EP61 – Is This The New Hero Among Plant-Based Leather Alternatives?


EP61 – Is This The New Hero Among Plant-Based Leather Alternatives?

Sustainable Ecommerce Podcast

Sustainable Ecommerce Podcast EP61

As brands we can help consumers live more sustainable lives in many different ways. Perhaps central to our value in that regard is what we make our products out of, the materials we choose to use. 

So, I’m always very excited to discover new sustainable materials, especially in the fashion and apparel space.  One particular area I’ve been reading up on is the emerging field of plant-base leather alternatives.  You may have heard of products like Pinatex made from Pineapple leaves, and Cactus Leaf Leather, which has been taking European fashion houses by storm over the past year or two. 

In my humble opinion, neither of these two vegan leather alternatives hold a candle to the Leaf Leather I want to introduce you to today. 

My guest is Sridevi Blair, founder at Karuna Dawn, a new ethical and sustainable brand bringing Fair Trade bags and accessories to the Australian market. 

I don’t want to get too carried away in my personal excitement about her leaf leather products, because doing so would detract from the overall story of her brand and the importance of the ethical choices she’s making across her various suppliers, which we also explore in this episode.

Nevertheless, Karuna Dawn’s leaf leather products are among the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen!

Karuna Dawn Bags

About Sridevi Blair & Karuna Dawn

Sridevi (Sri) was inspired to develop a social enterprise after hearing the inspiring and heart-wrenching story of Nasreen Sheikh, the female Nepalese entrepreneur who started out life as a child labourer, before being saved from poverty & a life on the streets by her benefactor. Nasreen pointed out that people don’t understand when they purchase fast fashion that they are unconsciously consuming human suffering.

The name Karuna comes from Sri’s native Sanskrit meaning compassion, and Dawn from the rising of consumer consciousness.   Through Karuna Dawn, Sri has turned her passion for handbags into an ethical and sustainable brand.  Everything is vegan, cruelty-free and ethically sourced.

About Karuna Dawn Product Lines

Karuna Dawn mostly focuses on bags & accessories, with 3 main lines of fabric.  Everything is produced by traditional artisans in remote & regional areas to help the local producers keep families together & avoid having to migrate to the cities.  They have a range of bags made from Certified Organic Cotton, as well as a range of totes made from recycled Denim.   Cotton bags use traditional hand-block design with natural pigments & dies that are inherently non-powered sites and sustainably made.

The upcycled bags are sourced from post-consumer jeans and manufacturer offcuts from a start-up in Delhi.  The partner is also looking at circular and take-back programs to keep the denim in use for as long as possible.  Sri is investigating this at the moment and weighing up the benefits of circularity with the carbon footprint of returning the items vs local fabric recycling.

Their newest range is made from Leaf Leather, produced from the fallen leaves of local Teak trees from artisan suppliers in Thailand.  The leaves are dried, layered and bonded into the final fabric. The artisans have been using teak leaves for generations as roofing materials, so have some pedigree of durability.  The pattern of the leaves really ads to the beauty of the material, and every bag is unique because of the leaves themselves, leading to an unusual and genuinely intriguing product.

Teak Leaf Leather

Word of Mouth

The story of the Leaf Leather is such a winner when it comes to giving customers the tools to share what they’ve found with family & friends. More than anything else, the look of the products themselves sparks conversation as they are beautiful at the same time as being unusual.  When you underpin that with the evocative imagery of generations of Thai artisans picking up the fallen leaves, compressing and turning them into products by hand, you’ve got a compelling narrative to share.

Ensuring Ethical Supply

Amplifying the inherent uniqueness of the Teak Leaf Leather, Sri is exploring the opportunity to run with a truly made-to-order model.  Customers would choose their preferred colour & style, and the artisans would tailor make the item specifically for them.  This could include larger-scale made to order branded bags for corporates.

Making Teak Leaf Leather

What’s next for Karuna Dawn?

They are looking at exploring Banana Leaf leather as another possible material, but most of the focus is now on expanding their channels at the same time as managing their supplier relationships. Ultimately they want to build a workforce here in Australia to support marginalised communities.

To check out Karuna Dawn’s range of ethical bags and that amazing leaf leather head to https://karunadawn.com.au.

Top Takeouts

  1. Nothing is perfect in the world of sustainability. Last week you heard that message loud and clear from Frankie Layton with her philosophy on getting products into market. So I think the approach Sri is taking with Karuna Dawn is imperfectly perfect.

    She has a very strong sense of wanting to bring economic opportunities to some of the world’s lowest paid workers, and at the same time make good, sustainable choices about the materials she’s using.

    Those simple foundational values will help ensure the brand continues to ensure things like Fair Trade and acquire the necessary third-party certifications to prove their choices as they grow.

  2. It was interesting to hear from Sri about people’s reactions to the leaf leather by comparison to the recycled denim and organic cotton. They all have their own sustainability story, yet it’s the leaf leather that’s the stand out. And I won’t lie, obviously that’s really what caught my eye too.

    What’s interesting about that from a brand context is that I think people are excited by things they haven’t seen before.   When you combine something that looks amazing with something that has a compelling story, it suddenly has the potential to create buzz, and spark conversation and empower people to market the product for you.

    My bet is, despite being their newest product, the leaf leather becomes the absolute flagship that they can build the whole brand around.

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