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mila, ana-maria, mariana

17 April 2021

L’autre Sac – Vegan leather from car windshields!

Mariana is one of the two founders of the vegan leather accessories and bags brand, L’autre Sac.  We interviewed her on the occasion of the launch of a brand new collection, whose production method will surprise you!

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background and how you met your partner Mila? 

I worked in a big company for 15 years, nothing to do with fashion!  I was in the world of the book, of the edition.  I was in charge of e-commerce, internet sales.  I wanted to do something that could contribute to the betterment of society.  And since I am Colombian, I wanted to do something that was related to Colombia.  I had the opportunity to start L’autre Sac three years ago.  I knew Mila, my partner from my previous job. Mila has a creative profile, she studied in London.  We hit it off right away.  I took care of the marketing side and she took care of the creative side.  Ana Maria, my mother, took care of the coordination of our production in Colombia.

At the beginning of L’autre Sac adventure, it is three women :  Mila in London, Ana Maria in Bogotá and me (Mariana) in Barcelona

mila, ana-maria, mariana

Mila (left), Ana María (center), Mariana (right)

So far, what vegan materials are you using to create your leather bags and accessories ?
We have always wanted to design our bags with alternative materials.  To offer consumers something different from animal leather, but that is also ecological and responsible.  This is very complicated because there are very few alternatives.  What we know today as vegan leather is plastic.  The production is very toxic.  To produce it, you need polyurethane or PVC. We started with cellulose pulp.  Which is a vegetable material.  It has been used for ten or fifteen years to make bags and interior decoration objects.  It can be put in the washing machine.  The advantage is that there is no plastic and that the material is biodegradable, but the disadvantage is that being biodegradable, it is an alternative only in the medium term.  We wanted to move towards a very very long term alternative.

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Vegan leather bag made from the transformation of cellulose pulp.

You are launching today, a new collection of bags that look like leather, but are made from car windshields! It’s hard to believe when you look at the pictures, as it looks like animal leather! How did you get the idea to create a bag from car windshields? It’s very unexpected!

From what we know today, you need plastic, a polymer, so that the bag can hold up over the very long term and be very close to the appearance of leather. Finally, what we are looking for in a bag is that it is durable! So the only durable alternatives that exist in vegan leather involve plastic. What we wanted was to find a way, a way to take advantage or reuse plastic that already exists. And not have to recreate plastic from scratch.

After years of research in the laboratories, we managed to find this new material that looks like leather in a very impressive way. It’s plastic, but recycled, we call it PVB.  It’s what you can find in car windshields.  So it’s plastic waste that already exists.  The advantage of PVB, so windshields, is that it’s a recycling technique that we’ve been using for some time… There’s a lot of research going on.  So we didn’t start from scratch, not knowing if it would work.

We knew it worked for creating carpet, but for leather, this is the first time this material has been used.  It’s a really strong material, which brings durability to our bags.  You can scratch it, even with a dish sponge…  I tried it!  And it holds! There are no scratches.  It allows a lot of things, the durability, it’s an important value for us.

This new collection, with this material, is made in Spain by a family workshop that includes two generations of craftsmen.  They specialize in luxury and pay great attention to detail.  We wanted to create a bag that could last a lifetime!

The bag is non-polluting and durable.  It can be passed on from generation to generation or resold for a long time.

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How is the research aspect, for the realization of your creations ?

At the beginning we tried to make research requests to universities or labs in Colombia, but it is very expensive and very complicated.  We could not afford to continue like that.  So we revised our model to work on materials that are already somewhat developed.  So we went to see laboratories already positioned on materials.  We did a lot of trade shows, research, etc.  To meet the collaborators in person.  It’s important to meet and see the people we’re going to work with.
laboratoire éthique recherche végan cuir végétal sac accessoires slow production
 We want to work with labs that share our values.  The labs we work with send us samples as they do their research.  When we come up with something satisfactory, we buy the raw material from them and pass it on to our workshops.  When we started with cellulose, it took a lot of time for the workshop employees to adapt their production methods to the use of this new material.  The process is long.  For example, the Rosa Bag, our new bag, has already been in development for a year!

So far you only have one bag model made from this new material, how do you plan to develop the collection? 

We’re going to start with a small capsule production. We have the star product, the Rosa Bag, which is available for crowdfunding. The Rosa Bag is the result of three years of experimentation and research of the brand. We have really evolved in three years. At the beginning we just had a backpack version, which evolved into the Rosa Bag, which is convertible. It’s a backpack, which turns into a more elegant bag for work, but also a weekend bag. The idea was to develop a versatile bag that could be used in many different contexts.

