Behind the Brand: Bohema

Edgy yet effortless, dark-glamour brand Bohema looks like the opposite of what you'd expect a vegan fashion brand to be. Awash with stomping-friendly biker boots, chain-strap bags, and everything black leather, it's a far cry from the granola-hippie stereotype. Having showcase their modern-rebel designs at Vegan Fashion Week, founders Sebastian Szypula and Wiola Wertel make catwalk-ready designs that are coveted due to their style factor, not only because of their ethics. We talked to Wiola about her story and journey towards international runways.

By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist, and vegan fashion expert. 

Both Wiola and Sebastian come from creative backgrounds. "Before we built Bohema, Sebastian was an art director and designer, and I was a copywriter, screenwriter and PR specialist," says Wiola. "Since the beginning of our careers, we have been involved with the world of art, design and advertising, which has helped us a lot to create a vision for our brand and to create its coherent communication." And it's that vision that in many ways sets Bohema apart. The pair clearly divide the tasks between them: Sebastian is responsible for the visual sphere and all shoe designs, while Wiola, who has a background in journalism, PR and copywriting, is in charge of communication, social media, PR and marketing. "Together we create a coherent strategy for our brand," explains Wiola. 

Bohema founders

Bohema stems from a desire to unite style and ethics. "From the very beginning, we wanted to show through our projects that fashion not only can but also should be vegan and cruelty free," says Wiola. "It is simply a reflection of our values ​​that guide us on a daily basis. We are both vegan and we treat our brand like our child!" (laughs). 

There is also a sense of following in family footsteps, as Wiola explains that Sebastian's family has been making shoes for generations. But in Bohema's case, there is the added layer of innovation. "From the very beginning, we knew that our brand had to be vegan, but also sustainable. Our first collection included several models made of pineapple leather.

Later, as soon as we learned about cactus leather, we took up the challenge to create the world's first shoes made with this material – and I must say that the beginnings were not easy," remembers Wiola. "Each shoemaker had to learn how to make shoes anew in a sense, get to know this material in order to extract from it the best. In subsequent drops, we introduced shoes made of Vegea grape leather and corn leather." And more is coming: "We already have our eye on new materials and this is just the beginning."

Bohema boot

Challenges arose for the brand during the pandemic, which Wiola recalls as a difficult time: "We were all confined to our homes, the situation was precarious, and frankly no one was thinking about buying shoes, much less paying attention to sustainability. People were uncertain about what would happen tomorrow. This moment made us understand that running a business is going to be a sine wave and we always have to have a plan B, so at that time we also pursued other projects that allowed Bohema to survive." Certainly this was the case for many small businesses – a few of which would not survive. But Bohema's edgy style and attention to quality saw the brand ride out the wave and emerge even stronger.

Today, the company's biggest challenges lie in public perception. "The biggest challenge for our brand, but also for other vegan, sustainable brands, we think is the challenge of educating customers. It is very common for us to encounter denial of data-backed information regarding the harm of animal skins, or accusing the materials we use of not being sustainable. I think the hardest thing is to convince people to make a change, to make an alternative, but we accept this challenge, because we believe that vegan products are not only the future of fashion, but of the whole world."

Bohema Mary Janes

When asked about a typical day, it quickly emerges that there is no such thing. "Honestly, every day in a fashion brand is different. Sometimes we spend twelve hours in front of the computer planning marketing campaigns, sometimes it's a day in production - checking quality, discussing new models, making corrections. For the marketing work, this involves meetings, brainstorming and planning current activities, as well as team supervision. I think it's hard to define our typical day, because what is most interesting about running a brand is the lack of routine."

To keep their vision alive, the masterminds behind Bohema have a clear vision of who their ideal customer is. "The ideal person for whom we design is, above all, a person aware of various aspects, not only of ecology or sustainability, but also of their style. We create for people who are looking for the highest-quality designer styles. We create for people who want to manifest their values through what they wear. Our dream, which we are slowly fulfilling, is that our shoes will reach not only vegans or conscious shoppers, but also everyone, so that step by step we can encourage them to change. That's why we care so much about design."

 By Sascha Camilli

About Sascha

Sascha Camilli is a vegan fashion writer, speaker and activist. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, you can read our interview with her or read her newsletter Faux Deluxe. You can also follow her on Instagram, X and LinkedIn.

All images by Bohema

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