In their use of leather, Capetonian handbag labels Thalia Strates and Okapi place as much emphasis on ethics as they do on beauty.
Sept 21, 2020
As far as it’s impact on the environment, we know that the global fashion industry is responsible for around 10% of annual global carbon emissions. With contributors to global climate change coming into harsher focus over the last few years, perhaps it's time we begin looking a little deeper into this issue.
Here are a few fast facts about fashion’s environmental legacy reported on by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation:
So where exactly does leather fit into all of this? Well, we know that leather is never going to be an entirely environmentally sound product. Bottom line is, it’s made of dead animal skin and the farming of this livestock is said to make up 18% of human produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. That being said, there’s a new crop of designers who have discovered the value in offcuts—scraps of leather that would otherwise be thrown away—and are using them to create beautiful products. Here are two such designers who are combatting the wasteful ways of the modern fashion industry, giving new life to forgotten materials, and encouraging the South African leather industry's (estimated to be worth R5,29 billion in 2016) rigorous confrontation of hide wastage and production practises.
Founded in 2014, the eponymous Thalia Strates label is an ethical, slow fashion brand focused on creating versatile, minimalist handbags with splashes of luxury. And while the use of fur and animal skins in fashion has always been controversial, Strates’ application of it ensures minimal social and environmental impact. Every piece the ethically minded designer creates is sourced as a byproduct of South Africa’s farming industry. What this means is that, since these animals are not killed expressly for the purpose of a designer obtaining their hides, the resulting carbon emissions are not affected one way or another by the designers use of these materials. This method of ethical material sourcing is now embedded within Strates’ brand DNA.
Another thing that seems to be embedded within her work is a genuine reverence for music. Many of her pieces are named for musicians that she loves, including Strates’ Lenny Messenger. Named for the legendary Lenny Kravitz, the cross-body bag is a functional choice that is roomy enough to hold all your on-the-move essentials. Made from cow leather and featuring suede lining, it’s a classic piece, one you could easily keep forever. For an option that stands out just a little bit more, the brand’s Kai or Iris Cross-Body bags are what you want. They feature all the classic elements of a Strates design (polished hardware, adjustable straps, zip-up pockets, magnetic closures) and something a little special; a striking sheath of brown and white Springbok pelage. An aesthetic celebration of longevity, sustainability and craftsmanship, each bag has slight variations of color and patterns, meaning that no two are exactly alike.
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One of South Africa’s top luxury accessories brands, Okapi was founded in 2008 by entrepreneur, sustainability advocate, and designer Hanneli Rupert. Named after the elusive animal (Okapi are an endangered forest giraffe native to the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) the label produces chic handbags and accessories, taking inspiration from nature and ideas of magic and mysticism. What Okapi is best known for, however, is their pioneering use of African game skins, such as Bleskbok leather, in the production of their goods. Blesbok leather is ethically sourced as a sustainable offshoot of South Africa’s pre-existing farming industry. “I was inspired by the Saint Laurent Mombasa bag, and wanted to do something with an African ethos, and to create something out of what would normally have been wasted,” Rupert told Women's Wear Daily, referring to the Blesbok hides, which are usually discarded. “This is meant to be a holistic brand for the conscious consumer and you’re meant to keep the bags for life,” she added. Indigenous to South Africa, the unique skin can only be treated and tanned by a select few, highly skilled local artisans in the country’s Western Cape region, meaning that only a small number of their styles are made each year.
Said to signify protection and considered good-luck charms in South Africa, Springbok horns feature on some of Okapi’s bags—including the Black Yemaja Shoulder Bag. Other bags feature hand beaded tassels and ostrich feather pom poms, while some are crafted entirely from Ostrich skin, another material that serves as a key source for the brand. “I like to leave little or no waste,” Rupert has said. “Almost all aspects of the birds are used from the shells and shins to the leathers and feathers which we use as clip on accessories.”
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