The new Mulberry Portobello tote

LONDON — For Mulberry chief executive officer Thierry Andretta, Mulberry has always had sustainability at its core: It produces around 50 percent of its collections in its Somerset, England, factories, offers a warranty for customers who send back their bags for repair, even after 25 years, while the dedicated repairs team keeps spare bag parts for up to 20 years to ensure it can work efficiently.

Now the British label is ready to make a bolder statement and communicate its efforts more loudly, with the launch of the Portobello tote, its first, fully sustainable bag.

The tote bag is a luxurious, more conscious iteration of the now frowned-upon plastic shopping bag. It can also be worn cross-body and is made from grain leather from a gold-rated tannery; the material is a by-product of food production and it comes unlined and has no hardware.

Andretta, who was among the executives given the Positive Change accolade at the 2019 Fashion Awards in London on Monday, said with the launch of this new bag style, the Mulberry design team started thinking about “what it really means to be fully sustainable.”

He said they considered every factor, using top-rated tanneries, ensuring there was full visibility on the provenance of the leather and that the dyeing process was done correctly.

The bags were produced at the company’s factories in Somerset, which are carbon-neutral.

Mulberry is working toward applying the same principles across its entire production. Andretta said by the end of 2020 the plan is to move toward only using gold-, silver- and bronze-rated tanneries and to work with suppliers to continue improving every aspect of the production process; for instance, the company is looking to use only recycled metal for bags’ hardware.

Mulberry’s prices will not be inflated for products that are made sustainably. According to Andretta, sustainably made products will become the norm in the next five to 10 years, so it’s important to respect the customer, and not ask them to pay a premium for making a conscious purchase.

“Our sustainability approach is to make sure the customer doesn’t have to spend more. I don’t think that the customer should be obliged to spend 10 or 20 or 30 percent more for sustainability, which will be absolutely normal for everyone five years from now, at least in the luxury industry,” Andretta said.

He said the solution often lies in accepting lower margins and investing time and effort in negotiating with suppliers. “We have limited options with respect to tanneries within the industry that are up to standard. They are relatively small and because they are investing a lot of time in this, they may ask for higher price points. So we need to find solutions to normalize the price. It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Mulberry sells Econyl — a sustainable iteration of nylon — totes in its collection and even though the material costs slightly more than regular nylon, it has made the decision not to charge more.

The new Portobello shopper will retail at 795 pounds and will be available across the brand’s stores and web site in a range of colors, such as black, midnight blue, tangerine orange and green.

“We have a commitment to keeping 70 percent of our prices under 1,000 pounds, at least within the U.K. market, to make incredible quality that is made to last, and accessible,” Andretta added.

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