She studied fashion at a renowned institution in Italy, worked for the Dutch brand G-star, and started her very own ethically produced label, Tototè studio earlier this year, while the world was in lockdown. Young entrepreneur, Laurèl Bodenhorst Meyer is incredibly passionate about sustainable fashion, has a knack for quality materials, and knows an awful lot about both. And as sustainability in business has never been more important than it is today, we sat down together – with appropriate distance of course – and discussed what drove her to start her own business, and how the Pandemic has forever changed the way we see fashion.
“With the developments that are now being made and the transparency that is being demanded from companies, we learn more about the things that used to be hidden from us.”
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Earlier this year you launched Tototè Studio, a line of ethically produced, luxury laptop sleeves. How did this idea come about?
Well, my desire to start a sustainable brand started while I was studying in Italy at Polimoda, where I got my master’s degree in fashion. There, I gained a lot of insight into how the fashion industry really works. Seeing how much injustice is going on, really made me think twice about wanting to work in fashion. I came to the conclusion that I really did wanted to work in fashion, but needed to find a way to be able to do something that I can be fully supportive of. So, I spent hours and hours in the Coffee Company with my laptop, thinking about how I was going to shape my brand. It became reality a year and a half later.
You have quite a unique concept. Can you tell us a bit more about the production process?
All bags are made of upcycled leather, leftover mainly. Much leftover leather from major fashion players is stored in warehouses and is no longer touched. They only use the ‘best’ part of the leather – usually with a specific texture – which leaves a lot of great material unused. They keep this quiet to protect their businesses as of course they don’t want to be open about the fact that they generate so much waste. Or worse, that it gets into the public that a lot of leftover garments end up in incinerators. Luckily, there are middlemen who buy up this sequel and sell it to small retailers like myself.
In addition to the upcycled exterior, all linings are made from vintage scarves: another upcycled part of the product. And the best thing is that, because of that, every bag is unique. To complete the ethical cycle, everything is locally made here in the Netherlands by newcomer-refugees.
Where does your interest in sustainability come from?
I’ve always had a love for quality fabrics and vintage items. It certainly didn’t have to be expensive, as long as it was of good quality so that it would last a long time. I found some extraordinary pieces in vintage shops. It didn’t matter if it was too big a size. I would bring it to the tailor who made it fit to size for a few bucks and had a perfectly tailored top-quality blazer. When I found out how beautiful it made me feel to wear such pieces, I never wanted anything else.
In addition, I discovered more and more about what is happening in the world in the fashion industry during my studies. For example, it came to light a few years ago that Burberry had burned millions of euros worth of clothing – leftover clothing – because it had not been sold. Stuff like this makes you think twice before buying.
We live in a time of crisis; we cannot really ignore that. Fortunately, our awareness around sustainability has only accelerated during the COVID pandemic. This has led many companies to see the need to choose long-term sustainability over short-term profit. What do you think: are we on the right track or are we gradually returning to “the old normal”?
We are definitely on the right track, but we are far from there. Sustainability of a brand must be authentic. It’s also why it is twice as hard for a company built without being sustainable, to become renewable overnight. It is certainly possible, but it takes a lot of time and money. I think that with the developments that are now being made and the transparency that is being demanded from companies, we learn more about the things that used to be hidden from us, and will act accordingly. One of the reasons this is happening is that companies now all of the sudden have time to start thinking about how they are contributing to the problem. I don’t think that this will immediately be pushed off the map as soon as we can resume normal life. Of course, there is a chance that when stores re-open, the pandemic is over and the train of life will head speed again, companies will see fast and easy made money, pushing them inevitably back into old habits. Only time will tell…
Consumers have become increasingly aware of “greenwashing”. Do you think the fashion industry is ready (or able) to produce sustainably from start to finish?
