Written for Composure Magazine:
Trying to be more environmentally responsible for 2017? Try eco-friendly accessories from 88 Handbags and VEERAH to get a jumpstart on your New Year’s fashion resolutions.
STORY: Min A. Lee
While fast fashion may be a dominant force in the marketplace, in recent years, there’s been a gradual shift towards slow and ethical labels. As this trend continues to grow, those in the know are taking a second look at the vegan approach to leather, a material noted for its luxuriousness. While some fashion lovers may find it hard to stray from the genuine deal, a couple of accessory labels are working to produce quality vegan leather that can feel and look just as luxe: 88 Handbags and VEERAH Footwear.
No small amount of research and travel went into creating bags and shoes that would sway die-hard leather fans and impress editors and consumers everywhere. Indeed, just one touch reveals that there really is a fine line between faux and real that’s starting to disappear. At times, I wasn’t able to tell if what I was holding was actual leather or not. “As well as being environmentally friendly, it has to look and feel great,” says Alexander Fowler, the founder of 88 Handbags. “It has to have durability, as we want people to love our bags for years. Also, it needs to be affordable so it can be economically viable as we hope it will become an industry standard in the future. We have solved all the challenges except getting the handfeel right, which we are working on now and are hoping to have it ready soon.”
Now, you may think faux leather equals more pollution, but that’s not necessarily the case. 88 Handbags is constantly working towards an earth-friendly solution. “While extraordinarily challenging, we’ve been working for over a year on water-based PU, which would have zero environmental impact,” says Fowler. As for VEERAH founder Stacey Chang, she travels the world to source materials and keep her line ethical. “We were able to find silky fabrics made out of recycled plastic bottles, breathable organic cotton for sock lining, and memory foam cushions that replace 20 to 50 percent of the petroleum typically used with a substitute derived from castor beans,” she explains.
Though the materials are a huge part of what makes these brands fit the eco-friendly category, it’s also the lifestyle they promote while building their brands. Their missions and passions go beyond just producing timeless fashion.
Social causes are important to Chang, and the VEERAH team incorporate a “giving back and self-improvement” mentality. Chang says she created VEERAH to “merge style, quality, compassion, and functionality for women today, who we refer to as #VEERAHwarriors.” To that end, she’s implemented an in-house 1-10-100 Battle Plan: At least 1 percent of VEERAH’s proceeds go to social impact causes (She’s The First, shesthefirst.org, is their current non-profit partner); their employees are paid to do 10 hours of volunteer work and/or improvement courses each month; and for every 100 feedback interviews they conduct, VEERAH sponsors a one-year scholarship for a She’s The First girl scholar. “We aim to grow together and give back,” says Chang.
For 88, they consider their label a “part of a movement,” where everyone works together to create a better world, whether by donating to charities favored by their customers or by sending a message in their choice of fashion. “We hope that by wearing our brand people will look good and also proudly be displaying their values and beliefs in the sanctity of life and the planet we live on,” says Fowler. “A handbag is a very personal purchase as it is a daily workhorse. We believe that by using an 88 handbag you are proudly telling the world that you are committed to a better and more enlightened world.”
And while the lure of fast fashion is strong — after all, being able to buy a $15 pair of shoes every season is hard to pass up — it doesn’t stop VEERAH and 88 from pushing for affordable items that will rise above the fickle nature of trends. 88 keeps prices competitive by being direct-to-consumer with no middleman markups, and they calculate the value to the consumer by its timeless quality and durability. “We don’t want you to use our bag for a few weeks and then throw it away,” says Fowler. “We want you to love her, treasure her, and have her with you for years. We would rather people consume responsibly. In a world where no one needs more stuff, we believe that people are beginning to expect fashion to do more than make them look and feel good. While fashion has to do that, we also believe that it has to do more.”
VEERAH offers a unique way to keep pace with changing tastes: interchangeable, multi-functional accessories that come with each pair of classic VEERAH shoes. This allows you to “multiply your look whenever you need a change,” says Chang. “Buying a pair of VEERAH heels is equivalent to buying multiple pairs of shoes. Our customers can stay fashionably current and maintain a classic sophistication all at once.”
As ethical fashion grows, 88 and VEERAH strive to create high-end quality that will continue to promote changes in lifestyle. Even though you’ll find beautiful designs on 88’s website, [where they sell exclusively to keep costs down], to them it’s about much more. “We are excited about the growing understanding and acceptance of veganism and environmental care,” says Fowler. We wanted to have a voice to promote those movements to bring together people who share the same values. This is about much more than selling handbags. We see awareness and engagement growing every day, as we put our energy on ethics and sustainability.”
While Chang is also optimistic about the future of sustainable styles, she knows that in fashion, the message is not enough. “It is a brand’s job to bring high quality, great design to market,” she says. “Customers are smart and savvy. They will not shop your label just because you are ethical and sustainable. First, you must have well-made, relevant products. Then you can better raise awareness on the impact that one can make — both good and bad. Once people obtain more awareness, this will lead to change on the other side in manufacturing. In turn, I hope it will also become easier to source high quality, eco-conscious materials.”
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Be your own designer with 88 Handbags!
In a collaborative effort, 88 is offering you the opportunity to participate in creating a handbag. Check 88-eightyeight.com for their February contest — send in your design for a chance to see it in their fall 2017 collection!
88 Handbags are available at 88-handbags.com.
To shop for VEERAH, visit VEERAH.com or schedule a private appointment in their Manhattan studio in Greenwich Village by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.