We love ethical and sustainable fashion here at Leiden so we’re always on the look out for brands and labels who are pushing the boundaries on principles, materials and production. Brindabella Fusion is a brand that does all these things so naturally we were very excited to catch up with Jason to find out more about the business and the ethics behind it.
Leiden: How did Brindabella Fusion come to be?
Jason: Before Brindabella Fusion we ran a business that sold leather and PU (polyester urethane) handbags and wallets by wholesaling them to retailers. Our household has always been eco-conscious and we felt our business was not following our same values so it needed to change.
Approximately twelve months ago we stopped buying any further leather or PU goods and started the process of identifying eco-friendly alternatives to make bags and wallets from. That alternative turned out to be cork.
It has taken some time to get the designs and range right which meant we were starting the business again and educating retailers and our customers about why cork is such an amazing product.
Cork is the bark from a cork oak tree. The bark is removed the same way today as it has been for thousands of years —through manual labour and hand tools. This means the cork oak is not cut down or harmed in the process of removing the bark. There is also an abundance of this natural material due to the wine industry moving to screw tops on their wine bottles.
Cork, as a fashion accessory, is only going to increase over time as its benefits become more widely known. Whilst it is popular in shoes, it is only beginning to enter the market in Australia in other forms as ladies wallets, shoulder bags, purses, toiletry bags, glasses cases etc.
L: What lead you to first consider cork as a material?
J: The world is changing and consumers are aware more than ever of the impact fashion has on the environment. We cannot keep using and abusing nature and leave it for the next generation to fix the problems we have created. We are at the point where if we do not change our habits now we will not be able to reverse the damage caused to the environment. The population of the world keeps growing steadily meaning more resources are needed and used to feed and clothe everyone.
This need is currently being met by clearing trees for land use, disposing of chemicals including plastics into our oceans and throwing away waste that will never break down like single use plastics and fast fashion items. Businesses and consumers need to make a conscious decision to change their ways.
When we came across cork it just blew us away immediately. We had in mind that cork would be rough, solid and a bit bland. But instead it is smooth, durable and provides a natural warmth every time you hold it.
But the pluses for using cork are huge
- Sustainable — the cork bark grows back every nine years so it can be harvested again and again.
- Eco-friendly — no cork oaks are cut down to obtain the bark.
- Biodegradable — just like leaves, cork will naturally break down.
- No animals are harmed or environment damaged in the process.
Even though it is eco-friendly, cork is also durable, functional and light-weight. Our cork products wear like good leather products but do not have any of the downsides.
L: Take us through your design and process.
J: Whilst it might be an overused term, our designs are minimalist. The cork products we make keep it simple and are not tailored to the latest fashion trends. Our products are classic and for everyday use from going to work or out to lunch or dinner.
A perfect example is our Karen Mini Wallet. It has only three areas for credit cards. But we have made the sleeve longer so that it expands to fit three cards into each sleeve if you want. Further to this it has two zipped areas for cash and coin and this all fits into the palm of your hand.
We work closely with our manufacturer who is located in Portugal. They are a small family business and each product is made by hand. Just like harvesting the bark from the cork oak, much of the process is manual labour.
Similar to going to the farmers markets to obtain the freshest fruit and veg, we value the workmanship of generations who produce our beautiful hand-crafted cork products.
L: Tell us a little about the production to purchase process.
J: Everybody deserves to make a living and work in a safe and rewarding environment. The small manufacturer we use pays its family and staff appropriate wages under European laws and they work in family friendly environments.
To cut down on waste there are limited runs to make cork fabrics in various designs and colours. Because each product is handmade, it can take between two to three months for our range to be made. A further addition to the process is shipping as it needs to come from Europe to Australia which takes over two months.
L: What do you draw inspiration from?
J: As we are using a natural material it is important this remains prominent. The colours and designs we use respect the natural textures and beauty of the cork bark. As each piece of cork bark is different, it means each product is different from the next, making each piece unique.
L: How important is considering the environmental and social impact of your products to you and your brand?
J: Here is an example to stress how it important it is to us. We knew not selling leather and PU products would have a large financial impact on our family initially. But how could we be good role models for our two children if we did not practice what we preached?
Since moving to cork it means Brindabella Fusion is 100% focused on the environment and social impact our products have. We are proud that we have a product that will match a good leather product without any of the downsides and are influencing the consumer market in a positive way.
We are also PETA approved.
L: How would you like to see Brindabella Fusion expand from here?
J: We know that once a consumer is able to see, touch and smell our products they will understand what we stand for and experience the sensory beauty of cork.
As a business we are securing retailers to sell our products around Australia and we currently have one retailer in New Zealand.
We have just started to promote through social media and consumer responses have been great so far. Like anything, it is an education process to understand why cork is an amazing material and the value it holds.
L: Do you have any advice for consumers who are just starting to consider sustainability issues when shopping?
J: Beware of ‘green washing’ — when consumers are lead to believe a product is good for animals and the environment when it’s not necessarily. The biggest one I see is products announcing proudly that they are vegan.
Just because it is vegan it does not mean it is safe for the environment, the workers who make it or the consumer. A lot of vegan leather is made up of the same plastic that is used to make the one-off shopping bags which are being banned around Australia. These products cannot be recycled or naturally break down quickly.
Many consumers are trying to make the right decisions but are presented with slick marketing that gives little consideration to the bigger picture or helps in one way, but damages something else in another e.g. animals saved, but the environment damaged.
L: How would you like to see the fashion and textile industries move forward from here regarding sustainability?
J: It is fantastic to see regular articles now published in mainstream media about the new ways fashion and textile businesses are taking sustainability seriously as part of their design and production process.
Sustainability must be incorporated into the fashion and textile industries. Fast fashion is unsustainable on so many levels.
Consumers will ultimately choose whether or not to support businesses who make efforts to show they care about the beautiful world we live in.