If you watch Dragons' Den, you're aware how virtually impossible it can seem to get in the picky investors' good graces. Company after company, founder after founder flounder and falter in the Den, falling prey to the merciless grilling of the Dragons.
Not FRIDA ROME.
By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist and vegan fashion expert.
Best friends and savvy entrepreneurs Rebecca Joy and Natalie Deana, whose stylish offering has been coveted by vegan fashionistas around the world, managed to grab the attention of businessman Steven Bartlett, bagging them the investment they came for. “We went into the process without any expectations,” say the entrepreneurs. “We were simply thrilled to just have the Dragons’ compliment the bags on the quality; that would have been enough for us. We never anticipated that we would also walk away with an offer.”
Post-Den, things have been intense. “The response after the show - from so many people from all walks of life, not just vegans - has been overwhelmingly warm and positive,” continue the founders. “The fact that people have been in touch simply to tell us that they love what we’re doing has been humbling and continuously reminds us that we’re on the right track. “
And it's easy to see why. FRIDA ROME's WEEK/END bag is the antithesis of the pared-down, simple, “nice” tone that has been at the core of the ethical fashion movement during recent season. The brand for “bad girls who do good”, Frida Rome's launch piece is the epitome of edgy chic – a polished yet tough design with rock-star appeal. And the brand's rebellious streak is not contained to the bag's exterior. On the inside – raising many eyebrows in the Den – an excerpt of an erotic story is found. “It's a little reminder of the rebel side of the woman who wears it,” the entrepreneurs have explained. “It’s the perfect conversation starter...or something to keep for yourself.”
But any “badness” is limited to the look: FRIDA ROME's material choices are as kind as can be. The brand focuses on cactus leather, a sustainable material created by Mexican company Desserto. This biodegradable material, which is crafted from the Nopal cactus, is the most coveted material in sustainable fashion right now. “It has its challenges but also its benefits,” say Natalie and Rebecca. “We are incredibly grateful that we have been able to find a better solution to ‘pleather’. We were losing hope in the research stage, worrying that nothing was going to give us the luxury imitation leather feel that we were aiming for. Cactus leather was a real ‘eureka’ moment.” The founders fell for the material for many reasons: “Cactus leather has so many great qualities about it. Not only is it extremely soft and supple, the grain is really beautiful. It’s easy to work with and the off-cut waste when manufacturing our products is so minimal. When you compare it to animal hides, the meterage is consistent so our artisans can cut so many panels from each metre, without having to work around the natural irregularity inherent with real leather.”
At the core of their business success is the founders' long-lasting friendship. Having lived on opposite sides of the world for over ten years and maintained a strong bond, it was during one of their many spontaneous trips – this time to Morocco, in 2018, where “we joked that we'd gone to 'find ourselves'” – that the idea of starting a brand together was born. With a background in events, marketing and advertising, vegans Rebecca and Natalie came up with the idea of creating a handbag brand that would be kind to the environment, animal-free, and luxurious. Their respective backgrounds – Rebecca has had a career in events and video production, and Natalie was an advertising producer – were a good foundation for getting the brand off the ground. “We started with the basics. It had to be vegan and the business would also need to provide the wealth - or even just the platform - for us to support animal welfare. Then we had to ask ourselves; What excited us? What were the problems we wanted to solve for consumers like us? The idea to create a luxury vegan lifestyle brand evolved organically.”
Aesthetically, FRIDA ROME was a departure from the “holier-than-thou” appeal of many other vegan accessories at the time. “Since becoming vegan, we realised that we couldn’t find any accessories that captured what we’d loved about designer brands when ethics wasn’t a factor. “At the time, a lot of what was available felt a bit ‘safe’ and didn’t have that masculine edge to it. We felt as though there was a misconception that if you’re vegan, you must be 'saintly'. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with that idea, we just felt that nothing spoke to us as individuals, and we didn’t want to lose our sense of character with the choices we were limited to when it came to styling.” The label's Seventies-inspired, edgy style definitely has character, and it's among the qualities that are winning them fans in the Den and beyond.
And out of curiosity: what does the name FRIDA ROME mean? The entrepreneurs go back to their history for the answer. “For nearly twenty years we had kept our friendship, despite the distance - always relying on each other for a bit of escapism. Spontaneous meet-ups took place in New York, Bali, Europe and beyond. We like to live life to the full, and it is this ethos of freedom, fun and friendship that we have infused into FRIDA ROME; always be ‘free to roam’.”
Shop the FRIDA ROME collection at Immaculate Vegan.
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. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Images via FRIDA ROME
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