07.12.16

How One Brand Is Redefining The Luxury Handbag

Brought to you by Avery Verse

From behind the shadows of luxury handbag icons like Gucci and Prada, gives rise to a different kind of brand challenging the status quo of handbag manufacturing.

For Christie and Taylor Cook, the husband-and-wife duo behind the luxury handbags of Avery Verse, to walk among the giants is more than simply building a prestige brand.

“We want to do so with a greater transparency and set of ethical standards than many of the major brands. To achieve success at the expense of our ethics would be a failure of our character, and that, we can’t abide by.”

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Building On Strong Grounds

The Cooks originally set out on this journey with a desire to take back control of their own destiny by building a business they could sustain into the long term. By combining this with their love for fashion and boutique living – valuing the artisanal side of high-end products made for art appeal, individuality and longevity – the concept of Avery Verse was born.

This personal ambition is reflected in their handbag designs where they aim to empower women who seek luxury but navigate the world with a moral compass.
For the Cooks, their handbags aren’t merely accessories. They blend a love for fashion with the practicality of everyday living. Each handbag is like a work of art that expresses an individuality unique to their brand. With a focus on durability and longevity, these are handbags made for everyday use for years to come.

Christie goes on to explain, “We want to be among real women who are balancing many demands and achieving more than anyone ever thought possible.”

To balance work with personal life is a challenge most women face in modern times. Being pulled from one engagement and responsibility to the next, juggling a career with family, all while maintaining a degree of sanity, it’s easy to get lost in the flurry of passing trends.

While the Cooks also strive to find this balance in their own everyday life, their toddler is a grounding reminder that this is a challenge they share with many women and families.

The down-to-earth nature of their philosophy is echoed when Christie goes on to describe the kind of items you’ll find in her handbag. For someone who appreciates the finer things in life, you won’t be able to help but laugh alongside Christie as she pulls out the random collection of nappies and baby wipes.

industrial toteIs All Leather Created Equal?

While a leather handbag is one of the quintessential items in many women’s wardrobes, the question must be asked. At what cost did it come? To understand that this goes deeper than simply the price, it helps to understand the industry.

If you own a leather product, it has gone through a tanning process to turn the animal hide into the leather product you know and love. The question that beckons is how?

There are two methods practiced in leather tanning – the traditional vegetable-based method or utilizing commercial mineral tanning agents.

The purpose of tanning is to extend the durability of the organic hide and make is much less susceptible to the elements that may degrade leather over time.

Traditionally, leather was tanned by soaking in a solution comprising of vegetable tannins. These tannins are actually sourced from the bark of common trees such as oak and chestnut, plants or even fruits. It’s a labour and time intensive process that can take months to achieve the desired result. However, the end product is a truly organic material that ages well, is rich in earthy tones, softens and deepens in colour over time, and when cared for, has the potential to last multiple lifetimes.

Modern industry, however, has devised a more direct method for achieving a similar (but in many regards, inferior) result by using chromium and other chemical agents. This has short cut the tanning process to a mere few days work.

Unfortunately, these shortcuts have negative consequences for the environment and human health. These chemicals create a toxic waste-water that has serious ramifications.

A recent study explains, “There is a public outcry against the industry due to the discharge of potentially toxic waste-water having alkaline pH, dark brown colour, unpleasant odour, high biological and chemical oxygen demand, total dissolved solids and a mixture of organic and inorganic pollutants. Various environment protection agencies have prioritized several chemicals as hazardous and restricted their use in leather processing however; many of these chemicals are used and discharged in wastewater.”

From their own experience, the Cooks have found this to be widespread across the industry.

“Unfortunately there’s a general lack of transparency surrounding handbag manufacturing. According to the research we’ve found, 90% of handbag companies use chromium tanning which is a chemical tanning process with known carcinogens that produce a totally unsustainable product.”

