A few days ago, I was contacted by a Swiss bag designer, Tanja Schenker. She told me that she was about to launch a vegan collection of luxury bags made from apple peels. I was amazed and curious to learn a bit more about her project as I am always looking for brands that are respectful of humans, animals, and the environment. So, when we meet I asked her.
Can you tell us a little bit about you? Where are you from and what sparked your interest in fashion?
I’m Tanja Schenker, 28 years old and from Switzerland. Fashion has always inspired me, the ability to transform your look, fitting for the time of day or your mood. Fashion allowed me to express myself. Working in a fashion agency, I simply loved the buzz of seeing creations come to life and serving their purpose.
How did you get into bag-making, when and how did you start?
Whilst working, I gained insights into the bag market and saw trends appearing where simplicity and flexibility were becoming important. It was then in 2013, lugging around my favourite backpack, my handbag, and my clutch, that I thought “how cool would it be if I could just stick these together”. One bag which was made of multiple bags.
Where do you get this taste for luxury accessories?
I got it from my mum, you should see some of my childhood pictures!
For me, quality and style go hand in hand. Personally, I prefer buying something classy, long lasting and timeless. For me, this is a way of ethically consuming instead of staying “on-trend” and having to replace my wardrobe every year or two.
How would you define your signature style? Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
My signature is the “Genie” part on all of my designs. I’ve created the ‘’Genies” to grant wishes to for other women. A luxury product that is functional, transformable and with you for a long time.
My inspiration for new shapes and functions come from the problems that women have with their bags, mainly the flexibility. The colour design inspirations I get from nature, travelling, interior design and architecture.
My style is to do more with less.
How has your work evolved since you began your own label? why and when did you shift from animal leather to leather-like material made from apples?
The original “Genie in a Bag” was patented and launched in 2015. Made from high-quality leather, I looked for the best materials and manufacturers. The process of sourcing the leathers in 2014 was an eye-opener… I was shocked at what I saw and smelt and led me to become a vegetarian. The launch was successful and sales were great, I had also become a vegan by the end of 2015. Going into 2016 I decided that I wanted to take the “Genies” vegan and to follow the same path as me. It took quite some months to find a material that was different to the usual vegan alternatives. We tested many exciting materials, and towards to end of 2016, we started working on our first line out of apples which is being launched now.
This new material made from apples is just incredible. Can you tell us a little bit more about it? Where is it manufactured? How did you come up with the idea of using it?
The material is made from the waste of apples from the juice industry. The Apples grow in Bolzano, Southern Tirol, Italy. After juicing, the leftover fibre gets dried and ground to a powder. This is being delivered to Florence where they mix it with colours and apply it on a canvas to make a leather-like material.
After researching and testing quite some materials, as well as discussing with other people in the fashion industry, I finally came to find this great story of apples.
What are the characteristics of apple leather? Because it’s a new material, how can we be sure that it will be wear-resistant, especially for bags?
The developing process of the material took almost 10 years since it was invented. They have spent a lot of time testing the material and adjusting the quality to perfect it. Personally, I wear our first prototype since a year, I love to scratch it with my nails to demonstrate how wear resistant it is, and occasionally spill water on it to show water resistant it is!
Why would the manufacturing process from apples be less polluting than others and especially with regard to dye? Do you have any eco-friendly labels?
We do not plan on getting lots of labels at present, mainly due to the fact that they cost money, which would increase the prices our customers have to pay. There are many on the market, the good thing is that we have all areas of our supply chain confirming that the material/components used are vegan. That is important in making sure that the bag is truly vegan and not failing on something as simple as the pigmentation in the thread.
Your bags are beautiful but quite expensive. What are the reasons for that?
Expensive is a tough word, especially when you compare to some faux leather or PVC/PU bags that are on the market. We aim for the same quality that is expected of high-end labels, and how we produced our original line.
To create a vegan & cruelty-free product means more to me than not harming animals. I also don’t want to hurt people nor the planet. Producing under fair working conditions in northern Italy and sourcing highest quality materials locally has its price. For example, the cost of the material is more expensive than traditional PVC. We also used palladium for our metal components, including the magnets, which is nickel and allergy free. Finally, sweatshops would never be an option for me!
Within a week, you will launch a crowdfunding campaign. How is this going to happen? What will you use this money for?
Crowdfunding is our market launch. We have had so much interest in our activities in the last weeks prior to launch. We want to give an opportunity to our customers to start their happy genie collection at a fantastic price. The money will be used for manufacturing the orders.
Where will it be possible to buy your bags?
What have you planned for the coming months? What are your visions of the company for the future?
Firstly, deliver our orders that have been placed. Luckily everything is ready, it is just a matter of communicating to our supply chain and letting them get on with it.
We have some exciting charity events planned, for example, for a children charity where will we auction their paintings that are printed on our bags.
Mid-term, we are working on new prints, the online shop where you can configure your own and possibly have your own account as a genie fan, allowing you to share your collections and create wish lists.