For our latest interview, we caught up with Melina Bucher to learn more about what led her to create her line of vegan leather purses and handbags. She shared the inspirations and challenges involved when starting a luxury sustainable brand.
We hope you enjoy this interview — if you have questions for Melina, feel free to leave them in the comments section at the end!
Hello! Who are you and what brand do you run?
I am Melina Bucher, an animal lover with a strong passion for fashion and design. In 2019, I founded my own vegan luxury handbag business – Melina Bucher – with the vision to innovate the fashion industry in regards of sustainability and transparency.
To achieve that goal, my handbags are exclusively made of innovative vegan leather, to ensure that no animal was harmed in the production process. Having the environment and the effects of the fast fashion industry in mind, I only offer an exclusive selection of handbags, with a modern and yet timeless design, which will last you a lifetime.
I create my products for all those people, who love a good designer bag, but don’t want to take any compromises regarding sustainability or ethics!
Why did you start your company? What inspired you?
My motivation to start a company lies within my personality itself. I have always been very passionate for animals, and after having lived a vegetarian lifestyle for 10 years, I decided to go completely plant based 2 years ago. But, asides from being an animal lover, I also consider myself very intrigued by fashion.
I always admired the exceptional craftsmanship that is necessary to create a unique handbag that lasts you a lifetime, and I cherished the memories I made with my designer bags along this time. So it was quite obvious to me that I wanted to make other people feel the same way about fashion. But, I noticed that there was a lack of options for sustainable and vegan handbags with a high-end design.
I’m very thoughtful about my buying decisions, and I didn’t want to make any compromises regarding quality, design or ethics. So the idea of creating my own brand fulfilling all fashion-lovers dreams while being ethically made, really stuck in my head. And after noticing that because of a lack of other options, my vegan friends still had to buy leather products if they wanted a designer bag, I saw the need for combining my passion for animals and fashion to change the luxury industry for the better.
What were the main challenges and learnings you had? How do things compare today to when you first started?
Even though I have a masters degree in business, without any design background or network around me, I was a newbie in the fashion industry.
So getting an overview of the non-transparent fashion industry and finding production facilities eager to manufacture an entirely vegan product was overwhelming and challenging at first. Additionally, I’m a perfectionist, so meeting my own standards was definitely a challenge. Because of that, I switched my production facility three times during development.
Another challenge was that most investors are male, so trying to get an investment for a product that is mostly used by women, was difficult at first. I tried to adapt to that by presenting my product in a way that appeals to the male gaze, like focusing on technical aspects of the product and being persistent about my vision.
Today, I have a very good insight into the industry and vegan material innovations. Most importantly, I can very happily state that I have the best production partners by my side. Yet, being a founder still holds a new challenge for you everyday. It is like a rollercoaster – and because it is your own “baby”, all ups and downs feel extra hard. But it is the best thing I could have imagined!
Why did you decide to start a business in the luxury segment?
Since I am very passionate about designer brands myself, I have the same understanding and love for luxury, that many people have. It’s the well thought-through design, exceptional craftsmanship and exclusive materials that make people feel excited about luxurious handbags.
But, since designer bags are often made out of leather, a material associated with high quality and exclusiveness, luxurious handbags are usually not cruelty-free.
By developing vegan luxury handbags, I wanted to prove that vegan leather can hold up and still have the same quality as traditional luxury handbags made of conventional leather.
Luxury and sustainability don’t have to be mutually exclusive – they can be combined into a balanced whole!
Your products have very distinctive names, can you explain the background of them?
While doing research for my brand, I noticed that a lot of designers named their handbags after muses and men and women they cherish.
So since my brand is about my love for animals and strong personalities at the same time, I decided to dedicate my bags to my pets, who had and still have a great impact on my life. This was a little homage to my pets and a little hint to the food and fashion industries, that did a lot to not let us forget that animals have strong personalities too.
How do you ensure your company stays true to your mission as you grow?
