August 21 2020– On the occasion of Global Earth Day in April, handbag label Maison Hēroïne took a step towards more sustainability: The Berlin-based label works with Germany-based leather manufacturer Helcor to produce bags made of recycled leather. Maison Hēroïne founder and managing director Anton Jurina is also co-founder of Armedangels. FashionUnited spoke with Sina Jurina, co-founder and chief product officer, on the latest developments in sustainability.
What is special about Maison Hēroïne?
Maison Hēroïne is inspired by women who are always on the move; by heroines who manage to balance everything, even when life is sometimes crazily chaotic. Earlier, when I left the house in the morning, I always took two bags with me: a chic leather handbag for the small stuff and a cloth bag for my laptop and documents. That was pragmatic, but not really practical. Why shouldn’t everything fit in one bag? A Maison Hēroïne handbag says: I have everything under control and I can master everyday life with all its ups and downs.
This year, you switched your handbag collection over to recycled leather. Why?
For my husband Anton, sustainability has always been important. As co-founder of Armedangels, he already gained experience in the field of sustainable and fair produced fashion before starting Hēroïne. However, for a long time, it was difficult to find a manufacturer for sustainable leather that met our requirements. It was especially important for us to become more sustainable without having to compromise on the high quality for products in both look and feel.
What was your thought process like? What other aspects did you consider?
Leather is innately a recycled material as most of it comes from the food industry and is then processed further. With a genuine leather handbag, one buys an investment piece with a timeless design and high quality that does not have to be replaced every year. So it was clear to us that we wanted to continue with this material and we thought about it quite early on how we could produce in a more resource oriented way. For us, the changeover is far from complete.
How exactly did it happen?
Of course, a change in production always involves a risk. Therefore we have worked very closely together with our supplier of recycled leather from Germany and our bag makers from Italy and Portugal.
We started with two or three existing styles and “tinkered” with the bag until we were happy with the result. Now we are successively changing all other styles to this sustainable material.
Was it easy to find suitable suppliers? How did you find them?
We got lucky! A friend who had already changed his company over to the new material, got us in touch with our current manufacturer in Germany. The company, founded in 1990, specializes in finishing split leather. Developing the recycled leather took about two years. The result is a smooth leather, exclusively produced for Maison Hēroïne, and a corresponding grained leather, for which Helcor received the LWG environmental gold audit.
The production process starts where the leather industry would otherwise create waste. Helcor produces its raw material from remnants of the traditional leather production in Germany. The leather scraps are first shredded, pressed together with a natural glue and then processed further and refined. It works very well that the leather comes from Germany and that therefore there are no long transport routes for processing in Portugal.
Does the choice of material limit your design process?
A new material is always a new challenge, which one has to reexamine from the start. But that’s also fun. In the first round of prototypes, there were already some surprises that we did not foresee. For example, that our previous needle size was not suitable for further processing, or that we needed a completely new reinforcement.
How did customers react to the switch?
So far we have received positive feedback throughout from our customers for our changeover. Some don’t even notice any difference in the look and the feel of the leather. However, everyone loves the approach.
Were there any problems in the process that you did not foresee?
Not really, we are very happy with the result so far. The leather can be processed in a similar way if one takes some characteristics such as the different thickness of the material into account. An advantage of our sustainable leather is that there are rarely any variations in colour, both for smooth and grained leather. The leather that we found has basically all the same properties like conventional, non-recycled leather. But in comparison, it is particularly sturdy in terms of surface finish and more scratch and dirt resistant than conventional Italian leather. The switch therefore makes the bags even more durable and this supports the sustainability aspect.
Are there other sustainability aspects that you will be addressing in the future?
The next step for us is in the direction of recycled non-leather materials. Here we are currently testing many different manufacturers. We already have a free repair service for all our bags so that a defect in the bag does not immediately render it unusable. Other areas, such as packaging or even making the bag’s hardware sustainable, are also high up on our to-do list.
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