“Watson & Wolfe” and The Story Behind It

Say Hi to Helen Farr-Leander, the Founder of the UK based Watson & Wolfe

Tell us a little bit about your experience with starting Watson & Wolfe?

Back in 2017, we were the pioneers in eco luxury men’s accessories. We were the first British brand to design and make luxury, vegan accessories specifically for men. We were able to prove that it was possible – not only to produce good accessories, but to create exceptional ones using alternative materials.

I was regularly confronted by doubters and skepticism from people close to me, and from people I had worked with in the leather goods industry. At times it was hard to remain motivated, but it was feedback from customers I met and from the reviews we received online which kept pushing me forward.

Could you tell us how the production works?

We source all the materials and components ourselves giving us control over the supply chain. We research where the materials come from and the sustainability and ethics of the supplier. By having this level of control, we can make informed decisions and limit our impact, and we are always trying to improve on that. For example, we were able to move the production of our lining material to a new mill in Turkey. Previously this was made in Taiwan, travelling more than 8000km to our factory. Now the material only travels 152km.

Many times, what is called Vegan leather is actually PVC? How is your product & production different?

It was certainly the case a few decades ago that PVC and PU were the main materials used for vegan clothing and accessories, but things have really changed. PVC is bad. As you know this is considered the most dangerous and toxic plastic on the planet. We would never use PVC.

Textile innovation is propelling forwards as more companies seek to deliver lower impact materials. What people need to understand is that the lowest impact materials are almost always going to be vegan, purely because they are cleaner. The most damaging fashion materials on the planet are those which come from animals. These innovators recognise the pollution and damage they cause and are committed to providing cleaner materials.

Our materials use a combination of plant-based components like corn, apple, and cactus. The plant element is either a waste product of the food and beverage industry, or it is grown in renewable, non-GMO plantations. These newer materials do use a proportion of PU, but it is essential for durability to have this component. For now, anyway. There is so much work being done in this space, that as we move through this decade, we will see the levels of PU in alt materials significantly drop. We are already seeing that happen.

How do you tackle your environmental impact? Do you do something to offset water or CO2 impact?

Wherever possible to try to minimise our impact. We are always conscious about choosing the right suppliers, the right materials and of course reducing transportation too. Currently we collaborate with 1 tree planted to plant a tree for every order and we calculate our carbon footprint on an annual basis to focus on areas we can improve.

Who makes your products and where?

We are very fussy about where we manufacture. We work with very few factories and the ones we choose are small producers. Currently the collection is made in Istanbul, Turkey and Portugal. This year we will add a new factory in Italy too.

How is tech a part of your production process?

There really isn’t any tech involved in our production process. The items are hand cut with traditional tooling knives and crafted and stitched by people whose skill and experience we value.

Which certifications do you have and/or strive to have in relation to your company and the production facilities?

We have been PETA-Approve vegan since we began back in 2018. I would love for us to be B-Corp certified and once other projects are completed this year, this will be one of our goals.

The factories that you use, how do you control their sustainability commitments?

There is a mounting pressure for all businesses to be more sustainable. Our suppliers and factories are no different. They are already conscious and are motivated about ethical working practices and sustainability. They are also competing is what is a very competitive industry now, so no one can simply stand by and do nothing, they must all continue to improve.

When it comes to packaging communication, how do you work with a sustainable approach and inclusion?

We know that our items are purchased by a diverse audience and us such we communicate transparently about the materials, ethics, and ethos of our brand. It is our hope that our customers see the value, effort and care we take in the design, production, and manufacture of the collection. Our gift boxes, insert cards and tissue paper are all made from recycled materials.

The modern fashion industry promises more and more ethnic and body diversity when it comes to models. How do you approach body and ethnic diversity when you make photo-shoots for your campaigns? If you use models, that is.

We are extremely fortunate to be growing an inclusive customer base already. We have shipped our items to more than 65 countries, and being vegan and eco conscious, our collection appeals to a wide range of people including many who have allergies to materials like nickel, leather, and PPD. We use very few models, but our choice of model would always be inclusive.

 What are the main values behind your brand?

Transparency. Quality. Sustainability. Ethical

How do you make the material which is the base in your accessories – terms of fabric type and dye? Are most of your fabrics recycled?

The collection is made predominantly using materials which contain non-food grade corn. The oil which is extracted from the corn is used to make a base fabric. A layer of PU is applied to give the material integrity, durability, and provide different finishes. The materials we use have a varying percentage of plant content, anywhere from 30% to 45%. Having the highest percentage of plant-based content within the material is important, but so is making sure our customers get the best quality product. We want each item to look and feel beautiful, but they also must last and provide value for money. Our linings are all made from recycled materials.

What is something you wish customers knew about your brand and product?

Like most people I haven’t always been eco conscious, neither have I always been vegan, but the brand is deeply connected to those two things. Having worked in the leather goods industry I never thought I would create a non-leather brand, as a former meat-eater, I never thought I would ever be vegan, but things must change for the good of our planet and for the future health and wellbeing of our children. We must change our perception of what quality and luxury are. Our collection is made to a high standard, but unlike luxury ‘leather’ goods, we achieve that with less cruelty, less human suffering, less waste, and less pollution.

As a female entrepreneur in sustaintech, can you give some do’s and don’ts to other young entrepreneurs who are thinking about starting their own entrepreneur journey?

You need to be in it for the long haul. The sustainable fashion sector is growing, but not as quickly as we would like. Growth of small businesses is not rapid, there are many supporters of it, and many consumers want to do it, but changing consumer habits is a slow process. Don’t be disheartened. Keep remining yourself of why you started, and don’t be afraid to diversify

Which ones are your bestseller pieces? 

Our collection of wallets and card holders are by far the biggest selling pieces. We provide a personalisation service which makes a card holder or wallet an exceptionally good gift. Another great selling piece is the Maddox Tote Bag. I love this bag and use it every day. As a mother of two children, it often gets overloaded, and it handles the daily commute well too.

What is something you wish customers knew about sustainable fashion & accessories?

I wish that consumers everywhere knew of the benefits of buying less and buying better. We simply do not need to consume the amount of fashion which is produced globally. We all need to slow down, and support brands which are using cleaner fashion textiles and that use ethical labour. Yes, these items do cost more, but what price can we put on the survival of our planet? The water and energy consumption, and the volume of waste is unsustainable. Less is most definitely more. Wearing things for longer is no longer frowned upon, it is cool and celebrated. Sustainable fashion accessories are now comparable in quality to luxury leather goods, so we can all make a sustainable and ethical choice without compromising on quality or style.

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