Hozen Founder Rae Nicoletti On Producing Vegan Handbags In Downtown LA

by: Rosie Dalton | 2 weeks ago | Features

Image: Hozen founder and designer Rae Nicoletti.

A beautiful quality, original looking handbag is pretty hard to find in today’s saturated market – let alone a beautiful quality, original handbag that also happens to be vegan. Which is why we are so excited to launch US-based handbag brand Hozen onto Well Made Clothes. Made in California using some of the finest and most innovative recycled materials in the world, this brand is just as focussed on innovation in terms of design as it is on caring for the planet.

Speaking with designer Rae Nicoletti, we learned that she is both humble and creative. Training under a former handbag maker for Hermés, Nicoletti has some serious leatherworking prowess behind her. But her singular focus on sourcing cruelty free, eco-friendly leathers since the beginning has made her career trajectory just as challenging as it is inspiring. In our interview, we tapped into how the young brand first began and what keeps Nicolletti inspired to continue pushing the boundaries when it comes to vegan handbags.

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Rosie Dalton: How did you first come to start Hozen?
Rae Nicoletti: I had been working full time as an in-house prop stylist. Although this was a creative position, I was looking for an artistic outlet of my own creation. I dabbled in pottery and weaving first, before I found leather work. [At the time] I was living in San Francisco and a French woman who made bags for Hermés opened a school. She taught handbag construction; pattern making, saddle stitching and hand-finishing. I quickly fell for the craft and spent a year’s worth of Saturdays attending classes religiously. [I knew that] I would want [my business] to be philanthropic and so I established my values around animal rights and conservation. I hadn’t eaten meat for years, so why not launch a cruelty-free product? In doing my research around eco-friendly leathers, though, I quickly realised the notion [of a cruelty-free handbag] is often oxymoronic. I graduated the program at Amblard Leather Atelier in January 2016 and spent the next year sourcing eco-friendly, vegan materials.   

Rosie: How do you think that your prior fashion industry experience helped to shape your approach today?
Rae: I’m fortunate to have the fashion and creative professional background that I do. It most certainly gives me a better understanding of the industry, both in terms of retail and marketing. At the same time I have witnessed a lot of waste and lack of credit given to those who work so hard to keep a brand afloat. In terms of cutting waste, we make our product in small batches – this is in an effort to avoid unwanted inventory and use packing and shipping materials that are post-consumer recycled and recyclable. We are lucky to have found an amazing fair-wage factory in downtown Los Angeles to do our production. Rember owns the factory and you will see his face on the tags of every Hozen bag. These bags don’t just appear out of thin air, so I think it’s important to highlight his contribution.  

Rosie: How have you tried to build Hozen as a brand that reflects your own personal values?
Rae: As a general rule, items I consume (food and fashion) are cruelty-free and as eco-conscious as possible. I’m a sucker for anything in a recycled container or made out of organic materials. With Hozen I want to add an option to the accessories space that I consider to be more thoughtful than what I know to currently exist. This Spring 2018 launch is just a start and I know that even cooler, lower-footprint materials will be available to incorporate into production in the near future.  

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Rosie: Can you run us through your process from start to finish?
Rae: For this first collection, I based the silhouettes off some patterns I had made in class that I found most functional. Each bag has the circle shape – this is how I sought to make the line feel cohesive. I make Hozen bags ‘my own’ by adding chunky piping with matching rope handles, and large gold hardware. My main objective is good material use, so the eco-friendly and recycled elements are really what set this brand apart. Once I landed on the shapes and decided to keep them all medium-sized, I went to work on finding materials. I was able to source the body and lining at the Lineapelle trade show in NYC and was fortunate enough to find much of the rest through online scouring.   

Rosie: Why is the sourcing of each handbag such an important part of the process for you?
Rae: Being adamant about the quality of materials and where they come from makes me so proud of my product, but it has been a lot of work. Research and development can be a blast and also super daunting. There is a lot of expense and disappointment. I have found that all the materials I have ended up working with are from vendors that I have connected with right off the bat. They are easy to communicate with, quick to respond, and have great products, as well as manageable minimums. I take it as a sign that our collaboration is meant to be. When you get slowed down, it is time to re-think your approach. I want to be mindful of every detail and for this reason I am even using thread that’s made from 100% recycled plastic bottles.

Rosie: What does an ‘ethical’ handbag mean to you personally and how would you say that Hozen bags embody this?
Rae: An ethical handbag is made in a fair-wage factory with materials that are eco-conscious. At this point in time I am biased about the leather industry. The cruelty factor can’t be ignored but I know they are taking steps to make the tanning process less toxic. Even in regards to animal-free materials such as cotton, if it’s not organic, then all those pesticides used to grow the crop are sprayed onto the soil and go into our waterways. It is a task to find perfect raw materials but, as I mentioned, the options are growing. As for Hozen, I feel confident that what we are using to construct the bags is the best I can access.

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Rosie: Why do you think we should all gravitate towards pieces that are sustainable from top to bottom?
Rae: As they say, you cast a vote for the kind of world you want to live in with every purchase. All efforts should be lauded but there are countless opportunities every day to tread a little lighter. Building a considered wardrobe makes me appreciate each piece and feel proud to wear them.   

Rosie: Finally, what are some of your hopes for the future of the brand, or ways that you feel you could improve your overall impact even further?
Rae: I can’t wait for more materials to be introduced. I love the “leather” that we are using this first collection, but I really want to shy away from virgin materials and go as recycled as possible. Pinatex is coming up! There is just so much waste on this planet; to be able to re-use is most appealing to me.  

 

You can shop all vegan handbags by Hozen over here.

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