Cathryn Wills has been working in the Australian fashion biz for nearly 30 years – more than a decade of that in the world of leather handbags. Her 100 per cent vegan brand Sans Beast launched in March 2018.
When I finished school, I worked in an office, before Benetton beckoned. I loved the materials, trims, construction and manufacturing, as well as the drama and storytelling of new collections. Fashion gets people excited it’s great to be a part of that process.
I started working with leather in 2006. I completely embraced the bi-product story. But after a while I found I was thinking more about where the animals came from, and questioning the nature of the category. In 2015, I watched Cowspiracy and I stopped eating meat. It took me a year to gain the courage to resign. I was terrified, of walking away from a successful role and a stable income, and jumping into the unknown.
My diet is now plant based. It was progressive for me. I finally decided my desire for tasty animal-based food was an indulgence and these factors were dwarfed by my concerns for animal welfare and the environment.
I wanted to create a world of beauty that didn’t use animal products. I filled a wall with Post-it notes. Once I’d written all the key words, I saw that aspirational, well-designed and accessibly priced handbags and wallets was the most prudent category in which to start. I wanted people to see a side of fashion that doesn’t use animals as building blocks.
Instead of leather, we use an eco polyurethane, which means the chemicals used in the production are non-toxic. I don’t think it’s perfect – I’d much rather use a biodegradable material. But I want the bags to go head to head with leather options in the market, and as a result, they need to look good and wear well. I’m confident aesthetic improvement will occur in non-leather fabrics as time goes on.
I see a lot of vegan fashion that is vegan first and design second. As the consumer is becoming more aware and mindful he/she is seeking non-animal based options and we need to ensure vegan fashion stands up to the competitive landscape with strength. It needs to look good + design must play an important part.
We are 7.7 billion humans, and we share the planet with 70 billion farmed animals. How we treat our fellow earth dwellers says a lot about us. I’m not convinced we have a sustainable future if we can’t recognise that we must respect our fellow earthlings. This means massively reducing our reliance on their bodies for food and fashion.
The business is doing well, given the short amount of time we’ve been operating. But a healthy profit is not something I’m expecting for at least another year! Sales are moving in the right direction and we have a delightful, engaged customer base. We’ve raised money for our charity partner Edgars Mission (animal rescue sanctuary in Victoria, Australia) and our small team is growing.
Building something from nothing is proving to be very tough – particularly after working for other businesses for my entire career. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit but in hindsight, it was under developed compared to what I need to bring into play now. But it’s all part of the journey and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For more information visit Sans Beast.
Cathryn Wills, Founder & creative Director, Sans Beast
Series 04: The Afterglow of Mutiny
Series 04: The Afterglow of Mutiny
About the Author
Sara is a journalist by trade and spent many happy years editing magazines until people stopped buying them and she was forced to transfer her talents to a brave new digital world. Sara lives in the inner city with two small kids, a dog and a cat, and tries her darndest to live an ethical life.
Sara’s background as a journalist and editor includes lengthy stints on titles such as inside out, donna hay magazine and the Sunday Telegraph (no judgement!). She has freelanced for a plethora of brands including Body + Soul, Marie Claire, GQ and Qantas Insider. She has also worked client side in property, retail, fashion, beauty and food.
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