Becoming transparent is the number first step that has to be taken to review how a company works from start to finish. Nowadays, greenwashing is becoming increasingly difficult because the consumer is on top of everything and there are more and more restrictions to be named ‘responsible’, for example through certificates or CLA’s, which are not possible to receive when a company is not passing the tests. Shouting that you’re thinking about the environment is easy, but doesn’t mean squad. Luckily, companies today have to show whether they practice what they preach.
To give an example, H&M is very high listed on 2020’s transparency fashion index. They are well on their way with transparency and mapping out how things are being done. They’re not doing well, but at least now they are open about it. That is the first step in de right direction. At this very moment, I don’t think it is possible for fast-fashion chains to become 100% sustainable within a few years, no matter how ambitious they are. But in the future, hopefully with the emergence of new technologies that enables sustainable production for a lower price, it would very well be possible. They have the money, the manpower too. It’s all about whether they really want to change or whether they only do it because they have to.
Which sustainable initiatives do you support?
There are two solution-oriented platforms that are top of mind. The first is Otrium and Afound – both are platforms where leftover stock of high-end brands is offered for a reduced price. If you think about it, they are actually fixing a previous mistake: overproduction. Fortunately, this way it’s not immediately being destroyed. It is a great (short-term) solution to sell a new product for an attractive price via these kinds of platforms. If it’s a good quality product, not many consumers would care that it’s “last season”.
Another platform, that hasn’t been around for very long – but I think will become the next big thing – is VASQUIAT. What they do is test new collections. That have not yet hit the market. Via their website you can view samples and place a pre-order – with a discount of course. This way, brands can analyze in advance which pieces are popular and which are less in demand. They’ll adjust their production numbers to their findings to prevent overproduction.
“I truly hope that one day we will get to the point where irresponsible production will be completely banned by law.”
When we’re all forced to stay home this past spring, we saw a huge positive change in the air pollution worldwide. This alone already shows how much impact our lifestyle actually has on our environment. Why do you think so many companies and consumers are still lagging behind?
I always say; knowledge in king. And the consumer is now getting more knowledge due to the attention of the media. But I also feel we should allow people some time to adjust: Sustainability has always been a tough topic, it was portrayed as dull and typified for the “tree-hugging” kind. This was mainly because many people did not see what was truly going on. Nowadays we know much more through dedicated influence, documentaries and great initiatives such as Plant A Tree.
Local production and local consumption are also a form of sustainability. What are your thoughts on the #supportyourlocals initiative that has been making a statement since the first lockdown?
I think this is a fantastic initiative. Like I said, my products are all locally produced, so I am a huge supporter of this. The fact remains that the most sustainable option is not to buy at all, or as little as possible, but if you do need something new to choose local, authentic entrepreneurs. You know when you buy something from a small sustainable start-up, that it is more likely to be made with love and passion; there is a story behind it. It has a greater emotional value than buying something from a large chain, purely because it’s cheap.
There are lots of opportunities for brands to involve consumers in their sustainable development to strengthen costumer’s loyalty. I’m surprised not more companies see the value in sustainable production from a marketing point of view. What are your thoughts on this as a (sustainable) entrepreneur?
Sustainability initiatives are good, if they are actually true from A to Z. I think an organization such as Plant A Tree is a fantastic initiative, unfortunately there are also some catches. Many consumers do not think beyond planting the tree itself, but it obviously goes much further than that. Fortunately, you can often contact such organizations to ask where your tree has been planted. But the catch is that these companies act as an intermediary and only provide the money. The final planting of the tree is done by local people, who are often not mentioned in this story at all. They have to (be able to) ensure that the tree actually grows and does not become ill or dies within the first year. So, it goes a lot further than just donating that dollar to plant a tree, because let’s face it, one dollar per tree cannot maintain a forest.
What would you wish the world to look like post-COVID?
I truly hope that one day we will get to the point where irresponsible production will be completely banned by law, and it will no longer be possible for companies to be unethical in any way, shape or form. I think something like that is necessary to initiate long-term change and worldwide sustainable growth.
For more information or to shop responsibly online visit totote-studio.com.