The Mind Behind Mashu Bags: We Talk To Creative Director Ioanna Topouzoglou
Hi Ioanna! Let's talk about Mashu: how was the brand born? What's the story behind the brand?
The brand started first as an idea when I was working in the fashion industry specifically in leather goods. When I became vegan I felt that working with animal materials contradicted my beliefs so I started looking into leather alternative brands. I realised there wasn't a big selection of brands out there - three years ago - that made bags and accessories I would like to wear.
When I delved more into my research I realised that leather isn't only harmful to animals but also to people and in general, to our planet. This made me become even more passionate about making a change: I then decided to do my Masters degree on sustainable textile design at UAL Chelsea college of Art. That is where my brand idea and research developed even further. By the end of the course Mashu was born - I registered my brand officially in November of 2017. I wanted to make beautiful, cool bags that also did good; using the best sustainable alternative to leather materials and also focus on how they were being made.
I was inspired by my amazing classmates during my MA, during which we had discussions about the fashion industry and its unsustainable practices: we would all try and find solutions within our different practices.
Your brand prides itself of being completely sustainable, from the main materials to the linings. How did you find the process of researching and producing the bags?
It was so hard at first. It took me a year to research what materials I want to use and how to use them. Especially because I wanted to make structured bags and the materials I wanted to use where not thick enough. We had to find appropriate backers and glues that don’t contain animal derivatives and that are also sustainable. At first our production factory thought I was crazy: why go through all this trouble when I can use real leather. However, after plenty of trial and error and many conversations and samples later, we were happy with the outcome and my production team seemed to understand more about us and our materials.
Nevertheless, the research never ends, I keep looking for new materials we can use and its so exciting because there are so many innovations coming out we are spoiled for choice! For example: grape leather - a material that comes from grape skins, a waste product from the wine industry - or lab grown leather… the list goes on! It is indeed a very exciting time to be a sustainable brand.
Your production is based in Greece, which is also your home country. What were the reasons behind the location choice and has it affected the bags production somehow?
Being Greek myself I wanted to support Greek artisans and enrich local economy as well as promote Greek artisans through our products. In the beginning it was hard to find them as most of them don’t have any online presence but by word of mouth I was lucky and found our current factory.
Our bags are produced in a small family run factory in the centre of Athens by two brothers. Mr Niko is in charge of the business side and Mr Kostas handcrafts the bags along with few other artisans there. We also produce our packaging and handles in Greece and I am so happy to work with such talented and happy people. It has slightly affected the production, seeing as most of these artisans are so old school, the only way to contact them is over the - landline - phone: they have no WhatsApp or Skype and only recently started using email!
Do you think it has become easier for brands now to find sustainable ways to produce?
Yes, it definitely has. We have so many options when it comes to materials and so many ethical production methods to find within EU and Worldwide. The only difference is that most of the time these materials have a higher cost and this is why a lot of sustainable brands are quite expensive. But I think that’s good because it stops people from excessive purchases. We shouldn’t buy things all the time. Saving and investing in one or two things you really want will be more meaningful and exciting.
Would you say your mainly targeted customer is a person who's possibly already living a sustainable life? Some brands like Reformation as we know don't like to push the vegan or sustainable quality of the products in their marketing strategies whilst others do - like Everlane for example. How do you see Mashu in this perspective? Do you want your customers to always be aware that they're purchasing sustainably?
I initially didn't mention much about being vegan, only that we are an ethical brand. I didn’t want to push the sustainable and vegan aspect too much because I felt I would deter non vegan customers. But after a chat with a very inspiring mentor, I followed her advice and do the opposite: she felt I wasn’t sharing the brand’s story and its true identity enough.
I decided to be proud of who we are and state clearly what we do. I am always a little cautious of not pushing it too much and sounding preachy. But I also think that the way customers purchase products is changing especially within our millennial generation. They want to buy something meaningful and with a story behind it. An engaging story that resonates with them is far more enticing.
Your designs are inspired by a combination of Greek and Deco designs, which are so so lovely! Is this something you'd like to keep for the future collections or do you see it changing any soon?
Thank you! I think this is part of our aesthetics now and cannot see it changing. Even though designs will evolve naturally and I am sure there will be some change later on. I am hoping to experiment with more intricate designs and silhouettes though. But I also want our designs to be recognisable. So each new design that we release people would be able to say “that’s a Mashu bag”. Especially because we are not big on branding our bags with a logo, I want it to be distinguished from our handles or certain signature details and aesthetics we use.
Where do you see Mashu going next?
We are showing at London Fashion week showrooms this week and I am so excited to show Press and Buyers the new collection! We are also going to take part in the Maiyet collective pop up shop at the Conduit next month which I am so excited about.
But as for new ideas I am working on making wallets, card holders and embroidered straps we hope to release before Christmas!
If we go very far down the line of where to go next I would love to start making shoes as well!