Be For Change

Upcycled Leather Goods

Exhibiting at top Drawer and winning the Spotted Award

Upcycled Leather Goods, Sustainable FutureAna CarneiroComment
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How does one get into a Trade Show?

Starting this little business by myself and trying to do things right by the world hasn’t been the easiest journey. In fact, I can’t think of anything which ever brought me more frustration and headaches… on rainy days (like today!), when more things go wrong than right, I might even question if any of it is worth it. Are my designs good enough? Do people outside of my online bubble support sustainable business? Are there any shops out there willing to do business differently? Questions like these and more pop into mind, and the doubts aren’t always easy to shake.

So when I was contacted by the curator of Spotted at Top Drawer in June to take part in the fair, I was both surprised and flattered,

Top Drawer London is a bi-annual fair taking place in Olympia. Its maxim is to be ‘out of ordinary’ by showcasing a range of new and established brands across Home, Gifts, Fashion and Crafts. - all with design-led products. Spotted at Top Drawer is a section of brands exhibiting at a Trade Show for the first time, curated by Charlotte Abraham, from which a winner is selected.

My main consideration when deciding whether to go for it was the cost. Though this is meant to be a discounted stall, at £1495 (including VAT and insurance) it is a far cry from affordable. Add to that all the costs related to the production of goods to exhibit, printed materials and business cards, transport and set up costs… and let’s just say I didn’t have it in mind to spend that kind of money on marketing this year. But it did feel like a great opportunity, so I picked up a few extra shifts at my part-time job and committed to it. From the day I made the first payment, I had just over 2 months till the fair - included in which was my first trip to Portugal of the year to see my family, Of course that in one’s mind 2 months is plenty of time! In reality it went by in the blink of an eye…

I will admit here for the first time that in the weeks prior to exhibiting I had my fair share of moments of crippling doubt. Sure, it had been great to be contacted to take part in the fair, but wasn’t that all about the fair making money anyway? I’ve been in business for a while, but I changed my focus (product-wise) a few times, lost my fair amount of loyal customers in the process, and I am still working part-time to make ends meet. Was a fair the best way to spend my money? The only thing that kept me going was the thought that ‘if you never try, you’ll never know!’

Now that you know what my state of mind was, you can probably understand what I mean when I say that being shortlisted as part of the Spotted Award was a huge relief. Furthermore, I may or may not have shed a couple of tears when I found out that I won the award! Firstly because it confirmed that I hadn’t gone barking mad by investing so much of myself into this new collection, and secondly because it meant getting something in return for the huge investment I made signing up to this fair.

Winning the award provided me with a much needed confidence boost ahead of the fair, along with the validation that comes from being recognised by people and institutions that one admires.

Sam Hood—Founder of Amara said, “Both the idea and the end product are strong. Turning an unwanted raw material into a viable product is a great idea commercially and environmentally.”

Echoing similar sentiments, Emily Cuthbert—Head of Product at Wolf & Badger said, “The products are well-considered and using surplus fabrics to make creative accessories is a brilliant concept. Be for Change is a brand built on values and their focus on minimising waste is commendable.”

Setting up for my first trade show

Saturday was set up day. Being a Londoner as I am, I cycle around town and don’t own a car. I thought my display out in advance and decided to keep furnishings to a minimum (not just to facilitate getting things there, but also because I work from home and I have very limited space to store business-related equipment.) 1 suitcase worth of products, 1 suitcase with wall paint and assorted tools, plus an IKEA bag with plants and leather waste - that is all I took. I luckily got one of my friends to drive me to the fair, which made for a painless drop-off and unloading (do prepare all related paperwork in advance and look in the venue map for which loading bay to head to).

I proceeded to set up on my own, which took about 4 hours including the time to paint the wall and waiting for it to dry. I thought that writing with chalk on the wall would communicate the crafty element of my business, but quickly realised that it was simply not neat enough and looked a bit unprofessional. Oh well! Live and learn. There was nothing to be done about it at that point.

Having used a rack and plants I already owned and then nothing but my own products as decoration, I was definitely one of the people who spent the least money on their stand.. A number of the makers and designers in the Spotted section bought tables, shelves and display units on purpose for the fair, in addition to custom wall stickers, etc. I later found out that a number of the other exhibitors had been getting ready for the fair for over 6 months, which made me feel a lot better about how differently we had budgeted and prepared for this!

Exhibiting as a one woman band

I came to the fair prepared with everything I thought I might need: reusable cup, a filled water bottle, lunch and a few snacks. The business cards and price list I had left hidden in my stand over night, along with an order pad.

On Sunday the doors opened for the first day of business, and much to my thrill I got an order shortly after! Around midday the delivery of the prize ensued, giving me the opportunity to meet a few of the judges who were in attendance. Everything felt brilliant! I was alone at my stand but got to meet “my neighbours” and their work whenever things were slow. At this point I was getting a fair amount of interest in my products, but no more orders as my prices turned out to be too high for the buyers in attendance. Still, this felt okay as we had been told in advance that on Sunday a lot of general public and independent shops would be present. The day ended with Exhibitors’ Drinks, which was not only a great way to unwind a little but also to meet other people and their work.

