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Fashion does not have to come at the price of life. While high-quality leather is deeply unsustainable, synthetic materials and the harm-causing to the environment is no longer trendy. Natural vegan options are coming to stay, and with brands like Arture, they are made to last. Its cork and hemp accessories pay tribute to nature, art, design, and animals. For each bag, you support the love for them.
We talk to Shivani Patel, the designer of Arture based in India. She tells us how much the industry is changing, her personal growth and experience, and how we all should make conscious decisions, not just when launching a product, but when purchasing fashion. She presents the first collection of cork and hemp accessories. We hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did!
Shivani, what is your background?
I studied Accessory Design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Chennai. My specialization was in footwear and leather goods and my dad used to be in the leather export industry. That’s how I developed an interest in accessories.
What was the tipping point for you ladies to start the brand Arture?
As I got more and more into designing these products I noticed a huge gap in the market. All the high-quality lifestyle accessories were made using leather. If they weren’t leather they were usually not of good quality and made using synthetic materials which are really bad for the environment. It was really important to us to show people that vegan and eco-friendly accessories CAN be fashionable, well-designed and made to last. Discovering cork fabrics was the tipping point.
What is the mission of your brand?
Arture’s mission is to be a caring and compassionate organisation that strives to create fashionable, sustainable and functional products with a story to tell.
What materials do you use for the bags?
Our main material is cork. We source cork directly from the Mediterranean which is where the cork forests grow. Cork is one of the most ecological materials of its kind – for so many reasons! It is the only tree whose bark you can harvest, without doing any harm to the tree. The bark regenerates over the next 9 years only to give you bark again and again for 200+ years. When the bark is harvested, cork trees suck tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the environment. The process of harvesting it is also very sustainable, and it’s an art passed on from generation to generation. Functionally, cork is soft to touch, durable, waterproof, anti-fungal, and extremely lightweight.
Other than cork, our newest collection saw us introducing Hemp and Nettle fabrics, both from the Himalayas in India. They are both carbon negative crops, use at least 400 TIMES lesser water than cotton crops, and 100% organically cultivated. They’re woven by hand and support small farming communities, providing them a livelihood.
Seems the cork and hemp accessories are made with loads of love, how does the production process look like?
When it comes to sourcing, I try to always source materials that are as sustainable as possible. I check the root sources and production process of each raw material (linings, reinforcements, hardware, and threads). I try to use as few synthetics as possible. We’ve partnered with an NGO called Yein Udaan in Chennai who uses some of our wastes and scraps to make key chains. They provide employment to women of lower-income communities, bettering their lives.
Our packaging is made with handmade paper (which does not come from trees). They’re made from recycled cotton rags.
We have seen your brand is aligned with minimalism, how do you conceive this revolutionary lifestyle and how does this apply to the designs and production of the bags?
As a designer, I am in love with the concept of minimalism. I think it’s not just in the aesthetic but in every aspect of the brand.
Firstly, I believe in slow fashion and designing quality products that last. Slow fashion helps us be more minimalist as consumers, rather than always shopping based on the newest trends and fads.
I also love minimalism as an aesthetic and try to subtract things that do not serve a purpose. I like having functional elements that add a bit of surprise as well.
In terms of production, we try to never overstock and always produce based on demand. We have small production runs rather than producing in bulk.
What sort of clients do you have and how do they appreciate your products?
We work with a lot of boutiques and stores worldwide and the support has been phenomenal. We have formed such wonderful bonds with many of them and they truly believe in Arture and everything we stand for.
With respect to customers who have bought directly from us, they have loved the products and spoken about them. So many of our sales happen through word of mouth and that makes us feel like we’re definitely doing something right.
You have a large range of cork and hemp accessories for women and men, could you please detail what we can find in your store and if you have a top best seller at this moment?
We predominantly make wallets, handbags and travel accessories for men and women. Our best sellers have always been the Arden Minimal Wallet, Gale Slimfold Wallet and Kim Clutch Wallet.
Have your cork and hemp accessories earned any certification?
We are a PETA-approved Vegan brand.
Do you give back some of your profits to any organization?
Yes, we are partnered with ResQ, an animal charity based in Pune, India. We love the work they do and the care they provide to the animals that they foster. Every purchase on our site goes towards helping an animal in need – in the form of surgical or healthcare equipment, food, etc. You can see exactly what your purchase goes towards each of our product pages.
Could you please provide some data worth sharing on the impact the brand has made?
Since Arture has been in existence, we have sold wallets and handbags that have used close to 3000 square feet of cork in total. To put things in perspective, if we were to use the same amount of leather, it is equivalent to the leather from 63+ cows/buffaloes; or 350+ pigs; or 465+ goats/ sheep.
But, aside from the cruelty angle, we have contributed to this much less leather being produced in the world, and the leather industry is one of the most polluting.
Most leather is tanned using Chromium Sulphate. One of the biggest leather industries is in Kanpur, India (you may have seen this mentioned if you have watched The True Cost). Every day, 50 million liters of highly toxic tannery wastewater is generated in Kanpur. Only 20% of this water is treated before being released into the surrounding water bodies like the Ganges. The untreated water is laced with dangerous levels of chromium, lead and arsenic causing many fatal diseases in the inhabitants of the area.
It’s a shockingly scary industry and we just want to do our part in any small way so that people know that there are better alternates that are safer for animals, people AND the planet.
What have been your challenges as a social entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur in general, the biggest challenge has been facing days that are filled with fear and doubt.
You kickstarted a campaign on Indiegogo, how did that go? What was the most remarkable learning from this experience?
Oh, this was easily one of the craziest and most wonderful experiences of my life. My biggest learning was more on a personal front – I learned to put myself out there. I was a very shy person my entire life. The crowdfunding made it necessary for me to put my work out in the world, be vulnerable, but also proudly say – ‘Look, I made this’, you know? I grew so much as a person and learned to be proud of the work I create.
One of the key distinctions most of the social entrepreneurs have in common is that they tend to collaborate. How do you perceive collaboration and how has it helped your business?
Collaborations are wonderful and they’re exciting because you get to work with people who think differently and learn so much from each other. We have done one collaboration – with a sustainable clothing brand called Anna Sun. We have more lined up for this year and can’t wait to show you guys!
You are based in India. How does a social entrepreneurial venture look like there? Do you feel there’s a change happening in the country?
There is SO much change happening, and it’s a great time to be doing this. People are getting more conscious of customers and movements like the Fashion Revolution are really educating people to the world over the impact of the fashion choices we make on a daily basis. In the last year, I’ve seen so many wonderful brands crop up, and so many people wanting to make any small difference they can.
What has been the greatest success of the brand so far?
I can’t pick one, to be honest. There have been so many beautiful moments. But the first thing that comes to mind is each and every email or review we get from a happy customer. It’s heart-warming and reminds us why we do what we do.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to other businesses trying to make a difference for good?
Sometimes it can get overwhelming, especially when starting up because you want to get everything 100% right. I would say, try to get as close to 100 as you can, but don’t beat yourself up. Start, dive in, and ensure that you keep making small changes to get you closer and closer to that 100%.
If you could write a message on a big wall that the entire world could read, what would it say?
Choose quality over quantity. Please.
Finally, where can we find you? Shops, online, worldwide…?
You can find us on our website and we offer free worldwide shipping!
Is there any other similar brand you know or are curious about? Comment below, and we will make it happen!