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Nanushka Is Instagram's Favourite Vegan Leather Brand

The brand's founder, Sandra Sandor, opened up about the nuances of sustainability in fashion.
Reading time 7 minutes

Nanushka has earned significant acclaim for its strong vegan leather goods. After founding the brand over a decade ago in her native Budapest, Hungary, Sandra Sandor has made a name for herself as a champion of sustainable style in the fashion industry.

Nanushka's vegan leather has the sexy suppleness of the material we all love so much without the same environmental and ethical cost. Sandor's designs are fixtures on Instagram, and the brand has earned enthusiastic approval from influencers as well as Selena Gomez. Nanushka's iconic Hide puffer jacket (vegan, of course) was a major hit among New York Fashion Week showgoers.

Photo courtesy of BFA

Nanushka and La Bouche Rouge teamed up for a panel to discuss the importance of environmental consciousness at both individual and industry levels. Like the popular vegan leather brand, La Bouche Rouge is a pioneer in sustainability. The company revolutionized lipstick, creating a totally vegan, beeswax-free refillable version that eliminates the microplastics and plastic packaging that often feel inescapable in the beauty industry. The two companies were joined by other figures making waves in sustainable practices across industries.

Photo courtesy of Nanushka

Sandor was accompanied by Veronica Pravato, Nanushka's sustainability manager. Pravato's responsibilities revolve around "implementing sustainable and circular practices" in all levels of the business. This means tracking the ethics of the brand's production, including where the textiles come from as well as how and by whom they are made. Nanushka values doing its part and giving back, so Pravato also works with the company on efforts to improve local communities.

Nanushka is opening its first store outside of Budapest, unsurprisingly in New York's fashion mecca of SoHo. Amidst the stunning potted greenery and equally gorgeous garments of her new store, L'Officiel USA chatted with Sandor about her brand's name, vegan leather, and the importance of sustainability.

Photo courtesy of BFA

To start, where does the name Nanushka come from?

So Nanushka is my childhood nickname. I couldn't pronounce Szandi... Okay, so "Szandi" is "Sandy" in Hungarian. So I couldn't pronounce it, I said "Nani," and then that's how it went from "Nani," "Nanu," and then "Nanushka." My father gave me this nickname.

Did anything else about your childhood or Budapest inspire any of your work?

Yes, absolutely. Hungary has always been an intersection of East and West throughout history, and I'm really inspired by the clashing of cultures. I really love to work with distant cultural references. So, in that way, I'm sure it inspired my work.

Photo courtesy of BFA

What kind of cultures meet in Hungary/Budapest?

Turkish, German, a lot of different cultures, but those were the main empires that affected [the culture]. And then also Russian, through Communism.

So, this question was already asked during the panel, but was sustainability always a goal with Nanushka, or did that come later?

So actually, on a personal level, sustainability was always very important to me. As I said in the panel as well, I really love nature, and I really felt that year after year working in the fashion industry, I really felt that since it's a polluting industry, and the more I knew about it, the more I wanted to give something back and balance out at least as much as I can, and to contribute to that balance. It organically came about.

Photo courtesy of BFA

What are some specific sustainable practices you use at Nanushka?

We try to integrate it in a lot of levels. Of course, we need to observe, and now that we have a sustainability manager, she's actually observing most of our tiers and the way I, as a designer, integrate it the most is with our material makes. So basically, just to name a few examples, we are trying to switch all our cotton to organic cotton, support healthy soil and biodiversity, and we're also swapping all of our polyesters to GRS-certified post-consumer and recycled polyesters. We're doing it on a lot of levels. We're analyzing a lot of our fabrics and then trying to work on those and optimize and change as much as we can. The rest is from a design point of view, and I said on the panel how I see waste, as a design inspiration, to upcycle as much as we can into interesting ideas. 

Sandra Sandor / Photo courtesy of BFA

What are the responsibilities of a sustainability manager, and what does Veronica [Pravato] specifically do for the company?

Basically, in order to set goals within our company and what we want to achieve in terms of sustainability, you really need to see where we're standing. At the moment, we're observing all of our processes, and that's what's happening now, but of course, in the meantime, we make little changes and shifts.

 

I've heard that vegan leather is usually petroleum-based, and so a lot of animal-alternative textiles are not necessarily great for the environment. What do you have to say about that, and are Nanushka's vegan leathers any different?

This is a very valid question. The thing you need to know about our vegan leather is that it is REACH-certified, which is an EU regulation for not using certain harmful chemicals during production. There are, of course, a lot of certifications, but we're also trying to improve it, because there is a polyester base [lining the leather products], and we're swapping this to recycled polyester. But then also, if you're looking at the worst plastic—let's say it's not even certified—it's still only one-third as bad as cow leather. So this was stated by one of the Kering Group's associates, but even though I know there is a big debate about "Oh, but you know, vegan leather is also plastic in a way," so what's better? Also, the durability of this is really good, so it's a really good alternative. Yeah, I think the most important this is this number: it's one-third of the impact of cow leather.

Photo courtesy of Nanushka

So, are animal rights also a little bit of a focus?

Yeah, absolutely. Of course, animal rights are definitely a focus, but in terms of durability for things like shoes and handbags only, we do use certain types of vegetable-tanned leather.

 

I really liked what you said about how the Bauhaus movement inspires your work during the panel. Could you restate that?

When I was working on my thesis, it was inspired by the Bauhaus movement, and the ethos of the Bauhaus movement is very function-focused, "form follows function," meaning if an object is designed to function well, it will, by definition, be beautiful.

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