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Meet Kathleen Kuo

Meet Kathleen Kuo

Tell us a bit about yourself

Woman wearing a black jacket and carrying an opus mind orange bag

Although both of my parents are from Hualien Taiwan, I was born in Brussels because my dad received a full scholarship to study art at l’Académie des Beaux Arts. 

I grew up speaking French but continued my schooling in Los Angeles after I was 15. So I truly feel ⅓ Belgian, ⅓ American & ⅓ Taiwanese. 

I inherited my father’s artistic inclination with a love for design, but mostly because I see it as a problem solving process. 

Framing the problem and finding a solution for it is what draws me. 

What is the story 

behind Opus Mind? 

Before Opus Mind, I was working for Chanel, which is an amazing couture house with a beautiful story.

But after working in the fashion industry for close to a decade, I was getting more and more frustrated with the lack of initiatives around sustainability. 

In 2017, I was personally conflicted with the problem of waste and seeing the challenges of large companies to adopt changes, I took the plunge and started Opus Mind.

I was convinced that giving proper communication and awareness, the modern consumer will choose a product made sustainably. 

Opus Mind was created to stand for sustainability and in this quest, I decided to focus on one specific complicated area: leather.

Leather has a deep rooted history with the development of civilisation, but the industry has expanded so quickly in the last 2 decades that it is no longer just a by-product of the meat industry. 

We now know the climate impact of a global agriculture footprint, and many movements target the issue by creating alternatives to it.

But as I made research around vegan leather, I was surprised to find how unsustainable the actual material is.

Because I was personally confronted with waste in my previous role, and with my experience with production waste in the supply chain, I knew that there was an opportunity to lower waste and create more sustainable material. 

I converged with the principles of the circular economy movement, which starts with system thinking and basically pushes to extend our existing resources as much and as long as possible.

Knowing the possibility to divert waste from landfills by creating new material in a sustainable way with a low emission process seems like a solution worth pushing. 

I’m often asked what Opus Mind means.

Opus comes from Latin and means a large scale composition. For me it represents our planet, it is a large scale canvas where we can design a system that will beautify it.

Mind is a derivative of Mindfulness, which advocates for the awareness of our impacts, being mindful of our choices. 

Kathleen Kuo and her team in Florence to discuss the Opus Mind bad design

What motivated you 

to become an entrepreneur? 

My family has always been in entrepreneurship, starting with my Grand-Father in Taiwan.

But, I also recognize the power of collective talents under one company vision and the ability of scaled impact with pooled resources. 

I decided to jump into entrepreneurship in 2017 after being frustrated with years of pushing for more sustainability in large companies.

Now the tides have changed and the awareness and willingness to prioritise these issues are present.

I see entrepreneurship as another problem-solving process where you discover new ways of combining resources to create a new product, service, process while extracting value to propel the company forward.

My motivation is to set parameters that align with my values, such as sustainability and transparency. 

A woman wearing a purple dress wearing an Opus Mind purple bagpack

What are the main challenges 

of being an entrepreneur nowadays?

The challenge is to constantly be creative in trying new ways to reach the audience. 

We’ve seen the consolidation of channels these past few years and digitally, there are only a handful ones where everyone is on it. 

Therefore, you are competing for screen time with some more mature companies which have more resources to push you out. 

So finding creative ways to connect to customers, to engage them is key to differentiate. 

2 women creating an opus mind brown handbag in their factory in Florence

What does sustainability 

mean to you?

One of the challenges in communication is that sustainability is very broad and encompasses a lot of issues. And so it can be confusing to the public when a product or company only states that it is sustainable. 

Your question is great because not a lot of people ask where I stand on this and how I define it. When you think about the word ‘sustainability’ it means the ability to perpetually continue to ‘sustain’ by meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs of the future generation

And that can be arranged in 3 groups: environmental need, economic need and social need. 

I look at the UN 17 Sustainable Goals to understand that in order for our world to be sustainable, it is not only to tackle environmental issues.

With Opus Mind, I tackled one problem, but it is far from the full spectrum of sustainability.

Woman in grey dress carrying an Opus Mind black bag to go to the university
A woman in white shirt presenting a beige Opus Mind bagpack
A hand on an Opus Mind orange bag pack

At Opus Mind, you are using only upcycled leather to create your bags.

Can you tell us a bit more about what upcycled leather is 

and why you decided to use it?

Originally, when I started to find a sustainable solution for leather, I contemplated vegan leather or plant-based leather.

Vegan leather turned out to not be very environmentally friendly and plant-based leather was not very stable yet. A lot of innovative materials have been improved over the past year. 

In 2017, I came across a vendor who was also innovating in his upcycling process and I liked his approach.

So, I use RecycLeather, a certified upcycled leather that diverts scraps of leather from offcuts of a glove factory and recycles into a new material. 

The reason we call it upcycling is because the process turns the original resource into a better material and extends it considerably.

The certified upcycled leather is waterproof, scratch-resistant, lighter and more durable. 

My intention was to create quality designs that were durable and environmentally friendly, while fully utilizing existing resources.  

Woman in a factory in Florence assembling an Opus Mind bag using upcycled leather

How do you see 

the future of fashion?  

Woman wearing a white dress and white jacket carrying an opus mind chain zip crossbody

I was always a bit skeptical around talks about slowing down the industry.

That is until this pandemic hit and it halted all industries. 

My take is that the future of fashion is going to split into two segments:

first the second hand market is going to grow with more qualitative retailers who understand the emotional experience consumers seek.

But second is the advancement of a circular fashion where governments are going to start implementing regulations for accountable practices around environmental footprint. 

Also, consumer expectations will rise and demand disclosures around sustainable practices and brands with honest communications will come ahead with their support. 

What do you do to remain mentally sane 

during this strange confinement period?

I meditate! Ha!

I am still a solo-entrepreneur with Opus Mind and my production lies in a small family-owned factory in Florence, Italy. Needless to say, everything stopped and I have taken this confinement pause as a time to reflect. 

Mindfulness is a huge part of my personal growth journey and it has helped me dive deep into what is my purpose, my motivation.

Truthfully, my mission has always been to create more awareness of sustainability, but I haven’t fully expressed my stand on it. 

It’s a working progress and with Opus Mind, I am evolving it to include more sustainability stories from other brands or people who I find inspiring.

Like Sceona, an amazing brand with a clear mission. I would love to collaborate in the near future and find ways to amplify the community of sustainable brands.

A woman wearing a black dress wearing an Opus Mind orange bagpack

Anything you loved lately? 

A book, a movie, a brand, a story?   

Lately, I’m working on several projects about Conscious Branding.

Branding was my very first field right after college, before getting into fashion in Paris.

But now, tying it with my years of experiences (yes I’m old..) I find my way back to it helping other startup brands defining their message and amplifying it. 

During my research about messaging and conscious branding, I discovered an interesting book, dug into the author and utterly fell in love: the book is called “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesie, a cartoonist for The Spectator and a book illustrator for Oxford University Press. 

Here is the Youtube link.

The book is a graphic novel about a boy, a mole, a fox and a horse. It’s about their friendship, their conversation, what they think about life, their fear, their dreams, their hopes and what they struggle with. 

What I love is the pure raw emotions that Charlie has illustrated, which appeals to each of us, no matter your age.

Because of my work with conscious branding, it demands a dive into our fundamental values and our view of life, using our vulnerable emotions into a force to drive our mission forward. 

Different size and variety of upcycled leather put on a table
4 saddle crossbody with different colours from the brand Opus Mind
A grey bag from Opus Mind

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