This Vegan Handbag Brand Has Roots That Run Deep
Twenty years ago, vegan dieters were on the fringes of society.
Few companies at this time had even contemplated manufacturing a vegan handbag line. Those that did exist were decidedly crunchy, or only a capsule collection within a line of animal-based goods.
Pioneering a vegan luxury brand at the turn of the millennium wasn’t easy, recalls MATT & NAT CEO Manny Kohli. “It was hard to educate the consumer,” he says, “They didn’t know what vegan was.”
A 2003 Harris poll sponsored by The Vegetarian Resource Group found that approximately 6 percent of the U.S. population identified as vegetarian, and less than half of those respondents were vegan as well. Fast forward 15 years, and the plant-based food industry is one of the fastest growing segments of the economy with robust demand for meat and dairy alternatives.
While hard-line vegans are still a small segment of the population, more and more Americans are choosing to incorporate meat-free meals and cruelty-free products into their lives.
Last year, electric automaker Tesla began offering alternative leather interiors — a move that falls in line with the morals of many electric car owners. And a top consumer research firm tapped animal-free fashion as one of the hot 100 trends for 2018.
For companies like MATT & NAT, the increased awareness around veganism is bringing a welcome boost in exposure and reinforcing what they’ve stood for all along. In addition to features in vegetarian publications, MATT & NAT’s sleek, contemporary bags have won over editors at mainstream fashion mags like Cosmopolitan and Grazia.
Initially offering only a few handbags and wallets, the MATT & NAT line has grown exponentially to include backpacks, duffle bags and luggage.
“Live beautifully” is their mantra and means “appreciating the humanity, creativity and positivity found in all of us.” Short for materials and nature, MATT & NAT is an exploration of the synergy between the two elements.
Kohli, a voracious traveler, finds design inspiration in everything around him. His love for the modern architecture of Tokyo and Seoul can be seen in the brand’s streamlined, minimal aesthetic.
Muted pallets and sophisticated lines convey a richness and luxury not often found in an eco-fashion collection, and the moderate price point makes style and sustainability more accessible than ever. In addition to avoiding animal-based materials, MATT & NAT is on the forefront of the green revolution, incorporating recycled elements into their designs.
Approximately 20 plastic bottles are employed to create the lining of each MATT & NAT handbag, which at current production levels, equates to around six million bottles a year. Cork, recycled nylons and bike tires have all factored into the label’s innovative lineup of materials, and they’re always experimenting with new technologies as the industry evolves.
Striking a balance between sustainable materials, quality construction and high-end styling is the ultimate goal for MATT & NAT. After years of trial and error, they seem to have achieved just that.
“Durability is sustainability,” says Kohli, who laughs as he recounts the story of a customer who wanted to buy a new purse, but couldn’t justify it until her previous bag had worn out.
The environment isn’t the only consideration for an ethical fashion house, however.
MATT & NAT strives to better the working conditions and compensation for garment industry laborers and is willing to take a lower margin to do right by their workers. One factory they partner with has achieved the SA8000 Standard, a commendation earned through biannual audits that verify workplace safety and equity.
Working with a SA8000 certified factory can cost around 20 percent more than other manufacturing facilities, but for Kohli, “money is not the only driver.” He would instead work with a manufacturer who treats their employees like family than rake in the profits.
“If you have a great brand and great products, money is going to come anyway,” says Kohli.
MATT & NAT has raised roughly $160,000 for charity from the sale of the Hope bag. Ranging from environmental causes to breast cancer research, customers get to choose the nonprofit recipient at checkout, and the full purchase price of the bag is donated, not simply the profits.
At MATT & NAT, social responsibility extends beyond the products they sell and into the corporate culture. Their Montreal office is a meat-free zone, and though omnivorous employees can always eat out, many enjoy the health benefits of making lunch their one vegan meal per day. Turns out, you don’t have to be vegan to wear a vegan handbag or sub a salad for an animal-based meal.
MATT & NAT’s website boasts a sweeping, yet beautifully simple aspiration for the company: “We take care of our planet as it takes care of us.”
With all of their handbags and wallets currently manufactured in a SA8000 facility, the ultimate goal is to forge partnerships with comparable factories for the remainder of their line and bring every facet of production to the highest level.
Today, each bag’s lining is made from recycled plastic, and as technology progresses, they hope to incorporate more recycled materials into the equation, as long as they meet their strict aesthetic and durability standards.
Whether it’s using post-consumer materials or finding production partners with similar values, for MATT & NAT, the process is continuously evolving.
“Even after 20 years, we are not perfect, but we’re doing our best to improve ourselves,” says Kohli who steers clear of ego in his pursuit of knowledge. “That drive never stops, we’re always learning.”