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Monday was said to be the day in which most buyers and press attended, and I showed up coffee in hand and feeling ready for business (I made the mistake of buying coffee within the fair the previous day - far too expensive for the quality). Within the first few hours it was visible that this was a less busy day, yet quality over quantity is what we all really looked for. Unfortunately, throughout the second day I continued to get the same feedback: products were too expensive for the buyers who stopped by. A few people spoke with me at length and took my details, but none of these contacts resulted in business.

The third and last day brought me more of the same, but with even less visitors. I must confess that at a certain point I became a tad disappointed, especially as I continuously saw that buyer’s interests gravitated toward printed PVC products (just happens to be one of the most toxic, non-recyclable materials man ever came up… no big deal for some people, my head on the other hand was about to explode! It’s 2019 people! How do you do not care what material your products are made of?!!! Profit over planet is alive and well - including in small business in the UK) or goods made from not-that-bad materials but manufactured in China and then shipped over.

At the end of the day, my boyfriend (who had just got back in town) came by to help break down and paint the wall back to white. The painting at the end did add a bit more fuss to it than what other people had to deal with, but, as always, I was happy to get on with it instead of spending extra money getting it done. At the end of the day, we loaded everything into an Uber and made our way back home - thus ending my experience of Top Drawer AW19.


Spotted at Top Drawer first prize

While winning has been really exciting, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t all about the prize.

The prize for the Autumn Winter 2019 edition comprises a free stand for the next edition of Top Drawer, as well as one-hour mentorship sessions with Patricia Van Den Akker, Founder of The Design Trust; Rosey Blackmore, Merchandise Director for Tate Enterprises; Madeleine Furness, Business Development Office at Cockpit Arts; Laura Jane Boast, Founder of Design Giving; Ella Doran, Founder of Ella Doran Design Ltd; Victoria Suffield, Founder of The Hambledon.

It has now been a month since Top Drawer, giving me enough time to settle back into a routine and meet with a few of my mentors. Each of my sessions so far have been precious lessons in not only what it takes to succeed, but how to wear different hats and do it well! A number of the ladies gracing me with their time and knowledge have gone above and beyond to provide value, from discussing my business in-depth in preparation to our session, to sending me further information in the aftermath of our mentorship session and making themselves available to help with anything else that may come up in the coming months.

It was really these sessions that made my financial investment worth it so far, and if I hadn’t won the award I wouldn’t be going back to Top Drawer anytime soon.

As I do have a free stand waiting for me, I look forward to going back to Olympia as an exhibitor in January, with the expectation that having a stand in the more relevant section of the fair will help me reach the right buyers and grow my business. In advance for the fair, I am developing a couple of new products which are less costly to produce - and therefore less expensive to retail.

More blog posts to come on the run up to the fair in the coming months!


I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and that it proves helpful to anyone considering exhibiting at a trade show!

Do let me know if you have any questions, as I would be more than happy to help as I can

Best

Ana xx

BFC Woven Leather Tote, in collaboration with Aurélie Fontan

Upcycled Leather GoodsAna CarneiroComment

There’s a new bag in London town!

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Earlier in the year I shared with you that I have been receiving some alarmingly large pieces of leather meant for landfill. These hides often have a few large cut outs, but are mostly untouched due to the presence of defects: scars, variances in colour and grain, etc.

Here’s my reaction, just in case you fancied seeing my scared face!

 
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Beautiful and tactile, our new upcycled leather woven tote bags are finally launching to the public!

These launched for the first time earlier this month at Top Drawer London, where they gathered a whole lot of attention from buyers from all over the country - and even a sneaky shop from Scotland!

The larger pieces of leather we receive are being lasercut and woven into these bags, with supply dictating how many bags we have available at any one time. These are soft and pliable, lighter than you might expect, and super easy-going. Grab it on your way out of the house, or use it as part of your decor.

The pattern is striking, the colours are timeless: this attention grabbing bag will never go out of fashion! It has been designed in collaboration with designer Aurelie Fontan. And with each bag being ethically handmade and saving 4410 square centimetres from going to waste, you can truly feel good about your purchase.

 
 

Each bag requires almost 5 hours of labour, making it by far the most time consuming product we have launched yet. I’m looking to produce some better quality footage of the different steps of production to show you very soon!

In the meantime, the bags are now available for pre-order (until the end of September), at which point they will launch at their retail price - and pre-orders will ship out to our first buyers!!! Very exciting times, which I will make sure to post about on our Instagram channel (which you should definitely be following if you aren’t already ;)

I would love to hear your thoughts on this product! Do you love it? Not really? Leave me your opinions in the comments so I can keep on creating the products you are interested in - and save even more leather from an untimely trip to the landfill!

Ana xx

Spotted at Top Drawer London: I'm shortlisted for the Spotted Awards!

Upcycled Leather Goods, Sustainable FutureAna CarneiroComment

It’s a “!” kind of post today, as I am very excited to announce that Be For Change has been selected to exhibit at Spotted at Top Drawer London.

