The Sustainable Accessory Designer Who Started A Vegan Handbag Workshop

"Handmade." "Artisan." "Craftsmanship." 

In the world of fashion, those are not words that, for a long time, have been connected to vegan fashion in general or vegan leather in particular. For decades, these terms, which often denote high quality, have had ties to animal skins. But one ambitious brand is setting out to change all that. We had a chat with Melina Bucher, the founder of the vegan handbag label that just opened a plant leather workshop in Germany.

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

Having become known among sustainable fashionistas for her sleek range of high-quality handbags, Melina Bucher was among the first brands to pioneer material innovation company Natural Fiber Welding's plastic-free vegan leather Mirum. Dedicated to bridging the gap between craftsmanship and sustainability, Bucher decided to take artisan vegan leather-making to the next level - by launching a vegan handbag workshop in Germany, where the brand's own bags would be made, but also where designers, craftspeople and scientists will work together to develop new materials. "The current young generation that we are seeing on the streets and in our private lives is bringing about a change," she says. "They are showing a strong interest in a sustainable future in which vegan materials play an important role. There is an ever-growing interest in sustainable materials that are less harmful to our environment, but in order to actually improve the world, we also need the relevant expertise - and I would like to pass this on."
Melina Bucher vegan leather manufacturing
The expertise of which Bucher speaks is present in her own family - but is dwindling throughout the country. "My father is also a craftsman and I really want to preserve the craft in Germany. Today there are only a handful of companies that still offer apprenticeships for fine bag makers. This is due to various factors, such as the ageing of existing businesses, the high labour costs in Germany, a lack of successors and limited knowledge of how to process new, sustainable materials."  
The aim of the workshop is to promote vegan materials, and also to foster a new generation of cruelty-free designers. "We want to provoke a rethink and show that it is perfectly possible to give up animal leather without suffering a loss of quality or aesthetics," emphasises Bucher. "It is also our aim to offer a perspective to young people who want to learn the craft of fine bag making. We want to make the profession more attractive again." And with research showing that over half of young people want to work in environmentally sustainable businesses, Bucher's atelier might soon have budding artisans queueing up.
Melina Bucher handbag workshop team

The workshop will also promote innovation - and attempt to pave a way for new-gun materials to flourish. "A huge portion of our work goes into finding the most sustainable bio-based material innovations out there and testing them for leather applications," explains Bucher. "We operate at the interface between brands and material producers, so to speak. Although some promising bio-based materials are already being developed, these are no plug-and-play solutions. Many projects have failed in recent years because brands either did not have the time or the knowledge to carry out this development work. Conversely, innovators often don't know how the materials are processed into a product. We want to close this gap by using our expertise and experience in processing new materials to develop innovative solutions for sustainable products."

Bucher's pleased with the positive attention that the workshop has received, but her main joy derives from seeing the people in the workshop flourish. "It's great to see so many talented and motivated young people interested in this profession and applying because they want to make a difference. Their willingness to think differently and take innovative approaches is impressive and through flexible and modern ways of working we want to ensure young people bring their perspective and values to work." Bucher's team is of utmost importance to her, since they are at the heart of the project. "Ultimately, I want to put the craftspeople centre stage - they often have little voice in the fashion industry, even though their work is so crucial."

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 listen to her podcast Catwalk Rebel. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

All photos via Melina Bucher.

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