Be Trendy in an Eco-Way!
The designer brand we’re going to introduce you to today is unique both through its looks and its environmental footprint. As you might have already grasped the idea that within this section we’re presenting you with interviews & Q&As of most talented handbag designers from all over the globe, find out that this time our guest comes from San Francisco, whereby we’re proudly presenting you Escama Studio.
Andy, the CEO of the company who has kindly agreed to take part in our Q&A has started the company years back in 2004 when the mere concept of ‘sustainable fashion’ might have only been in its infancy. What Andy and his designer counterpart have spotted was a unique recycling product which when given ‘a second live’ in hands of a skillful hand-sewer becomes no less than a stylish accessory proudly worn by you, fashionistas!
Time to unveil the guess-curtain: what’s the recycling product I keep referring to? First, have a sneak peak at the pictures below featuring this trendy pop top bag as well as a daring tote, then have another go by guessing – what is it actually made of?
Although to some of you at first glance it might look as if the bag is made of some trendy fish scale material, it’s in fact much more ‘attainable’ than that: these are no other than recycled aluminum pull tabs! Surprised? Well, that alone won’t be the only reaction which prompted journalists from CNN to dedicate to it an entire news release or fashion editors from American InStyle Magazine to award Escama Studio the ‘Best Green Handbag award’!
Now to find out more about the idea in making and its behind the scenes breath of production have a read through our exclusive Q&A with Andy Krumholz, owner @ www.escamastudio.com:
Sustainable or ETHICAL FASHION is one of today’s arising buzz words within the fashion accessories’ world. When you’ve first thought about launching this line what came first: the product design or its sustainable value? What inspired you in the first place?
Andy:When we first started there was no plan to make a handbag company at all. And in 2004 ‘sustainability’ in product design was just starting to become a big deal and we were not in that world of product development. Escama Studio came about because I became obsessed with the ‘look’ and texture of poptops, and then I got my friend Socorro Leal to become crazed too. I saw the craft, pop-top-crochet when I was visiting Brazil in 2003 – there were hats, bikinis, vests – all made of poptops and all very kitsch. I had a crazy urge to see whether it would be possible to apply the craft and transform it into something cool, industrial, minimalist . I had no idea what we were getting into or how far it would go.
Your products are all made of recycled, often referred to as ‘humble’ material: alluminium pulltabs. Each accessory is made up of hundreds of such pull tabs: is. one handbag alone can be made of over 900 pull tabs!
Why have you decided to source predominantly this material? Is this your personal vision of a modern handbag design? Is there a particular reason? (ie. there’s a famous urban legend about donating pop tabs to provide kidney dialysis to those in need).
Would you consider giving life to other recycled products in future to make their way through the wearable fashion catwalk?
Andy:That’s right, we use recycled post-consumer aluminum pull tabs for all of our bags and accessories. It takes a lot of work to wash, and prep the raw materials but it’s a beautiful shiny material to work with. I like it because the finished bags have a smooth supple texture, they look like chainmail and you’d imagine that they would be heavy but they’re super lightweight. The bags have an ‘architectural’ structured appearance. I would be content to make bags only of pop tops and crochet forever, but everything needs to change sooner or later. We are always looking at new directions for Escama Studio. Last year we did a small production run of bags made of recycled Kevlar sailcloth from America’s Cup sail boats. I worked together with a friend here in San Francisco and it was an interesting experiment, but in the end it was more complicated than we anticipated. I also tried to make beaded jewellery in Botswana using discarded ostrich egg shell. That was also very difficult to get off the ground and we couldn’t go forward. We would love to give life to other recycled products using different materials but the finished handbag has to look good. It has to be Beautiful. It’s not enough to make a recycled bag just for the sake of recycling.
Could you please describe your target audience? What drives their purchase decisions? Are they aware their bags are uniquely crafted from recycled materials or they’re initially being enticed by an unusual yet undoubtadly cutting-edge style? What do you think?
Escama Studio’s customers are women who are attracted by the unique metallic weave of the bag. They also appreciate that the bag is handmade and a wearable work of art. The fact that it’s sustainable and fair trade are additional aspects that make the bag irresistible. Our handbags are definitely not to everyone’s taste but they truly have a unique allure that famous brand bags just don’t have. Strangely, they draw attention from women and men.
Many of our customers become real die hard fans and they become the source of information for our line. This note from an architect in Helsinki is something that we hear often: ‘I bought an Escama Studio bag in 2009. Since then I’ve been asked a hundred times where one can buy such a lovely bag?’