Top Drawer is a trade fair taking place in Olympia twice a year, which showcases unique design-led brands across homewares, gifts, crafts and stationary. They also have a special section named Spotted where they showcase emerging design brands. Spotted at Top Drawer is curated by Charlotte Abrahams and it has been a pleasure to be selected by her discerning eyes!

Featured in the fair’s Eco Trail

Featured in the fair’s Eco Trail

And a second photo selected to feature in the Spotted section of the Preview Magazine

And a second photo selected to feature in the Spotted section of the Preview Magazine

Be For Change has been selected thanks to my new upcycled leather collection which launched earlier this year, a collection that I designed for over the year before the first products launched. If you haven’t already, you can discover the collection here, or read more about what makes upcycled leather so very sustainable over on this previous blog post.

As one of the selected brands, Be For Change has been entered into the Spotted Awards, a competition in between the various Spotted exhibitors to win a series of one-to-one mentoring sessions with industry leaders and a free stand for the following fair. I am very happy to say that Be For Change is one of the shortlisted brands!

I look forward to revealing more as I will be launching a new collaboration and new products at the time of this fair ;)

Till then, keep up with what’s happening on the Be For Change Instagram or subscribe to the newsletter

Ana xx

Better uses for Leather Waste: creative designs tackling the problem

Sustainable Future, Upcycled Leather Goods, War on WasteAna CarneiroComment

I have previously written about what different aspects to keep in mind when considering whether to buy leather or fake leather. In this post, we established that cow leather is a by-product of the meat industry (roughly 7.9 billion kilos of green hides come out of abattoirs per year, more than what the leather industry can cope with - source). We also took into consideration the chemicals used in the tanning process and how it fares against fake leather alternatives (they both have a huge environmental footprint). But at the end of the day, by choosing leather you are actually diverting waste from either landfill or incineration, it lasts much longer than the alternatives and nothing out there ages half as gracefully.

But the leather industry itself generates a good deal of waste, mostly in the form of defects and off-cuts: an estimated 805 million kilos per year, as calculated in this report (year 2000). All off-cuts are of finished leather (on average 25% of each hide is wasted), and a lot of defects are likewise only spotted at quality control after processing, meaning that a fair amount of this waste is leather that already has an environmental impact in the form of water, energy and chemical usage, as well as logistics. I’ve been unable to find what percentage of leather waste is fully processed leather, but even if we take the very conservative estimate that maybe 40% of waste total is finished leather in the form of defects and off-cuts, that represents 322 million kilos a year.

The majority of this leather either goes to landfill or is incinerated, with only a small amount being recycled into the manufacture of other products, such as leatherboard - a compound material formed by pressing scrap leather with paper and wood pulp.

Armed with the belief that waste is a failure in creativity, our new products aim to put a dent in these numbers.

Luckily for the environment, we are not the only company diverting this precious material from an untimely end!

Here are a few others championing leather upcycling and recycling:

Pepe Heykoop

Dutch designer Pepe Heykoop has tackled waste in a variety of mediums, and we couldn’t love him more for it! I am not ashamed to admit that I wish I had coined ‘Waste to Wonder’ myself… Pepe has a few different collections of objects made with waste leather, each of them more innovative than the former.

The amount of leather scraps shocked me. In reaction upon that I started to collect the offcuts. Randomly putting them together applying them as a new skin to existing objects. I have had the habit ever since to collect damaged or discarded furniture from the street and flea markets and collected them at my studio. Skin Collection makes use of merging these types of frames for its skeleton, a skin of leather leftovers growing as a cell like structure covering the objects.

 

AURELIE FONTAN

Young fashion designer Aurelie Fontan has been making waves in the fashion world with her designs that are built for circularity (meaning that they can be disassembled for reusing or recycling) and out of sustainable materials - such as leather that was being discarded of. Her new collection will focus on the subject indepth, and in the meantime her first retail product are the below bags made out of recycled leather. This is the kind of approach that could become a trend ;)



Jake Sketch

Jake has taken fine leather waste and given it an innovative use close to his heart: amazing footwear. Not only is this a practical use within an industry renowned for using leather, but it looks fantastic and we want to see it hit the market!

Elvis and Kresse

This waste-fighting duo started off by upcycling old hoses from the London Fire Brigade and have now started incorporating leather off-cuts into their design. Elvis and Kresse offer ‘Sustainable Luxury’ pieces, with a focus on accessories (handbags, wallets and belts) but they also do a few home products.

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Walk With Me

If you love great minimal design, the Walk With Me products made out of recycled leather will catch your eye. Functional and practical, they are great everyday companions. This small studio operates out of Madrid and their products are made out of a unique blend of waste leather and natural latex, meaning they are fully natural and compostable at the end of life.

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And then of course…

Our very own upcycled leather collection is also putting a dent on what goes to waste, and what gets a second chance at life. Our new products have just launched and we are keeping track of how many kilos of leather we’re rescuing - something we will keep you updated on.


Which is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below or on our social media channels!

Ana xx