Everyone knows I am a sucker for crowdfunding projects. I don't know quite why, but I love them. So, on the hunt for the perfect bag, I chatted to Rosh Govindaraj, Founder of Issara who has just commenced her Kickstarter Campaign, to delve a little deeper and find out just how businesses can make a more sustainable, ethical leather.
For anyone who uses leather goods it is integral that we source them as sustainably as we can to avoid whatever issues we can. Leather can create a beautiful product, but to minimise its impact, it is vital that it lasts, that waste is managed, animal husbandry and farming are to the highest standards, that it is free from toxic dyes and that labour standards are high. For anyone who uses leather goods, then you know how important it is that we buy with as much care as we can.
Rosh, Founder of Issara, creates stunning, New Zealand-sourced leather totes, clutches, messenger and other bags. In her current Kickstarter campaign she combines her products with tracking technology that can alert you even before you leave your bags behind. Not only does she design her products to last much longer than many other brands out there, she now has decided she wants to help us to never lose them too!
Head over to the Issara Kickstart campaign
The truth is, if we are aiming to buy sustainably - we need to buy less, buy less often and buy better made. We need to more closely assess our leather goods and find a way to avoid some of the ethical or sustainable issues along the way.
Now if we can combine, as Issara has, long-wearing, well made, luxury leather with a seriously improved supply chain to ensure better sourcing, environmental and waste management and ethical working conditions, (and I can't lose my bag!) then we are onto something good. Even better, if we are not paying for a brand name, but rather a well-made product and fair wages.
We discussed these points and many more in the chat below.
PHOTO BY HANNA PUSKARZ
Issara Messenger Bag
Firstly, can you tell me about the story behind Issara? When did the business begin?
I got the idea when I was on a dive boat in Indonesia (June 2014) and spotted a bag on a guy sitting next to me.
It was beautiful, and looked like it could withstand anything.
So I asked where he got it and ended up accompanying him on a trip to a leather workshop where I had my own sketches made into a gorgeous bag for daily use.
I was hooked – it was so much more special than just picking up something from the nearest store.
I figured that I could use the power of the internet to bring that joy to people from my part of the world too. That was my bingo moment. I quit my job three weeks after that.
PHOTO BY HANNA PUSKARZ
Issara Tangerine Tote
What is the inspiration behind your designs?
I design with simplicity in mind. I want to build a lifestyle brand that emphasises high quality and longevity.
I subscribe to the philosophy that we should be buying pieces for a life time of use, items that provide years of joy and simplify daily life by elimination decisions.
As such, my designs are minimalist and largely unisex. The collection intentionally doesn't follow trends so that you can use them season after season. Logos are discreetly tucked away and we place a lot of emphasis on details such as the type of stitching, the exact colour and weight of the lining (it’s a stunning blue-grey, which always gets compliments), and built in features like business card holders in the Messenger.
You place a lot of emphasis on longevity and quality. How do you create products that last?
I wanted to create pieces that exuded quality and craftsmanship without being covered in logos. To ensure the longevity of our products, we source aniline, full grain leather from the same tanneries supplying luxury Italian fashion houses. This is the strongest part of the hide and has been dyed all the way through rather than using cheap hides that have been buffed and spray painted to hide imperfections. Every aspect of the bags has been carefully selected to ensure we create products that last a lifetime e.g. luxurious cotton twill lining, Japanese zippers and hand polished hardware.
PHOTO BY HANNA PUSKARZ
Issara Mocha Weekender
You source all of the leather for your bags from New Zealand. Can you tell us more about the farming and sourcing of your leather?
We source our raw hides from New Zealand where the animal welfare and husbandry standards are high.
The farms supplying our hides have strict animal welfare assurance requirements. The family owned tannery processing our hides is compliant with ISO14001 (Environmental management system) and is BSCI certified.
We’d ideally be able to ensure that all our hides are a byproduct of the food industry, but the opacity of the industry means that unfortunately we cannot guarantee it at this point.
Leather has gained attention for its environmental and ethical issues in production, from toxic production methods and even the working conditions. How did you go about solving these issues in your own production chain?
Thankfully, in recent years, the situation in general has improved in large part due to sanctions on regions that failed to comply with environmental standards. This has helped to reform the industry. But there still remain some major issues and you have to be very careful in what you choose.
Our tannery is audited by the Leather Working Group which ensures that strong environmental and social standards are complied with. In particular, this includes assessment of tannery dust, waste water, water treatment, environmental standards and chemical use.
