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Ethical Leather Bags from Gusti

ethical leather bags

ethical leather bags

Last week I wrote about if leather could be eco-friendly, and something I touched on there was vegetable tanning as a slightly better alternative to conventional tanning.  Vegetable tanning is the use of natural dyes, such as saffron and poppy seed over conventional chemical laden alternatives, such as toxic chromium.  I don’t think the leather industry will ever be completely eco-friendly, particularly due to the huge amounts of water and resources involved in it’s production, but vegetable tanning is a positive step in cleaning up this industry.

One of the flag bearers for vegetable tanned leather in Europe is Gusti Leather, who recently got in touch and asked me to review one of their vegetable tanned ethical leather bags.  They have a lovely range of women’s and men’s ethical leather bags – I didn’t really need a new bag, but my other half, in definite need of a new bag, picked out this goat skin travel bag:

gusti leather bag

Gusti say their bags are made by small family run businesses, predominantly from goats, and are tanned using natural dyes such as saffron, indigo and poppy.  With ethics firmly at the forefront of their operations, Gusti also look to minimise leather wastage – they say when you buy their ethical leather bags then there may be cases where additional patches of leather are sewn on to their products, which they hope adds to the charm of the product, as well as to its uniqueness.

My other half’s first impressions are that the bag is really well made and built to last: they’re not the cheapest bags you can buy, but certainly not the most expensive, and it is the kind of thing that you would need to buy once.  It’s also beautifully hand crafted with soft and supple high quality leather, and really roomy, perfect for travel or for sports.  Aesthetics aside, what he appreciated the most was the repair centre, where you can send your bag to be repaired should it get damaged or develop a fault – showing that Gusti’s ethos is not built on the principles of throwaway fast fashion, but of durability, longevity and quality.

The only thing he wasn’t keen on was the strong leather smell.  We don’t own many new leather goods, so it may be that this is the norm, but it was a little pungent when he first opened it.  A few weeks in and the smell hasn’t yet dissipated – Gusti do say this smell soon goes with regular wear.  We haven’t got to that stage yet but it has definitely reduced in strength: I think it needs a good air outside on a nice windy day!

naturally dyed leather bag

To find out a little more about Gusti Leather and their ethical leather bags, I’ve got a short interview with Kerys from Gusti:

1.  Can you introduce Gusti Leather to Moral Fibres readers?

Gusti Leather is a German firm, based in Rostock. It was established in 2011 by Christian Pietsch.  On holidays to India and Morocco, the high quality of the handmade leather products in various markets caught his eye.  He began meeting directly with small family-run producers and started to set up business relationships.  This led to the delivery of their leather bags and accessories directly to us here in Rostock.

We have a small store and workshop here where customers can directly buy and repair their items.  We are also really proud to be able to offer Unique Designs, where customers can send us designs they would like to have sewn onto particular bags.

2.  Why do you use goat skin, instead of cow skin?

We use both goatskin and cowhide in our products, however, the large majority are indeed made using goatskin. The main difference between the two leathers is the thickness: goatskin is a little thinner and more flexible, whereas cowhide is thicker and not so easy to bend or fold.  It is therefore the smoother leather.

3.  Why is vegetable tanning so important to Gusti Leather?

The use of vegetable tanning is an important part of our production as one of our core principles is to remain as environmentally friendly as possible. The vast majority of our products are tanned and dyed using vegetable based solutions- completely without the use of chemicals. During this process, the leather is soaked in a water-based solution containing various tree barks (for example, Mimosa bark, indigo, saffron, and poppy) and left for around two weeks.  It is then sun-dried to give it a lovely golden brown tone. This also adds to the natural look of every item, and makes each one unique – it is absolutely ideal that no two pieces of leather look the same.

4.  What do you mean when you say your leathers are produced in an environmentally sustainable manner?

It may sound strange to some to consider leather as a sustainable product.  However, we regard our products as just that based on the high level quality that we are able to offer.  We expect that when a customer purchases a leather bag from us, this bag will last them a lifetime.  We consider our products to be investments that will not need to be disposed of after a couple of years of use: this is reflected in our prices.

Regarding the actual production of the leather, all of the skins we use are sourced as by-products of meat slaughter.  We do not in any way support the slaughter of animals simply for their fur or skin.  We use the hides from animals which are slaughtered for Halal meat production, which, when you consider the amount of useable meat and the bones/innards from each one, amounts to only around 4% of the total animal.

5. How do you ensure your products are produced ethically?  

We are really passionate about maintaining strong, ethical working relations with each of our producers.  We feel that this is one thing that really sets us apart from other leather dealers, and we like to focus on this as a form of a Unique Selling Point.

Christian regularly make spontaneous visits to the producers to ensure that they are following regulations on fair working conditions and fair pay.  Through his hard work over the past 3 years in supporting family-run businesses and providing them with safe and secure employment there is a level of mutual trust between our producers and us.

6.  What are your future plans for Gusti?

We are currently increasing our market presence in the UK and USA. Although we already ship via eBay and Amazon to these countries, we are looking to attract more customers to our own webshop.

We are simply looking to spread the word that leather can be ethical and sustainable, whilst still remaining affordable and stylish. Our new designs including leather bicycle attachments (saddles, bottle holders etc.) and promoting the use of recycled leather shows that a controversial material can be contemporary, and can be produced in a way that its wearer can be proud of.

7. What’s the best way to care for your beautiful ethical leather bags, to ensure their longevity?

Each of our items is packed and delivered with a small pot of leather balm.  This balm is colourless and based completely on plants, such as castor oil and rice bran. It can be used as often as required in order to increase the shine of the leather, and to cover or smooth out any scratches or scuffs.

eco-friendly leather bag

Thanks very much Kerys!  To find out more about Gusti Leather and their ethical leather bags you can find them here:  shop / twitter / facebook

Disclosure: Gusti sent us a bag to review – see my disclosure policy for more information.

