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Sans Beast Designer Cathryn Wills Is Leading The Way With Vegan Bags

by: Rosie Dalton | 1 year ago | Features

Image: Sans Beast designer Cathryn Wills. Image source

Sans Beast designer Cathryn Wills worked in the fashion industry for close to three decades before launching her line of all-vegan handbags. The former Managing and Creative Director at Mimco says that she became frustrated with the overall state of fashion after watching the Cowspiracy documentary.

It was this powerful film that inspired Cathryn to adopt a vegetarian diet and, later, to launch an accessories label, which would allow her to practice what she preaches in design, as in life. Launched in 2017, Sans Beast has already made a name for itself with a design-led aesthetic and highly functional silhouettes. Here, Cathryn runs us through her journey to date and what keeps her inspired. 

Rosie Dalton: Can you tell me about your earliest accessories memory? 
Cathryn Wills:
 It was my patent PU black Mary Jane shoes with painted flowers on the toes. I was about eight-years-old and thought I was rather special when I wore them. 

Rosie: What inspired you to start your own label?
: I have been in the fashion industry for most of my working life, with leather accessories being the focus for the last decade. After watching Cowspiracy in 2015 and then doing further reading and research, I came to the conclusion that my time with leather was finite. When I eventually gained the professional courage to walk away from my long-term role and consider next steps, I knew that creativity and non-animal sources had to be the foundations of my new chapter. I initially had stability at top of mind when I left MIMCO – and thought that perhaps I could convince my next employer to turn vegan (ha!) with their accessories… but I soon recognised that, if I was to be true to myself, I had to back my ideas and JUMP. All of these mental gymnastics occurred over a 12-month period, then halfway through 2017 I established Sans Beast.   

Rosie: And why did you decide to create vegan products in particular?
 I changed my diet 3 years ago to one of vegetarianism and, about 9 months ago, moved into a primarily plant based diet. Environmental degradation caused by mass agriculture, combined with grave concerns for animal welfare are the two major reasons behind creating a vegan brand. I don’t claim that Sans Beast is perfect – I’m aware that PU does not disappear from the earth any time soon, however we are doing our best to create quality, design-led and collectable pieces in a trustworthy factory that I have worked with for over 10 years. And no animal has been exploited or harmed in the process. Quality of manufacture and design credibility are key factors in fashion not going to landfill – if you love your purchases, you are unlikely to throw them away. 

Rosie: How would you say that this reflects your personal ethics?
 The creation of this brand is completely in line with my personal ethics. I’ve taken a much riskier path, creating something from nothing, versus staying in a stable, well paid, senior leadership position – I think the only way one would consider doing this, is if it’s a labour of love.

Rosie: Can you tell us a bit about the materials that you use to create your bags?
 We utilise polyurethanes that adhere to both REACH + CA65/Prop65 stringent rules. This means that the chemicals used in the surface treatment process are not at toxic levels. We also do not use animal derived glues in the making of the bags and wallets.  

Rosie: And what is the overall journey of your pieces, from concept to creation?
 We hand sketch everything – from the hardware to the shape. Then we do tech drawings, measurements and style instructions. The factory will make a prototype, which we wear test before making adjustments. The collection internals are considered as much as the externals – we want the pieces to be functional as well as beautiful. Much of our collection houses tech – either a laptop or a tablet pocket is included, as well as internal pockets for various necessities. We’re not into empty cavernous spaces inside a bag – organisation is key for our design process. Parallel to sketching, the colour work commences. So the entire process goes on for approximately 9-10 months. Then production takes 75 days. We visit the factory at least four times a year and stay in touch daily on email. We couldn’t do what we do, with the tiny team we have without this trusting and collaborative approach to manufacturing communication.  

Rosie: How did your partnership with Edgars Mission first begin and why is this an important part of the Sans Beast mission?
Cathryn: I visited Edgars Mission for the first time in 2016 and had so much admiration for what Pam Ahern has created. When I incorporated Sans Beast, I had a firm view that, irrespective of profit, we needed to walk our talk from Day One. Edgars Mission relies solely on donations for their survival – I have been personally donating to them since I first visited – so it made sense for a brand like Sans Beast to do what it can; to help out the beasts who have had a less than happy life preceding their arrival at this sanctuary.

Rosie: Why do you believe that it’s important to wear your ethical values?
 Getting dressed in the morning is essential for most of us. When I put on clothing, pick up a bag or put on a pair or shoes, it prompts the thought of where it came from, what material went into it and who made it. These thoughts can become conversations and, sometimes, these conversations can start a revolution.  


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