Further, for us, tannery goes beyond “tick box” compliance and undertakes additional voluntary audits to ensure that the environmental impact is minimal.
Our tanneries are compliant with international environment standards and our packaging is eco-friendly. Our leather is free from AZO and disperse dyes (water insoluble dyes that escape conventional wastewater treatment processes), accessories are nickel free and linings are AZO free. We make every effort to minimise our environmental footprint and reduce the use of non-recycleable plastic in our packaging.
Our workshops also comply with SA 8000 and BSCI, which are social initiatives that promote a fair living wage and working conditions to the people making our products.
More importantly, beyond these certifications, I have spent months on the ground with our artisans. I know first hand that working with us is providing them with a dignified livelihood – they receive fair wages, health insurance and interest yielding savings plans to secure their families’ future.
You have talked about the trade off between real and ‘fake’ leather when it comes to ethics and impact on animals and people. How can leather be ethical?
Leather is an interesting industry: on one hand, leather can last a lifetime. It is what so many of us use for shoes, belts, wallets and bags and is used in incredibly hard-wearing applications like saddlery.
Leather goods can be repaired and used for generations in some instances. In essence, when made properly, this can be more sustainable than petroleum based products that wear out and need to be made, can be subject to high chemical use processing and can have a big impact on the wider ecosystem.
The flip side, however, is that when not made with care, leather goods can have devastating environmental impacts. In particular when proper controls aren't in place in relation to any disposal of waste. This is something we focus on in our supply chain.
I've chosen real leather over “vegan leather” or "pleather" as the latter is incredibly harmful for the environment, and as a result wildlife, in how it is sourced, produced and then disposed of. Pleather (usually PVC or polyurethane) are petroleum byproducts and have a markedly greater impact on the environment and consequently people.
Conversely, environmental regulations for leather production have become much more stringent over the years and the negative reputation surrounding the industry, yes, does still exist in some regions, but, it can be avoided by careful monitoring of supply chains and strict controls of processing and waste.
For me, it is important that leather goods last much longer and therefore can be more sustainable in the long run.
Congratulations on launching your Trackable Bags Kickstarter campaign. Can you tell us more about it?
Keeping in line with the desire to create long lasting, luxury quality items that simplify your life, we’re launching a tech-enabled collection on Kickstarter.
Technology has positively impacted so many aspects of our lives that it simply made sense to combine it with the items we carry every day.
So I reached out to every reputable tracking technology company I could find (around 7 of them) and tested devices from each one.
We chose to partner with the world leader in tracking technology (Trackr) due to the superior functionality of their tracking device, mobile app usability, ultra slim profile, anodized steel case and easy replaceability of the batteries (this was very important in keeping with our sustainable ethos – there are popular trackers out there where the entire tracker has to be replaced and this doesn’t sit well with us).
Was there a particular event that made you want to be able to track your bag?
So many events! I had my work laptop stolen by an ojek driver (motorcycle taxi) in Jakarta once – I still remember chasing after him in heels for a whole kilometre (it didn’t work, he got away). I recall several lost/stolen bag and wallet scenarios from my travels.
And who can’t relate to running out of the house then realising (a little too late) that they’ve left their wallet behind at home? Our new collection makes all of those scenarios play out in a much better way.
How does the track technology work? My first thought, was how far can I track it? Or what happens if I lose my phone or computer in the bag? Can I track them then?
Our smart luxury collection is discreetly embedded with Trackrs that are powered by Bluetooth and crowd GPS.
You’ll be alerted before leaving things behind or can use the mobile app to find your bag/wallet after it is lost or stolen.
I particularly like the reverse tracking feature that lets you ring and locate your phone using your Issara bag or wallet even if the phone is on silent. The Bluetooth range is 100 feet, after which it switches to worldwide crowd GPS.
The family share feature allows you to grant friends or family access to your Trackr so if you lose both your phone and bag, you’ll still be able to track them using your partner’s phone.
How much are you seeking to raise from crowdfunding, how long does the campaign run for and what can people get when they support you?
We need to raise £15,000 (A$25,000) to help pay for the technology, new leather colours and product styles being introduced.
Being a small, bootstrapped business it would make a massive difference to our artisans’ to be a part o something like this. They’ve never done anything like it before and are so excited by the potential.
The more we raise the greater the range of products and colours we can introduce, and the bigger the impact to our people. We’re also looking into implementing a more structured give back program involving the education of girls in the region.
Anything last things you would like people to know?
You can head over and back Issara's Kickstarter campaign here!
Read more on the data behind more sustainable and ethical leather on our blog.