These days it seems as though everyone is jumping on the green bandwagon. While most can expect to see shades of green from luxury hoteliers, restaurateurs, and automakers, it's not often we see high-end eco-materials make their way down the runway.
As a self-proclaimed handbag snob, I have to admit that I have swooned over my fair share of exotics ó python, crocodile, ostrich ó you name it. So, when I first heard of a luxury handbag line that claims to be completely constructed from sustainable materials, I was a bit skeptical to say the least. After all, how could any clutch that's made from 100 percent recycled material possibly be fabulous?
I was wrong. Enter GUNAS, a fabulously progressive brand that first debuted in 2010 at New York's Nolcha Fashion Week. Quickly recognized for its dedication to sustainable fashion, the eco-conscious brand soon earned a celebrity following, including the likes of Jenny McCarthy, Cameron Mathison and Sherri Shepherd.
Responsible for the brand's innovative designs is Sugandh Agrawal. Born and raised in Pune, India, Sugandh eventfully combined her passions and pursued a life of design and sustainability that has spanned the globe.
Intrigued by her story and inspired by her efforts, we decided to take a closer look at a designer who has managed to simultaneously earn the respect and approval of both the fashion industry and PETA.
JL: I understand you share your time between New York and India. How do you find balance in your life, and in what ways has your background and worldly travels influenced your work?
Sugandh: I would consider myself as a world citizen. Iíve been fortunate enough to experience living in Asia, Europe and the US. Having travelled to nearly 15 countries Iíve developed a multicultural understanding of the world we live in and find it extremely fascinating to see different architectural styles globally that eventually influence my work. Iíve spent the greater part of my life in the US but most of my family still lives in India. My husband and I travel back and fourth to spend time with our families. Balancing is really a state of mind. It can be quite tough starting out a new business and doing justice to your familyís needs. Iím thankful to be surrounded by people who support and believe in what Iím doing.
JL: What inspired you to create an eco-friendly brand? What are your thoughts on luxury designers who use - and breed - leather and other exotics?
Sugandh: I have a deep love and appreciation for animals. Having been a lifelong vegetarian and highly style driven, I was keen on wearing fashionable bags that were animal-free and eco-friendly. Being a trained Industrial designer, I decided to use my skills and experience to develop my own line of bags using innovative man-made materials that were not only classy and chic but also help create a lighter impact on our planet. GUNAS was launched at the Nolcha Fashion week, New York in September 2010.
My goal with GUNAS is to create an alternative and give a choice to the consumer. I donít aim to replace exotic skins and leather, as itís a matter of personal taste. What I would like to do is provide an alternative to leather without compromising style and quality. I think as consumers it is our right to have these choices available to us so we can buy products that suit our lifestyle and beliefs.
JL: How would you describe your typical clientele? Have you worked with any celebrities or other notable companies that you would be able to name? What has the overall response been from your customers?
Sugandh: There isnít really a typical clientele for GUNAS. I think weíve managed to capture the attention of folks from many walks of life. Sometimes a client buys our bag because they are vegan, or environment conscious or they need a custom bag for a special occasion or just simply because they love the way the bag looks and donít really care whether itís real leather or not. Our story is Design-centric and finding out that the bags are also animal/eco-friendly is like icing on the cake for most of our consumers.
So far the response has been great. The fact that we use a variety of materials gives us the flexibility to experiment with the look of the bags and people are appreciating that. Besides the US, we ship our bags to Canada, Sweden, Germany and France through our online store. Celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, Cameron Mathison, Sherri Shepherd own our bags. Weíve been featured in various magazines and publications such as Marie Claire, Lucky, Organic Spa, Time Magazine, Veg News to name a few.
JL: What is your personal favorite design throughout your entire collection, and why? What kind of research goes on behind the scenes?
Sugandh: From the womenís series I absolutely adore the Emily clutch and the Rock Star in red! The Frankfurt messenger and the Paris duffel would be my other two favorites from the menís series. Iím fond of these styles since they are so classic, yet distinct and can be worn by anybody. Their look really defines GUNAS.
I travel with my team to tradeshows around the world to scout out new materials that would be suitable for our collection. We have to make sure that the dyes and inks used to make them meet European environmental standards. Our hardware is lead and nickel free. A lot of times consumers donít realize the importance of this but these chemicals get easily absorbed into our skins through products we touch on a regular basis and can be very harmful. In fact formaldehyde, a chemical used in the preservation of leather was listed as a carcinogen by the US State Health department not too long ago.
JL: Sustainable fashion has proven to be a growing trend among luxury brands. Any predictions as to what the future might hold for your company, or for the fashion industry as a whole?
Sugandh: Sustainable fashion is certainly not going to remain just a trend. I think it is an ideology that will have to be adopted by businesses large and small. With the growing awareness and concerns about our environment the consumers today are more conscious and aware of the choices they have available. They donít blindly accept marketing campaigns and propagandas. I think we are seeing an expectation of honesty and forthrightness from businesses by the modern day consumer. At GUNAS, we understand this need and are moving in that direction.
JL: Can you tell me one interesting fact about yourself?
Sugandh: I am an avid adventure sports fan! I love the outdoors and thrive on being surrounded by nature. The two most interesting things Iíve done recently are skydiving and a 3-day wild safari in the forests of South Africa.
JL: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know in regards to your work?
Sugandh: At GUNAS we donate 10 percent of our sales to charities that work towards animal and environment conservation. We also donate product for silent auctions throughout the year to raise funds for charities such as the Animal Farm Sanctuary and Earth matters Foundation.