 

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Fashion, Life & Style

Shopping With A Conscience: Everybody Warm

everybody warm scarves

everybody warm scarves

One of my favourite things about blogging here, apart from hearing from all of you and the lovely community spirit, is hearing from inspiring companies doing really great things.  I recently heard from the amazing Everybody Warm and wanted to share their great business ethos with you.

Everybody Warm is a new social enterprise (they set up in March, so incredibly new!)  run by husband and wife duo Kelly Tannick and James Mitchell.  They sell ethically made scarves and pashminas, which is great in itself, but then they go one step further and use the profits to buy blankets and other items for the homeless – hence the name!  Rather than trying to eradicate poverty – a challenge that no-one has been able to meet yet – they instead wanted to ensure that they create a long term way of providing basic supplies to those without.

Their simple but high-quality pashminas speak for themself – Kelly sent me the beautiful Sophie pashmina to model for the blog.  It’s made of 100% cotton but has a luxurious and light-weight linen like feel to it.  It’s going to be a summer staple for sure:

ethical scarves

I’ve got a little interview with Kelly to tell you more about Everybody Warm in their own words:

Hi Kelly, can you introduce Moral Fibres readers to Everybody Warm?
Everybody Warm is a social enterprise based on the idea of keeping those in need warm.  We sell ethically traded scarves and pashminas then use our profits to buy blankets, duvets and sleeping bags for those in need.  Our mission?  Everybody Warm!  As well as basic needs such as food and water, we truly believe that everybody also has the right to be warm, whatever their situation.  Being warm can make the difference between a sick person getting better, a homeless person feeling safe and more comfortable.  This is what we are all about, working to make sure everybody has the choice to be warm.

Everybody Warm is such a great idea for a business – where did you get the idea from?
Both myself and my partner James have done a lot of charity work/challenges in the past and are passionate about helping those in need.  We found that asking the same friends, family and local businesses for sponsorship on a regular basis was an unsustainable solution to the long term support we wanted to give.  This is when we thought about setting up a social enterprise that could generate its own income to support those in need.  We then moved to Cambridge and I became really aware of the homelessness around, even in somewhere seen as a ‘wealthy’ area.  I thought, if it’s like this in Cambridge, what is it like everywhere else?!  We decided that we definitely wanted to support this cause, something that we can see right on our doorstep every day and that we were passionate about supporting to make a difference.

What did you do before starting Everybody Warm?
James runs his own business, Momentum, which focuses on business development for the construction industry.  He still runs this business alongside Everybody Warm.  I have spent 6 years working with both children, young people and adults with special needs, disabilities and learning difficulties in both the private and charity sector – my background is very much in caring and looking after people!  I also ran my own successful sports massage business for a while, but my focus is now completely on making Everybody Warm a success.

What’s an average day like at Everybody Warm?
I’m not sure we have discovered what an average day is for us yet!  We work on building our social network presence, and interacting with as many people as we can.  For us this is a really important part of getting out there and telling people who we are.  We also have to deal with the orders each day and getting them posted as promptly as possible!  Behind the scenes we are working on new ways to promote ourselves to a larger audience and get more people to hear about what we are trying to achieve.  We have been out to different radio stations, and had interviews with the local newspaper.  We are also currently looking at ways to expand our range so we are looking into suppliers for fair trade materials and trying out new designs…  Trust me this is harder than it sounds! (But a LOT of fun!).  Overall it’s just about making sure that each day we are taking steps to keep Everybody Warm moving forward and growing.

Can you tell us about your upcoming project with WinterComfort?
We already had connections with WinterComfort for the Homeless, a Cambridge based charity supporting those that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.  We thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to give our first donation to the people working on our doorstep, and those that inspired us to get started in the first place.  We have scheduled to donate to WinterComfort in July, funding sleeping bags for the homeless people they support.  As it is our first donation it won’t be massive, but we have to start somewhere right?!   After this we will look to get our next charity/donations scheduled and we are keen to get relationships built with national, and even international charities to reach as many people in need as possible.  But that’s a little further down the road, and we won’t ever forget to support those right outside our front door.

Why was the need to sell ethically produced scarves important to you?
We felt that there was no point supporting one group of people in need if you weren’t helping others involved in what we do!  We are trying as much as possible to make sure everything involved and relating to our social enterprise is as ethical/sustainable as we can.  We like to think in the long term we can create positive outcomes for everyone involved with Everybody Warm, and will continually strive to achieve this.

Where do you source your beautiful scarves and pashminas from?
Our current scarf and pashmina range is ethically sourced from cooperatives in North India.  We are currently looking to expand our range of designs available and are looking into new suppliers of fair trade fabrics and other avenues to make this happen.  All I can say is, watch this space!

Everybody Warm is a very new business – how would you like to see it grow and develop in the coming years?
We would definitely like to build relationships with a few key charities that can help us reach those in need directly, and ensure our donations are as relevant and effective as possible.  This is something we are really keen to aim for and will be working towards this throughout the year.  I personally would love for Everybody Warm to become an established, recognised brand known not only for selling pretty cool, fair trade scarves but also for making a difference and standing up for what we believe in.  I want our customers to know what we are about and join us in supporting the homelessness cause, even if it is just though buying one of our scarves.

Thanks very much Kelly!

Photos for Moral Fibres by Sam Williamson, a highly recommended professional eco-friendly photographer, based in Edinburgh.

Disclosure: Everybody Warm sent me a pashmina to model, but all words and opinions are my own.  See my disclosure policy for more information.