You’ve launched the company back in 2004. since then over 70,000 handbags were sold while today you’re sourcing your products in over 15 countries, including notable locations such as New York museum of Modern Arts, royal academy of art London, etc.
This suggests your products are viewed as a stylish wearable expression of modern art, a go-to for inspiration among rising designers. How are you keeping the inspiration alive in your own team? How are new products coming to life and do you consult with any of the modern designers on new ideas, product tests etc.?
The first bag that we ever designed, the ‘Socorro’ bag, is the style that we love the most. It’s very pared down and minimalist and it’s the bag that has been most visible in places like MoMA NY and the Royal Academy of Art London. ’Sustainability’ is the underlying reason why many shops buy our bags. Architects, product designers, and even corporations are striving make their practices more sustainable. For this reason our bags are a natural tie-in for a lot of institutions from eco-resorts on tropical islands, to museums and corporations like Coca Cola and Aveda.
When designing new styles we try to address a function (i.e. cell phone bags, wristlets, cross-body, and also accessories like belts and costume jewellery). New designs sometimes come from San Francisco, other times from the artisans in Brazil. Because everything is handmade, we can make prototypes and small production runs and we don’t have to commit, like bigger manufacturers, to large production runs with factories. It’s a good way to experiment with new designs.
Fair trade is a valuable component of your business model: all your accessories made of recycled material are being brought to life by means of brazilian workers’ skilled crochet techniques. This has been featured in such wide-coverage media sources as CNN, fashion magazines as ELLE and INSTYLE. You’ve also just won the ‘best green’ award within InSTYLE’s Independed Handbag designs award.
Can you shed some light into what happens ‘behind the scenes’ in their working atelier: how many bags does a designer produce per month? what keeps them inspired & how have you been able to grow the team from initially 12 to now 100 artisans?
We have a 10 year relationship with our partners, fair trade artist collectives in Brazil. We’ve grown together with them and we both learned a lot. I remember when we just started, a fashion industry professional warned me that it would be impossible to make handmade products consistently and that we would have work with a factory for consistency. He was dead wrong. Escama Studio’s view is: if you can make your product fair trade why would you choose not to? And if you can make your product sustainably why would you choose not to?
Fair trade is a hot topic these days just like ‘sustainable fashion’. Recent tragedies in the garment industry have lead a few major brands to examine their supply chain and come out with product extensions that are eco and fair trade. This will continue as more and more people realize that there’s a human cost that comes with the rock bottom price of a $9.99 trench coat.
If you could please provide some pictures/or video content such as the below, this would help visualize the ‘behind the scenes’ working process:
Here are some fun videos showing the ‘journey’ from Brazil to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art:
This video out-take shows the artisans joking around (productive work just can’t get through without a fun-making atmosphere:):
Each handbag contains a personal note from the designer who’s made the bag from its ‘head to toe’. this obviously helps personalize the acquisition of every bag. How is this gesture being received among your buyers? Do you often receive reviews/feedbacks & how does this help grow your social community (or is there another purpose to this note?
ie. you’ve got a section on your site entitled ‘who made your bag’. does this help create bonds with your buyers? what’s their engagement with this content?
The hang tag signed by the artist is something that we’ve had from the very beginning and it definitely makes the purchase more personalized.
The ability to know the origin of a product and to know about the person who made it, is very compelling to a lot of people. We encourage people to go to the Escama Studio website to find the artist who made their bag and they oftentimes write messages to the artists. We translate these messages into Portuguese and forward them on to the artists. We get the most amazing letters from all over the world. Here’s one from 2010:
Daniele, I bought one of your broaches which is lovely, I was at a big event last night and showed it to Cheri Blair (the wife of our ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair) she loved it as do I. Keep thinking of more wonderful things to make.
Another from Sweden:
I have bought a purse you made, and want to thank you for a beautiful piece of handicraft. It might be nice for you to know that I plan to wear it for my wedding in September! It’s so cool, so different and it gives me a very good feeling knowing it is made by you.
AS A FAIRWELL NOTE, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS?
Guys, I hope you’ve enjoyed our interview as much as we’ve enjoyed having this chance of bringing this incredible story to you: where passion for modern art meets tradition, where warmth of making is cemented through an ‘always-on’ skill set.
Thank you Escama for your time and thorough answers!
P.S. And as you’ve read it all through Andy has been generous to offer you, our Bagstowear readers an offer to help pick your favourite eco-chic handbag at www.escamastudio.com: 20% off with code BTW20 at check-out! Enjoy!
Loads of love from Bagstowear.co.uk xx