Tell us a bit about yourself
I was born and raised in Mannheim, Germany. Throughout my life, I have always been very passionate about animals and high-end fashion.
Academically, I followed the typical business career path. But there was always something missing – purpose. So, during my master studies in Management, I founded my sustainable, vegan brand Melina Bucher.
I dream of establishing an animal foundation and one day, living on a farm, surrounded by lots of rescue animals.
Besides that, I absolutely adore Italian food, a glass of nice white wine and espresso from the portafilter.
How did the story of Melina Bucher start?
As a long-time vegetarian and luxury fashion lover, I searched high and low for a suitable handbag that combined luxury craftsmanship with vegan processing. During that time, I was still pursuing my master’s degree in Management, but I had already started thinking about becoming self-employed.
I began to research in greater detail and realized that, apart from the aspect of animal welfare, the workings in luxury fashion are just as non-transparent and anti-social as in other fast fashion companies. For me, the absence of values such as transparency and accountability has nothing to do with luxury - so I decided to do it differently.
After two years of extensive research, various prototyping stages and multiple material testing processes, we launched our first handbag collection.
With our brand, we are now on a mission to combine finest craftsmanship with compassion and sustainability.
Can you tell us a bit more about vegan leather (what does that mean, how it is made…)?
Many people think that vegan leather is a cheap alternative which lacks quality when compared to traditional leather. It is commonly assumed for vegan leather to feel different and to be non-durable. But it is actually the other way around.
Leather is by no means an eco-friendly good one can simply find in nature. To get the product consumers are used to, it has to go through a series of processes that involve many harmful chemicals. Not only do those make use of a lot of water and energy, the toxic tanning chemicals also pose dangers on the people involved. If we keep in mind, that the primary regions where leather is tanned are countries without adequate safety requirements, such as India or Bangladesh, this becomes even more alarming.
Vegan leather is any sort of animal-free backer material like cotton or recycled Polyester, coated with a thin layer of PU. The material we use, was developed for the automotive industry in year-long processes. It is a performance fabric that is highly durable and resistant to water and stains, yet it is soft to touch.
Besides that, vegan leather has a significantly lower environmental impact than traditional leather. In the HIGG Material Index, which compares the environmental impact of various materials in terms of climate influence, water use, energy use and eutrophication based on data from research institutes and industry, leather is classified as the third most harmful material with a score of 163. Compared to that, PU leather is significantly less harmful with a score of only 43.
Why did you choose vegan leather and not another material, like recycled leather for instance?
I strongly believe that we need to rethink how we view animals. Established habits lead us to believe that we can use other living sentient beings simply as we please – be it for food, clothing or furniture.
Recycled leather was not an option for me, as it creates an additional source of money for leather producers, which in turn stimulates demand.
Furthermore, the value chain of leather production is exceedingly non-transparent, making it almost impossible to prove where the leather comes from and whether it is actually recycled leather.
How do you see the future of vegan apparel?
Veganism is no longer just a trend. Consumers, especially those of younger generations, are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of fashion.
This translates into consumers reconsidering their purchasing decisions and looking for sustainable options.
Thus, I believe that in the long run, vegan fashion will predominate. Apart from ethical aspects, vegan fashion is also ecologically more reasonable, as the rearing and butchering of animals as well as tanning processes in leather production cause considerable environmental damage.
I really love the idea of the transparency map, how did you come up with it?
Non-transparent supply chains constitute one of the big problems of the fashion industry. A vast majority of the large fashion companies is not able to keep track of where their products come from or who is involved in value creation. For instance, a recent study found that China moved parts of its production to North Korea, where people performing forced labor produce clothes for large corporations without them even being aware of it. Now, this does not only concern fast fashion brands, as one may think, it also includes international luxury enterprises. In their sustainability reports, companies such as the Kering Group or LVMH openly admit that they currently have no overview of their value chains.
Our intention is to develop a distinct counter-model. We’ve committed to being as low-impact and open-source as possible and have therefore decided to disclose every step of our value creation chain.
However, we don’t stop at transparency. That is why we are currently working on a tracking solution in order to make our entire value creation process verifiable and traceable.
What are the main challenges you face / try to overcome today?
Many consumers still think of leather as a sign of quality. Consequently, they assume vegan leather to be much cheaper.
However, leather, apart from exotic leather, is in fact a relatively cheap commodity. If you look at the market for vegan leather, there are significantly more variations in specifications and for instance, the material we use is actually more expensive than conventional leather. In addition, vegan production (this also includes glue and colors) is still new to many producers, hence it tends to be costlier.
It is our task to educate consumers on the topic, whilst not losing sight of the fact that fashion should be fun.
Personally, I think that is the biggest challenge for all sustainable fashion brands – finding the balance between the love for fashion and marketing on one hand and on the other hand shedding light on the urgent problems of the industry.
What are some cool stuff you discovered lately?
Generally, the market for vegan materials is growing extremely fast and therefore, there are many great innovations out there.
For example, we are currently collaborating with an US start up in testing a completely plant-based material that requires absolutely no plastic parts and is biodegradable. Our major goal is to introduce the first fully recyclable handbags onto the market.
At the moment we are also working a lot with new technologies in the field of 3D visualization and Blockchain to enable our customers to actively engage with the product. We would like to take them on a journey where they can follow and experience each and every step of value creation from the raw materials to the finished handbag.
Anything you loved recently? A book, a movie, a brand, a story?
Without a doubt, Beyoncé’s speech “Dear Class of 2020” that she posted in her Instagram story. It once again motivated me to work even harder for my dreams and what I believe in.
For me, the speech is the perfect summary of the essential realisations that ultimately led me to start my own business: Believe in your dreams, work hard to achieve them, and above all be authentic and passionate about what you do.