What we see today is a saturation of cheap, mass-produced leather handbags flooding the market with little consideration to the environmental damage using these chemicals can have. This scale of manufacturing feeds into the ‘fast’ fashion mindset that creates waste and landfill. As consumers, we’re being encouraged to change handbags like we change underwear.

But the Cooks maintain their stance.

“We desire to accessorise women who have a strength of spirit, as opposed to a consumerist attitude.”

By ignoring the consequences of these ‘fast’ fashion trends, we’re losing touch with the artisanal skills of our ancestors. It’s a sad realization we could lose the art and craftsmanship that goes into producing a high quality leather product using these traditional methods like in the Avery Verse range.

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Preserving The Tradition

Thankfully, there are brands like Avery Verse who support the preservation of these traditional practices. They are one of few luxury brands who utilize the vegetable-based tanning method.

It’s about challenging the attitude of passing trends and encouraging consumer to invest in a timeless, artisanal product that will stand the test of these fleeting trends.

But it’s not easy.

To make a product that is safer for the consumer and the environment, it comes at a higher cost.

“A lot of our effort is focused on brand awareness and challenging mainstream perception that doesn’t value investing that little bit more for a high quality and ethically produced product. People will happily buy a cheaper bag that breaks or loses its sheen in a year because they believe that the low cost upfront was better value. But if you have to keep buying bags it adds up to a greater cost to you (and the environment) than simply choosing a quality bag in the first place.”

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Going Against The Tan

Avery Verse is also taking a stance on other fronts.

Within in an industry so posed towards perfection, they are going against the tan and doing things differently on the marketing front. Browsing the Avery Verse website, there’s one thing that stands out. It is subtle and yet significantly game-changing. There’s not a single model in sight. Their galleries showcase the very product they are selling – the handbag.

Christie and Taylor have taken a brave stance in showcasing their handbags for what they are. Handbags. Not models. Nor provocative poses that have nothing to do with the bag itself. But for allowing the handbags to stand in their own right and ooze the glamour they intrinsically hold.

This is strangely confronting but when you hear their reasoning, refreshingly eye-opening.

They explain, “The reason behind this is that we don’t believe in the fashion industry’s use of models posing at odd angles and giving vacuous stares. That’s just fake and it’s isolating to the real women who love luxury but can’t relate to the advertising that’s trying to entice them.”

For anyone who has ever flipped through a fashion magazine, you may have noticed this trend among advertisements. It’s a common theme to use models as a provocative symbol for glamour and prestige. Advertisements of this nature suggest an unrealistic set of standards that isolate women who desire this luxury but who simply don’t resonate with this form of advertising.

The Cooks don’t believe in capitalising on a prestige name by slapping on a price tag because it’s the fashionable thing to do. Nor do they buy into a standard of beauty that’s unrealistic and homogeneous.

For them, it’s not about feeding off consumer insecurities. It’s about serving the needs of everyday women who want a taste of luxury without the ethical compromise.

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Inspired to Take Action

They credit their entrepreneurial spirit to influential leaders like Richard Branson who have shown them it is possible to make your mark in an industry by adopting a ‘progress not perfection’ attitude.

Taylor explains, “His ‘screw it, let’s do it,’ mantra is very liberating as it gives you the permission to go after something new and challenging (even if you’re not perfectly prepared for it).”

At the centre of the brand ethos is marrying business with social change. For the Cooks, it’s about achieving a win-win situation.

Inspiration for them comes through an intuitive process as they scout around for what feels right.

On reflecting over the past year, the Cooks are open about where the real fulfillment comes from.
“We’ve been able to connect with so many incredible brands and people who are ‘getting’ our approach and love the bags. That’s really the most fulfilling thing you can experience. This isn’t necessarily a highlight as in one big event – but rather it’s a constant light that makes doing the work so enjoyable.”
Moving forward, they hope to continue striving for a higher set of standards that prove timeless style, ethical production methods and transparent operations, are desirable. It’s about creating a new wave of conscious consumerism and encouraging eco-friendly manufacturing for generations to appreciate in years to come.