Luckily for me, my mission is basically one-to-one with my ethical self-conception. I founded my business because I wanted to save animals and change the fashion industry to make it a more ethical place. So every step I go along the way, I always put my values first.
One example of this in practice is our use of vegan paper and vegan print products for marketing, and also for all paperwork in-house. This isn’t because we want to impress our customers, but simply because I could never buy something made from animals. So it is completely naturally for me. Of course, I know that this is something investors would not be happy about, as these print products cost around three times the amount of conventional ones.
Do you have any advice for people looking to be more sustainable in their consumption habits and lifestyle?
I always suggest to take small steps at the time. I think many consumers think that sustainable fashion is more expensive and that they cannot really afford it.
Of course, no sustainable t-shirt will ever cost just 5 dollars. You have to remember that real humans spent hours making this product for you and they cannot be paid properly if the end price is just 5 bucks.
So the first step I suggest to people, who want to live more sustainably is to go to their wardrobe and see what they already have. And then if they really need something, invest in a sustainable timeless piece, which will last a long time.
In addition to that remember that if you buy from a small sustainable brand, there are people being really happy about your purchase. Which is something I really like, compared to what it feels like buying from a big name.
Have you tried a product from another sustainable/ethical brand that you think our audience should know about?
Of course I tried a lot of different products from ethical brands, as (most) vegan brands I know are very collaborative!
If you are looking for sustainable designer shoes, I absolutely recommend MINK Shoes. The founder of the brand Rebecca has a heart of gold and makes the most beautiful shoes ever.
I also love jewelry from Scéona. They are working with lab grown diamonds and recycled gold to create the finest and most sophisticated pieces.
What do you think are the main challenges around sustainability today? How do you approach these on a day-to-day basis?
I feel like sustainability is such a huge buzzword. Every company releases some kind of “sustainable” or “conscious” collection. Customers are so confused and I really get that – fashion is something to express yourself and have fun with, and not everybody has the time and is willing to check how eco-friendly a proclaimed sustainable piece really is.
And even if he or she wants to – it is hard to understand. Not everyone is an expert in the field and knows how big brands hide and greenwash their unsustainable practices.
So to live in this field as a small sustainable brand is a challenge and frustrating sometimes.
For me, it does not feel right to negatively talk about other businesses, even though their greenwashing is pretty straight forward. We focus on creating educational content, so people can make better informed buying decisions. Even though I get a bit frustrated sometimes by topics like greenwashing, I remind myself that it’s still a step in the right direction if it makes more people start to care about sustainability. I think in the long run they will start to understand the brands that really stand behind these values and who doesn’t – so at Melina Bucher, we just stay true to ourselves and improve on a daily basis.
When you feel so passionate about your business, how can you keep a work-life-balance?
Is there such a thing as work-life balance? Just joking. No really, I do believe that mindfulness and listening to one’s own body is extremely important in this fast paced world. So do not believe all these hustling philosophers.
When it comes to my own “business”, as it is my true passion project, the question is never if I should work or do my private life. It melts into a unity, because I really love what I do. And I am more than happy that my partner is as passionate about it as I am, so we spent the weekends together working on creatives or enhancing the customer experience in our web shop.
But again, I listen to my body very carefully so when I need a break, I do that, spending time with friends, family and my dog and cats. I keep to remind myself, that for the projects I feel passionate about, I need to function mentally and physically. So work and self-care for me are not contradictory, but rather co-dependent, because I couldn’t maintain one while neglecting the other.
What does the future look like for your brand?
For our future, I dream of a day where our bags are everywhere a customer would go to buy a luxury handbag. So they no longer have to go through every shop and the whole internet, to find an animal-friendly and sustainable statement piece.
We are planning on finally launching our first plant-based leather collection later this year, on which we worked for 1.5 years now. As soon as the material innovators are ready to scale, we are planning to completely switch to this plant-based leather.
A big thank you to Melina Bucher for sharing her story with us. We’re looking forward to seeing the 100% plant based bags later this year!
If you want to check out the Melina Bucher vegan handbag range, you can visit their website here.