Interview by Anja Streicher
After going vegan four years ago, Theresa had no trouble finding vegan food options, from vegan burgers, sweets, vegan options very everywhere. But finding fashionable vegan accessories like belts, shoes, and bags was more challenging. Out of her own need for beautiful and cruelty-free designs, she started her own company with Fiona Mitchell as Head of Design. OSIER bags are designed and handmade in Europe with factory based in the heart of Bucharest, the capital of Romania, chosen to reduce air miles and the CO2 footprint of our products. OSIER continuously strives to improve every step of our manufacturing process, using sustainable, eco-friendly materials while keeping our eye out for new, innovative vegan leathers.
We talked to Theresa about her story and what it is to run a sustainable and ethical business.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and the story behind OSIER.
I went vegan after seeing documentaries (the movie ‘Earthlings’, free to watch on YouTube) about animal exploitation almost 5 years ago. The food portion of being vegan was easy: vegan burgers, fries and pasta are great options! What was more challenging was finding fashionable vegan accessories like belts, shoes and bags. Out of my own desire for beautiful and cruelty-free designs, I started my own company 2.5 years ago, with Fiona Mitchell as Head of Design. Our bags are designed and handmade in Europe. The factory is based in the heart of Bucharest, the capital of Romania, chosen to reduce air miles and the CO2 footprint of our products. As a company, we are deeply committed not only to the animals and our planet but also to the people that work for us and make our products. Which is why we chose to manufacture in Europe in a factory with excellent facilities, standards and certifications. The same goes for our packaging, dust bags and every other item that we make. We continuously strive to improve every step of our manufacturing process, using sustainable, eco-friendly materials while keeping our eye out for new, innovative vegan leathers.
Everybody is talking about sustainable fashion at the moment, but there is no just one definition of it. What is your definition of sustainable fashion?
For us at OSIER sustainability is a journey: taking step after step towards a more sustainable supply chain/ manufacturing process/ material and so on. But this journey is never done. Because I firmly believe that we can always do and be better and there are amazing innovations appearing left and right and it’s our job as consumers and businesses to educate ourselves, strive to be better and lead by example.
You are based in Amsterdam with your team but you travel to the UK very often because of work. Have you noticed any difference between fashion trends and consumers in terms of sustainability in fashion here in the UK and in The Netherlands?
I love London, it’s my favourite place in the world and thankfully, my job allows me to travel here quite frequently! :) Both cities have amazing initiatives around sustainable fashion and a great vibe!
In my experience, citizens of both places, London and Amsterdam are very forward thinking people who strive for innovation and a green future. The biggest difference might be in style: In Holland we like the no fuzz combination of a white T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, now in autumn paired with a raincoat! ;) The London style is more elevated.
Where do you see the future of fashion going?
Being such a big polluter, fashion will need to step up its game - drastically. Luckily, the awareness around not just the environmental impact of the industry but also its problems around supply chain transparency, animal exploitation, workers rights and fair wages has increased through the internet, especially through social media and amazing organisations such as Fashion Revolution. I believe that following these trends, we will see an increased awareness and demand for fairly produced, lower impact fashion products.
I also believe that merging skills and innovations of other industries, especially the tech industry will help us making major progress. Our team for example is looking into implementing blockchain technology into our customer experience to show customers where exactly the parts and materials of our products are sourced and where their purchase was made and under which conditions. I want us to lead by example.
What projects are you currently working on?
We are currently looking into creating our own, sustainable vegan leather along with two very skilled business partners. This project is still in the R&D stage so it will take us some time throughout 2020 to develop and test this new material but we’re very excited for it! We are also looking into expanding our portfolio outside of the handbag and accessories category and will launch innovative new designs so stay tuned! ✭
What it’s like being a female founder and what were some of the challenges you faced running a business so far?
I find the fashion industry in general to be very inclusive and tolerant. Most of the challenges I had to overcome and still struggle with are internal ones. I had to work on myself a lot over the last couple of months since I quit my full-time job and dedicated all my time into OSIER. Being an entrepreneur is a lot less glamorous as its often portrayed. Don’t get my wrong - I absolutely love what I do and I wouldn’t want to trait it for anything but I also think that we need to talk more openly and honestly about the struggles and mental challenges that can come with running your own business. Opening up and sharing these stories of struggle and mistakes will create a more honest conversation around entrepreneurship in general and what it’s like as a female founder in particular.
This interview was conducted by Anja Streicher, Chief Marketing Officer of Women of Wearables. She is passionate about women's health, supporting women in business and is still trying to figure out how to balance motherhood and business.