The sustainable Californian accessories brand using 90% recycled materials

Hozen is a super cool LA-based vegan bags and accessories brand whose name means 'conservation' in Japanese. Founded in 2018, they're known for their colourful, playful designs and shapes, and beautiful vegan leathers. We spoke to founder Rae Nicoletti.

What led you to start Hozen?

It began as a creative hobby, and after a year of Saturdays studying hand leather work and pattern design under Hermés Master Artisan Bea Amblard in San Francisco, I realized I might be able to add something new to the market. Having adopted a vegan diet over the course of the program, I began educating myself on the retail consumption of animal products. The leather industry is unfair to animals, and additionally taxing on resources such as water, pollutes our land, and is toxic to workers at the tanneries. I saw an opportunity in the eco-friendly vegan accessories space, which had few players in 2018 when we launched.

How did you choose the name?

I wanted one simple word. Gender-neutral and unwavering. “Hozen” fit the bill and translates at 'conservation' in Japanese, which embodies the mission.

How would you describe your products, and what makes them different?

I launched with minimal shapes in medium sizes and colours that can be worn every day and year-round. I wanted to appeal to a vast range of customers. We are first and foremost a mission brand offering eco-friendly fashion alternatives, but many of our fans like us for our modern aesthetic.

What stereotypes exist in your industry (and how are you breaking them)?

Our biggest hurdle is making it clear that we are not using pleather. People hear 'vegan leather' and think of cheap, toxic PU. We diligently spent a year (and continue to research) sourcing materials from reputable factories that are on the same mission of going green. Over 90% of the materials we are using for our 2020 collection are made from recycled materials.

Can you tell us more about where, how and by who your products are made?

All our products are made in a fair-wage, husband and wife-owned factory in the Boyle Heights neighbourhood of LA. Cesar and Blanca also live in the neighbourhood and are raising their family there. They are meticulous at their craft and a huge help in seeing to it that we waste as little as possible. It's a plus that they are on board with my approach of small batch production in an effort to avoid unwanted inventory.

Do you think movements like Fashion Revolution create enough pressure on big brands to change how they work – and what more should be done?

I think Fashion Revolution and pressure from consumer groups to be more transparent are a huge help. I am not a fan of shaming anyone, but I notice that being a reaction of people still buying fast fashion who feel like they have to excuse themselves for these purchases. The dark side of the industry is no longer a secret, and I think if you have a good product you should want to boast all the reasons to buy it.

What’s your favourite product from your collection and why?

Right now I'm obsessed with the vegan mini duffel. These days I tend to seek out smaller and smaller bags. The great thing about this shape is that it fits everything but feels barely there.

How has the brand and industry evolved since you started?

I think eco fashion is better-supported by the media, there is more demand from consumers, and raw material vendors are getting more innovative and producing really cool, green textiles, hardware, etc. I know the term 'sustainable' is vague but it's a trend I think everyone should participate in .

What changes have you had to make since you started – and which ones were the hardest?

Switching factories is never fun, but it happened and the stars aligned and I met Cesar and Blanca.

Biggest highs and lows?

Getting picked up by Nordstrom in year one was a major accomplishment. Troubleshooting design flaws are less fun...

What drives you, and where do you get your inspiration from?

The majority of pages I follows on IG are those of animal rescues and activists. Our planet and all its inhabitants' well-being is what inspires me: plants, bugs, animals, people. I try to take the "do no harm" approach to living. To follow the passion and bravery of those trying to make a difference by defending the defenceless is what truly inspires me. To know I'm doing all I can to tread most lightly is at the root of the brand. As far as aesthetics, I start with the materials and visualize from there.

What other pioneering brands do you admire and why?

I love brands that are super transparent and really make an effort to use recycled / upcycled materials. Some of my favourites are Taylor + Thomas, Rafa, Conrado and Back Beat Rags.

The next big thing in your industry is ...

More participation by other brands! I'd love to see all the options in the traditional market space available in an eco range.

If you were doing something other than this, what would it be?

I'd run my own animal sanctuary. I would love to take in domestic and farm animals. I currently volunteer regularly at dog shelters in Houston, TX where strays and neglected pets are a major issue. I have a lot to learn and have to sell a few more bags, but this is on my bucket list.

What’s next for Hozen?

I'd like to collaborate more with customers so I can really implement their asks while developing bags. I love artist collabs too. More small goods to come. Bigger vegan bags. Baby vegan bags...

You can browse the Hozen collection here.

hozen founder rae nicoletti

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