In view of dwindling resources, especially through resource-intensive natural fibres like cotton and the environmental impact of petroleum-based fibres like acrylic, polyester, nylon and spandex, it is about time for the textile and apparel industry to look for sustainable alternatives..
Is it possible to make a material out of apples that does not only look surprisingly a lot like leather but also feels like it? “Yes, it is“, confirms Tanja Schenker, founder of the sustainable and vegan handbag label Happy Genie. She adds though that the road from idea to finished material was not an easy one. “I was looking for a suitable material for almost a year”.
Until a designer friend mentioned a TV documentary about the inventor of a new sustainable material made of apples and who lived in Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy. This sounded good to Ms. Schenker's ears and she spent a week on the phone before she tracked down the inventor's mobile number. When it turned out that he happened to be in Zurich where Happy Genie is based, things finally seemed to fall into place and both met up the very next day.
A material in between leather and synthetics
The rest was not history but merely the starting point for the real work: “I needed to do a lot of persuading to convince our Italian manufacturers that the effort was worth it”, says Schenker. Even though they liked the idea of a sustainable material in general, the raw material was very different from what they were used to – leather. Much work went into it and the beginning was quite a bumpy road. The first prototypes did not look very appealing”.
But because Schenker was such a driving force and had a strong vision of what the finished product should look like based on the material she had seen in Bolzano, soon the not so appealing prototypes became beautiful luxury handbags whose material amazed even experts as it seems to be somewhere between leather and synthetics.
“The great things is that there are so many apples in Bolzano; which means, there will always be enough of the raw material,” adds Schenker. Also important were the short distances between each manufacturing step, placing Happy Genie's entire value chain in Italy: The apples are grown and juiced in Bolzano, the leftover fibre then dried and ground to a powder. A factory close to Florence mixes it with colour and a binding agent before it gets applied on a canvas to produce an innovative material, which gets its leather look through embossing. A family business in Varese, five kilometres away from the Swiss border, then makes each bag by hand. Even the metal components, which are completely nickel free and palladium plated, are made in Italy.
Those interested in the handbags can order them through the label's Kickstarter campaign (happy-genie.com), which wants
to reward early adopters with discounts and plans to build a fan community. The first finished bags will be delivered in March 2018. In the future, there will be more pattern and print options, collaborations with artists and the brand's own online shop.
By Simone Preuss – Fashion United Edited by Richard Smith