Hi Jessica! I love LUXTRA’s beautiful bags – what were your motivations behind starting the business?
Ohh thank you, Claire. The motivation was a frustration (this was circa 2016) that every nice upmarket handbag was made out of leather. I had become a vegan a few years before that and was trying to live my values not just in the food I ate, but in how I lived day to day. I was pretty upset that brands were so blasé about leather. I wanted to do something to change that.
You are one of the first brands to work with some of the most innovative vegan materials on the market. Pineapples, mangoes, tell us more…
Tutti Frutti, right!? Making a vegan product does not necessarily mean that it is kind to the planet. The faux leathers we are familiar with are made with PU (polyurethane) – a plastic made out of petrochemicals. I wanted any product I made to be as sensitive to the planet, so when I came across materials that incorporated plant materials I knew it was a step in the right direction.
LUXTRA has recently become a B-Corp – ‘a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit’. Congrats! Why was this important for your brand?
Thank you! It’s a huge achievement and I am really proud. I really struggle with the nature of capitalism, so the B Corp ethos is about doing business to make a difference and that really appeals to me. It’s exactly the way I would want to create and run a company. Having B Corp status helps me personally find and then purchase from brands that share my ethics – so LUXTRA becoming a B Corp was basically a no-brainer. It also really helps amidst the sea of greenwashing: any company that is a certified B Corp… well, they’re bona fide – they ain’t greenwashing.
Were there any hurdles or challenges during the certification process?
Goodness, so many. First of all, is the perseverance required to complete even the pre-assessment! A specific learning that I took away from the certification process was the realisation that just because you give to charity it does not mean you’re actually improving the world. The process means you have to stand back and look at the impact your donations are having and find a way to measure that tangibly. So that was a hurdle I did not anticipate; having to quantify and prove the impact.
Being part of the B-Corp community has many advantages – but what will it enable most for LUXTRA?
Yes, as much as it’s great to be part of the B Corp community, I find the most important two aspects of our membership are 1) keeping me accountable and 2) using our status to raise awareness. Let me explain:
In terms of keeping myself accountable, when I’m making a decision about which supplier to use, or where to buy our printing supplies because we are a B Corp and have to report on all of these things, I make sure I choose the most eco-friendly / socially-conscious option. Rather than using a big printing house, I seek out a supplier that eco-credentials and develop a relationship there.
Regarding raising awareness, I especially mean vis-a-vis the businesses with which we work. For example, when I asked about the amount of plastic some of our suppliers use, I felt like the “nagging annoying hippy” customer. Now, when I say that environmental impact is a really important part of our decision-making, it feels like that carries more weight with our suppliers. That they sit up and listen a bit more.
What has been the most insightful part of your brand journey?
I find this question really difficult to answer. There are insights every single day (if not hourly) and the small ones are just as important as the big ones. For example – just yesterday I realised one of LUXTRA’s shipping regions wasn’t working. It was a tiny oversight that I made a few weeks back and I was SO grateful I happened to notice it yesterday by chance. I dread to think how long it would have been malfunctioning had it gone unchecked. Years possibly!!!
So that’s probably not a really exciting answer to your question, but there are simply insights all the time.
Since its launch, LUXTRA has proudly given back via its charity initiative. Which organisations are you currently partnering with?
I’ve decided that we would like to rotate our charity partners so that we can spread the love and donations across many different sectors and areas we feel passionate about. So, up to now, we’ve donated to London Waterkeeper – a local charity to LUXTRA that aims to keep water utility companies accountable and stop them from dumping effluent directly into our rivers! The man who runs that, Theo, is wonderful. We also have donated a lot to Dress For Success, which provides workwear for vulnerable women to help get them back into the workforce. We donate handbags to this excellent cause.
You previously founded ETHOS, a meat-free restaurant in London. Did it feel any different building a brand the second time around?
There are so many similarities – it makes it “easier” in some ways. Creating a great product, providing exemplary customer service, creating an inspiring team culture – there are so many overlaps. Also, having done it once before gave me a lot more confidence to create LUXTRA entirely on my own.
Is there anything you wish you’d known prior to starting your businesses?
Oh, good question. In a funny way, I feel like the answer to that is “no”. It’s by going through the learning process that you really learn the lessons. If someone had just told me “Do X” or “Never do Y” then I’d second guess them. When you test and try things for yourself the learning is so much more powerful.