 

We also have other references that will be released in a few weeks. There is a very simple, minimalist, timeless tote bag. There will be a scarf that can dress the bag, if desired. There will also be a bag, a little smaller than the Rosa Bag, which is more coquettish, with more meticulous details in the aesthetic work. Finally, there will be a series of accessories, a cover for the computer, a small case, a small purse.

In the future, we will mainly use this new material. We may continue to use cellulose, but mainly PVB. At the same time our research continues to improve the raw material, and we remain open to the use of new materials. We really want to offer our customers the cutting edge in terms of eco-friendly vegan materials. We are convinced that this is the beginning of a great revolution in production and consumption habits and we want to contribute to this!

Your first production workshop was in Colombia, in Bogotá. How did you choose this workshop?

We used to produce in Colombia until Covid.  We were working with a workshop that hires women in vulnerable situations, who have been in prison or who are disabled… Things that prevent them from finding a job.  We were working very well with this workshop, but because of Covid, they focused their production on designing masks and clinical protection supplies. So we put our collaboration on hold until Covid was over.

colombie bogota atelier éthique végan slow production éco responsable social femmes réinsertion

Clothing workshop in Bogotá committed to the reintegration of women in precarious situations

For this new collection, you told us that you were working with a Spanish workshop. How did you select it?
For us, the workshops are more than just garment workshops. We need people who know the garment industry and are sensitive to our values.  They have to be willing to invest with us in the design of models using new materials, and be able to adapt their way of working.  We also pay close attention to how the employees of these workshops are treated.
In the textile industry, it is not uncommon to find conditions that are not very respectful of human beings and to have non-existent or precarious work contracts.  In our Spanish workshop, 40 people are hired with long term contracts, full time.  This is quite rare after all!
We were sensitive to this, but also to the fact that it is a family business on a human scale, where the concern for artisanal know-how and its transmission is central.

Our idea for the future is to multiply the workshops we work with, but that they are always involved in an ethical way of working and production.  We also want to reduce our carbon and greenhouse emissions in order to remain consistent.  Multiplying collaborations with workshops around the world will allow us to consolidate the economic anchorage of ethical workshops while decreasing our carbon footprint.

At the same time, you finance a project to support the education of Colombian teenagers, can you tell us more about it?

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Even though we’ve come to a bit of a standstill in our collaboration with the Colombian workshop, we continue to participate in funding education for Colombian teenagers.  It’s really something that’s at the core of our business philosophy.  We are a small brand founded by women.  And it’s very important for us to support the education of teenage girls in underprivileged or developing countries.  We really believe that education is something important to create new opportunities.

I am Colombian, so I have a very intimate link with this country. I am very close to a foundation that gives a very high quality education, which is not the case in the popular environment in Colombia. This foundation gives a high quality education in an extremely poor neighborhood. We give them a part of our profits to support one of their programs, which allows 14 and 13 year old girls to continue their studies. This is a very critical age, as there is a very high rate of pregnancies or dropping out of school. We want to help create opportunities for these girls. Even though we are a small brand, we are very invested in funding them. But the bigger we get, the more we can support them. By diversifying our contributions, like through crowdfunding campaigns, we can continue to grow and support them in a bigger way.

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Foundation Ana Restrepo del Corral in Bogotá (Colombie)

Where does this very concrete commitment come from, which can easily be described as feminist?

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Mila (left) and Mariana (right)

Yes, yes… You can say feminist!  I grew up in Colombia and it wasn’t easy to be a woman and have professional ambitions and do different things from what exists as an opportunity for women.  Even though things have progressed a lot – I can’t compare the opportunities I had, with those of my mother’s generation – it is still very restricted, and difficult in all environments.  Even in a liberal environment like the corporate world, being a man or a woman is really not the same.

I was lucky enough to be born in a rather privileged environment where I had access to education.  This is not the case in very poor environments.  I always had the feeling that… you don’t deserve the place where you were born.  I didn’t have the extra challenges that women who are born into a poor background have.  And that gives me an obligation to do something to help.  We don’t all have the same conditions at birth.  It’s not like in Europe, where public education provides a common basis.  That doesn’t exist in my country, in Colombia.  I have always felt the need to do something to contribute and help.  This is my personal motivation as an ambitious woman who has a business that will be very successful one day!

 

One last question, how can our readers support you in the different struggles you are leading through L’autre Sac ?

Buy it!  It’s that simple, just buy!  Give us the opportunity through our bags to do more.  Right now, we have a crowdfunding campaign for the Rosa Bag. It would help us a lot if people would participate by buying our bag!

 To participate in the crowdfunding campaign: click here

You will also find the other creations of L’autre Sac on  Kreamondo.

végan cuir éthique éco responsable L'autre Sac

Rosa Bag – new vegan and eco-responsible collection of the brand L’autre Sac

 

 

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