Vicki von Holzhausen began her career as a car designer at Audi and Mercedes Benz. But last year she struck out on her own, launching an eponymous luxury handbag line that stands out for deploying the most sustainable practices in the industry. She sources her leather from Italy, ensuring that it is a by-product of the food industry and is tanned in the least toxic way possible. "Many fashion brands are beginning to think about sustainability, but this isn't trickling into the leather goods space," she says.
Ultimately, she decided that the most sustainable leather was no leather at all. The problem is that she found most "vegan leather" in the fashion industry did not feel like the real deal: it was too shiny and too plasticky.
This is when her experience in the auto industry turned into a big advantage. It turns out that car makers are deeply invested in developing cheaper and more sustainable leather alternatives for car seats, since a single car requires 20 hides. Von Holzhausen went back to her industry contacts and worked with a manufacturer to develop a polyurethane-based material, which she is calling Technik-Leather, that has the supple, buttery handfeel of leather, without any of the toxins and waste. She says many of her customers begin by purchasing a leather product, but are drawn to the Technik-Leather range because it feels like leather but is less harmful.
"I want to innovate," she says. "We're just as much a tech company as a fashion label."