In our new series #GOODTHING, we talk to women who dedicate themselves towards making our planet more sustainable. We love the products they create and want to know the story behind them. We hope to inspire you with these interviews and believe that women should support and encourage each other. So here is our first interview - with Franziska Klee!
Franzi sells organic leather bags and other handmade products in her own store in the beautiful city of Leipzig, but you can also find her whole collection online at www.franziskaklee.de. She is the mother of two children and has been designing her own bags for six years.
You founded your own label in 2012. What did you not like about the existing market and where did you see the greatest chance to improve something?
There is actually no specific date that i founded my label. It grew very naturally by itself, as i started out as a chemical laboratory assistant and was completely new to fashion design. It was a blessing that i took my time to become a full-time entrepreneur, allowing me to learn the ins and outs of running a fashion label. The first initial spark for the label was the wedding of my best friend, for which i searched an eternity to find a bag that would match my outfit. Most of the things were too playful and the colours simply didn't appeal to me. So i simply decided to sew my own clutch. When i showed the result on my blog, i received lots of encouragement! Out of this came the business idea, which grew more and more, parallel to my actual job. In time, i added shoppers, backpacks, wallets and additional leather accessories to my shop. The last push i needed to finally become self-employed was the idea to make a diaper bag. When i became pregnant for the first time, it drove me crazy that so many baby products were overly cute and playful. I love being a mom, but first and foremost i am still myself - without any silly owls on a bag. I am super happy that I seem to have hit a nerve with this idea. Diaper bags can be both functional and be a fashion statement at the same time.
What things do you care most about? How would you describe your label to other moms?
It's very important to me to create things that people love using and that are aesthetic at the same time. A good example is our leather bag for the child examination book. The book is one of the most important documents you need until your child turns twelve. Unfortunately it is usually so delicately designed that it falls apart if you just look at it. So here, day-to-day life gave me an inspiration to make something better. I turned a simple case into an organizer, in which you can also store the vaccination certificate, the health card and the doctor´s business card. Today, i get lots of feedback that this bag is the perfect birthday present.
Many other things are also incredibly important to me. I love to make the individual requests and needs of my customers come true. Be it the length of the strap, an additional inside pocket or a certain colour combination, every person has their own ideas of what the perfect bag looks like, and i always try to turn these ideas into reality if possible.
Another topic that i think about a lot can be summarized under the term Slow Fashion or Fair Fashion: I work exclusively with materials that are sustainable and were produced under ethically acceptable conditions. This also has to do with the birth of my first child. I want to take responsibility with my actions - even if only in the smallest regard. Even though we might think that we can´t change much as an individual, it's about the mission and ideas that we share!
Why do you use leather and not a vegan option and what is so special about sustainable leather?
The smell, the touch, the sleekness and the patina of a leather bag that gets used often can´t be matched by any other material in the world. I love the challenge that leather brings, because it does not allow any mistakes on the sewing machine. While you can open a seam in cotton fabric without any trace, a hole will stay in leather. So you need to be very careful and exact.
But i also never close myself off to alternatives. My standards are very high and i find it problematic, if greenwashing happens with synthetic leather and the label “vegan” is used for marketing. For me, material made from crude oil absolutely can't be an alternative. At the moment, I'm experimenting with a kind of fleece woven from pineapple leaf fibers that is a byproduct of pineapple harvesting. The material is completely different than leather and one of the only other real options for me. In the fall, i'm releasing my first collection made from it and i am really curious how people will like it.
Still, i really love natural leather. It is tanned ecologically and on a plant basis. How the animals are kept, the tanning and the waste products, environmental friendliness is constantly monitored. I find it particularly ingenious that (in contrast to industrial mass-produced goods) no plastic layer is applied to the surface that hides the unique characteristics of the animal. Just like we carry the scars of life, the skin of an animal is also exposed to the elements. This naturalness ensures that traces of an animals life pass over into our design. The patina of each organic leather bag is different and therefore every piece is a one-of-a-kind.
Design plays a big role for you. What makes your organic leather bags unique and what do you pay special attention to?
I love minimalism matched with lots of functionality. My designs are timeless and simple - only at second glance you might notice the useful little details. I believe that through keeping things simple, the wonderful natural leather can be appreciated even more. I love the uniqueness of every single product but at the same time my customers are often surprised, how light the big bags and backpacks are. One of the reasons for that is that i don't add any superfluous things like 1000 inner pockets or buckles.
You have two children yourself. How do you balance your business and your motherhood? Do you have advice for other moms looking to become entrepreneurs?
Unfortunately i don't have one secret insider tip. Every mom needs to be a good organizer and live with the fact that one thing always comes up a bit short. This i find quite discouraging sometimes. Luckily, i have a partner who supports me 100% and even took one year of parental leave. That's an enormous help, especially because the studio and our apartment are in the same house. At the moment, i breastfeed for 2-3 hours while at the sewing machine. The self-employment also has an advantage: you can set your working hours so that family life can be enjoyed more fully. But it is not uncommon for me to sit at the sewing machine again at 9 pm. Our couch is probably the least used item in the whole apartment.
How do you live sustainably in day-to-day life?
That's actually not that easy to answer, because everyone has their own things that they care about and do. I for myself try not to follow the desire to blindly buy cheap fashion at big labels, but prefer to get two pieces less from organic labels, where the quality is much better anyway. Besides that, i'm making sure not to use plastic whenever i can. That's actually possible in the supermarket as well, if you bring your own bags for fruits and if you only buy milk in a glass bottle. It's all about the small decisions in everyday life. If you live sustainably here, you´re taking a big step already.
Do you have a certain morning routine? What do you do the moment you wake up?
Back in the day i used to start my days slowly, today that's impossible. Every day with kids brings new challenges. The only thing that really counts for me in the morning is to have some time to play and cuddle together.
What's your biggest sense of achievement?
Even though it might sound like a terrible cliché: If you have a goal and work hard to reach it, things will come true. The fact that i managed to leave behind my laboratory job to fulfill my dreams, that's already the biggest gift.
What motivates you day by day?
Two kids, a wonderful place to work and the many lovely comments and stories that i hear from my customers. Those things are absolutely wonderful!
Where do you see yourself and your label in three years?
I would be really happy if we manage to keep growing our little family business.
Please complete this sentence: “Children are amazing, because…
… they live in the moment and show their feelings honestly.”
And especially because kids live so honestly, it's important to give them fair products and make them conscious about the health of our planet. By the way, Franzi doesn't just make beautiful organic leather bags for women - she also sews wonderful children's leather shoes herself! We are super happy to share Franzis´ story and her mission. Her answers motivate us to continue doing what is so dear to us!
Thanks so much for the wonderful and insightful interview Franzi!
Melina is passionate about travelling and sustainability. Her new-year's resolution for 2018 is to avoid any plastic - and it’s still on! On her Instagram Blog she shares her excpierence about other countries and cultures. As an assistant to the founder Lilija she knows everything about the spirit and the vibe of Orbasics.
Very impressive, your ideas & creative designs is something deffer from others cool. Thanks