It can be argued that bags are that extra something, that cherry on the cake that truly set an outfit apart. A perfect handbag is that accent piece that takes a look from okay to “wow!” and has the potential to make heads turn. For a long time, vegans have been left out of the game as fashion's favourite handbags were traditionally and rigorously made from animal skins. But for a few years now, game-changing brands have been doing their best to challenge the status quo by offering covetable designs free from animal-derived fibres. One of these brands is Miomojo, based in Bergamo, Italy.
By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist, and vegan fashion expert.
This sustainability-focused handbag brand was founded by entrepreneur Claudia Pievani, whom we were lucky enough to grab for a chat – in between celebrations of the brand's 10-year anniversary and their corn-leather collaboration with PETA, Claudia and her team sure have been busy. That's right: Miomojo has been bringing its sleek, subtly sophisticated designs to eco-conscious consumers for a decade.
As the brand breaks new ground, Claudia reminisces on her beginnings: “I have always been exposed to fashion, as my mum had a small clothing shop where I had to help out from a very young age. I was involved in going to wholesalers to select the items, storing, labeling, and preparing the goods once they came into our small warehouse in the backyard, as well as helping out in the shop every time I was off from school.” Growing up with this backdrop left its mark not only on Claudia's future entrepreneurship but also her personal style. “My mum had a fixation for making me wear the red and other bright colours, and of course I developed a total dislike of strong shades growing up. I absolutely love refined hues and what I call non-colours. To this day, I don't wear red!”
During the brand's 10-year anniversary, Claudia reminisces on the beginnings of her business. “The early days were enthusiastic, time-consuming, frustrating, and totally absorbing every minute! It was and it still is – and I guess always will be – a wonderful learning process made up of successes, failures, obstacles, re-directions, new approaches, and lots of resilience and flexibility at the same time. Plus, no one talked about recycled materials or donating to animal charities back then, let alone not using animal-derived materials or toxic fabrics! I felt like E.T. on Earth many times.”
If you're wondering what “Miomojo” means, there is a story behind it – and it's one with international influences. “The name Miomojo comes from the English expressions 'I lost my mojo', or 'I got my mojo back'. When you have your mojo, you are in a state of bliss, very inspired and feeling that all your dreams can come true. I added 'mio' which means 'my' in Italian, et voilà! I later discovered that in a South African dialect, 'mojo' means lucky bag, too.”
And lucky bags they have indeed been. “In the awakening that has taken place in the last couple of years, everyone is talking about sustainability, using non-toxic materials, and so on. Now we are a B Corp and no one is looking at me with a condescending attitude anymore. However, this has always given me the strength to continue. You know the saying: first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you – which happened to us with the leather industry attacking us a couple of years ago – then you win.”
The journey had its challenges. “It was hard finding factories and partners willing to believe in my vision and embrace the future, instead of holding on to the past,” remembers Claudia. But being an early adopter paid off, and now Miomojo is leading the way in an area that is infinitely inspiring to many: new-gen materials. Working with fabrics such as vegan leather made from apples and corn is something Claudia is very enthusiastic about: “We are using materials that didn’t exist until two-three years ago. This year we tested basically every leather alternative on the global market, including mushroom leather: a highly innovative, lab-grown material that is infinitely renewable. All of them use less land, less water, and fewer resources than animal leather. Overall they are a smaller burden on the planet, and they save lives. Plus, they are so beautiful, inside and out!”
As a vegan label, Miomojo knows that reaching out to a larger audience is key for amplifying its message. “We are a vegan brand, but we want to also reach a non-vegan audience – a consumer who wants to adopt a more conscious lifestyle and pays attention to what they buy. We want to attract design lovers as well: consumers who like beauty and design. We want our audience to understand that nowadays alternatives to animal leather exist, and they are not only kind and sustainable, but also attractive. We aim to prove that a recycled product, or an innovative alternative to leather, could compete with the traditional offering both in terms of quality, functionality, and aesthetics.”
What's a typical day in Claudia's life? “There is no typical day in a day of an entrepreneur. That’s the beauty and the curse of doing this job. Every day is filled with new challenges, new obstacles, and luckily also new opportunities. In a small company you need to wear so many hats that you rarely have the time to sit and just reflect on new strategies. But every now and then, this time needs to be taken in order to reassess the trajectory or redefine where we are and where we are headed to. To this end, there is a lot of teamwork among the different departments. On a typical office day, we also manage to do a morning meditation.”
Claudia's vision for the future of fashion is one that many of us can align with. “I dream of a totally ethical fashion system that protects everyone: humans, animals, and nature. I dream of a kinder world, something I feel we all could benefit from.”
By Sascha Camilli
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.
All photos via Miomojo
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