LONDON — Florence-based retailer LuisaViaRoma wants to take a no-frills, straightforward approach when it comes to its sustainability strategy.
Like many of its peers, the retailer has debuted a dedicated section on its web site, LVRSustainable, where it highlights labels that are ethical and eco-friendly.
But this initiative takes a much closer look at ethics and female empowerment, so apart from the obvious choices, like Veja sneakers and Re Done jeans, its edit is focused on spotlighting up-and-coming names from across the globe that are committed to working with and giving back to small communities of artisans.
“I wanted to include brands that have solid ethics and a big commitment to craftsmanship,” said Maria Fernanda Hernandez, head of global projects and sustainability at LuisaViaRoma, who has a background in human rights and has been spearheading the retailer’s sustainability efforts, with projects spotlighting nonprofit organizations like Oxfam or Swarovski’s lab-grown diamond collections with Penélope Cruz.
The latest talent spotlighted by Hernandez is Marina Raphael, the 21-year-old, Athens-based handbag designer.
Raphael quickly stood out for sharing a similar approach to what it means to be sustainable: producing high-quality products with the right price tag, that can be passed from generation to generation.
“We use the highest-quality leather which is biodegradable and the concept of a luxury product itself is that it’s timeless and designed to last,” said the designer, who has links to the Swarovski family and so uses its resources for quality control, sourcing the right manufacturers — and at times adding a touch of sparkle to her designs.
Unlike many other young handbag designers who’ve been banking on accessible price points and Instagram-friendly trends, Raphael chose to position herself in the premium luxury sector and work with factories in Florence, where part of the production is done by hand.
Even though she favors a more classic approach, the designer has still managed to create a buzz on Instagram forging close friendships with a small group of influencers, including Doina Ciobanu, who is known for using her platform to shout about sustainability; We Wore What’s Danielle Bernstein, and Bettina Looney, who runs a personal concierge company, who’ve all been creating striking digital campaigns featuring Raphael’s buzz and catching buyers’ attention.
“You can’t achieve this type of artisanal craftsmanship for a lower price point and we also really try to produce smaller quantities and what we really think we’re going to sell to avoid wasting extra materials. But smaller quantities mean higher price points because you don’t have the economies of scale and bulk purchasing,” added the designer, also pointing to leather-covered tags or zips inside the bags, designed that way to avoid wasting cut-offs.
Raphael’s designs also take a timeless, trend-free approach with structured geometric-shaped totes or a more slouchy top-handle style in suede, which both feature on the LuisaViaRoma edit in classic black or caramel hues.
When it comes to more fun, seasonal styles, she still tries to go the sustainable route by adding materials like shearling on the trims of handles or embellishing her classic styles with crochet appliqués, all done by hand by artisans in Florence.
“It’s more interesting for the consumer if there is a story behind the bag. They’ll say, ‘OK I’m paying 2,000 euros for this product, but it was made by a skilled artisan and helping another community.’ You’re contributing towards something bigger,” said Raphael.
According to Hernandez, a big portion of the market is showing appetite for this type of artisanal product and becoming more inquisitive about its provenance: “With Instagram, what a lot of brands are doing are bombarding people with images, but the real client, who might be an entrepreneur or the director of a museum, is starting to realize that they’re not represented in them. That’s exactly our target, working women who have an opinion and want to join forces to [amplify] this message,” she said.
Raphael added that she plans to use this collaboration as a learning experience to keep growing and searching for new materials and sustainable innovations. After establishing a strong name in her home base in Greece — her bags are sold at the popular boutique Enny Monaco, which has outposts in Athens and Mykonos where the brand has gotten more international exposure — Raphael is focused on building a retail presence globally, with a Harrods pop-up in the works for later this year where she’ll present evening, crystal-embellished versions of her top-handle bags, as well as a ready-to-wear collaboration with fellow Greek designer Costarellos.