do everything– with no defined roles.
How they maintain autonomy as business partners and brothers
Almost like when you’re two people on a rowboat or a sports team, we were just going as fast as we could, and we both did it and figured that that was going to generate speed.
As they grew personally and professionally, their collaboration took on a new form.
With GOODEE, we’ve been very cognizant of trying to frame out separate roles and responsibilities. Someone told us about how in a restaurant – there’s something called the front of house and the back of house.
It was crucial for us, the more we were growing, that the people who worked with us knew who was responsible for what; that our roles be delineated in a way that gave each of us a certain level of autonomy
At GOODEE, Byron assumes the role of storytelling, developing branding and visual communication; “the front of house”. Dexter, meanwhile, oversees all those elements essential to business “behind the scenes”. Dexter’s mostly responsible for the setup and running of the e-commerce as well as the financial operations. The business partners use their similarities to build their foundation and their differences to challenge each other and push past what they could accomplish individually.
The foundation that shaped their futures
I think Byron is this huge dreamer. He is willing to take greater chances and greater risk. I’ve always been a little bit more pragmatic. My feet have always been a little closer to the ground. I think that serves us well. However, Things change all the time. There are times when I’m the big dreamer, and Byron has his feet closer to the ground.
The third and fourth boy born of Jamaican parents, Byron and Dexter, grew up in Ottawa, Canada. The pair credit the hard work and sacrifice of their parents, as being a major influence in their success. Their mother, a microbiologist and their father, an economist, moved to Montreal, Canada, independently to pursue their dreams. The twins knew that whatever form their careers took, that their Caribbean parents expected them to start things off with a good education, so they did just that. The brothers followed in their father’s footsteps, both graduating with a degree in economics from Western University in London, Ontario Canada.
It was through their studies that they discovered their natural curiosity for human/consumer behaviour, as well as their eye for aesthetics.
Taking time out between core courses to study pattern-making and fashion history helped to fuel their desire to work in the luxury consumer goods industry. Despite working in banking and finance throughout their university years, the Pearts knew fashion was going to play a major role in their future.
The business of fashion
We both knew that we wanted to take that business acumen and work in the fashion forum. I worked in marketing for Diesel Jeans in Montreal for five years right after university, and Dexter worked for Energy/ Miss Sixty Jeans. At the time, in the late 90s (they) were leading in the industry in Canada and the US, in terms of sales.
We were really in the thick of the fashion world. Being able to travel internationally for work in our early 20s, we just had a lot of exposure to different things, from New York fashion weeks to international trade shows; that is really what stemmed from what we are today.
The inception of Want Agency
And It was through that exposure that the brothers started to realize their potential. While their contemporaries were looking to make changes, locally, Dexter and Byron set their eyes on global opportunities. The brothers founded industry-leading, Want Agency in 1999, a wholesale distribution agency with offices in Montreal and New York. This company was responsible for introducing brands like Acne, Nudie Jeans and Maison Kitsuné to the North American market.
We started asking “why would we limit ourselves from a distribution standpoint to represent a brand only for Canada, we’re like “what’s up, New York”, I could be there in an hour.
The evolution of the Want brand: Want Les Essentiels
After years of working as curators and marketers for other brands, the brothers felt that they had ideas to contribute themselves. In 2007, they introduced Want, Les Essentiels, an outlet for their creativity and a vessel for their insight.
We focused on building a brand that didn’t exist at the time – I think that is how we’ve grown. Our business has evolved, and it’s been pretty consistent. We look for things that are not available in the market and that’s what we become.
Landing in Ouagadougou with the United Nations
After exiting The Want brand that they had spent decades building, the brothers embarked on a new adventure; this time with the UN. In 2018 Dexter and Byron were invited to Burkina Faso, West Africa, on a UN mission, by Simone Cipriani, the head of the Ethical Fashion Initiative of the International Trade. This defining trip would serve as a major inspiration for, (their soon to be brand,) Goodee.
There was no ulterior motive of trying to turn this [mission] into a business. We just got on a plane and landed in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Chances are our ancestors were west African. There was this feeling like we were going back to the homeland, and then to see the people and to feel a connection to the people was incredible. Anecdotally, as Montrealers, we’re bilingual [French and English], and Burkina Faso being a French-speaking nation, enabled us to connect with people in one of their many mother tongues. It was quite important just to watch and listen. We called it a listening tour and saw the way people made [things]. We got back to creation, which is a place where Byron and I always feel very naturally comfortable.
Being on back streets and in villages, in small factories, in workshops, watching people create was wickedly inspirational for us. Seeing how they were working on fabrics and fabric production, on cotton production and on the milling of cotton, we were amazed at what they were doing.
Dexter and Byron spent the next 18 months figuring out how to take the ingenuity and craftsmanship they witnessed in Burkina Faso and turn it into something beautiful that people would want to have. Goodee’s first collection was born out of this study, a group of richly coloured pillows produced via the twin’s ethical production program in Kenya. From there, they travelled around the African continent, connecting skilled artisans with global consumers. Proudly shedding the spotlight on the moving stories behind the product and ensuring that producers be paid deservingly and equitably.
In April of 2020, Goodee launched its first bag, the Bassi Market Tote.
“Created in collaboration with Cartiera, an Italian social cooperative dedicated to empowering asylum seekers and migrants, the Bassi Market Tote Bag is more than your everyday bag. Proudly bearing its maker’s name, which is short for Bassirou, the organic cotton tote boasts timeless elegance and thoughtful design…”
GOODEE is an intersection of the Pearts’ past and present. Their time in Burkina Faso brings about memories of visiting their Grandmother in Montego Bay, Jamaica. It is through their past that they learned the value of education, hard work and sacrifice. Their mother and father taught them that as young black men, nothing would be given to them, but also that their potential had no limit. They were taught to cherish their Jamaican heritage but with a firm understanding that they belonged in Canada, and no one could tell them otherwise.
Whether conscious or not, I think we have benefited from being black twins. In a sense, our visibility is multiplied, our specialness is multiplied, and our voices are multiplied. There is no question that the force for us to be able to be where we are is a result of the space our parents provided for us. We feel like we have a resolve to work hard, because if we don’t, then we’re not honouring what they set out for us to do.
We look forward to watching this extraordinary partnership evolve.