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Friends of Loving Earth

Q + A with Sans Beast

They say the centre of a good party is the kitchen where we found Cathryn Wills, founder of Sans Beast for a chat...

What are the 5 things you couldn’t live without?

I think life would go on for me, without plenty of the luxuries I have …but these are the things I am grateful to have on the regular + would be disappointed if they were no longer.

  1. Relaxing with John
  2. Green smoothies in the morning
  3. Running water
  4. Cuddles with our companion cats
  5. Pen + paper

Your go-to quick and easy meal?

Homemade peanut butter on John’s sourdough toast with a black coffee.  Is that a meal though? (Loving Earth says YES!)

What is your all-time favourite out of the Sans Beast range? The Petite Smuggler.

You have so much experience in the fashion industry, what are some stand out moments, good or shocking?

Parties in the hills above Florence during Pitti Filati yarn fairs, many unsettling road trips in China with drivers channelling Fast + the Furious, the awful shock of seeing snakes + all manners of animals, lined up in cages out the front of hotel restaurants in China, terrified + waiting to be killed for diners’ lunch (I’ve not seen this for 20 or so years, however), a luxury industry conference in Florence which was fantastical in every sense, shooting photographic campaigns in Tokyo, Shanghai, Paris + a bunch of beautiful Australian locations, going to Nairobi for business + being greeted (with my colleagues) at said business meetup at the end of a dirt road, by stunning Maasai women dancing + singing.  Walking through a factory in India, where the manufacturing floor was full of women in bright saris, all chatting + hand sewing, with fragrant flowers in their hair.  One of my abiding memories of that factory.  Working (and playing) with some exceptional people in various businesses along the way.  I’ve made most of my dearest friends through my working life, and that’s something I’m very grateful for.

There’s so much go into making a bag, which part of the process do you enjoy the most or find most challenging or both?

Handbags are detailed yes – thank you for noticing!  I’m not the best handbag designer at all – my strength, or value, in relation to design, when it comes to running a handbag brand, lies in an ability to sense what will work for the customer, and I can balance aesthetic, comfort + function, along with styling, quite well.  I enjoy sketching + can brief a bag technically – but I don’t thrive on this process, primarily because I’m not a master + I struggle with my own mediocrity.  I do love working with the factory + the overall manufacturing process. I’m very happy when I’m in China or India, working to get a style resolved + building on the relationship.

There must be an incredible amount of science that goes into creating leather-like material that really looks and feels like the real deal, where do you even begin? 

There’s a lot happening in biobased materials currently, however not all is readily available in the market.  Apple, cactus + pineapple derived materials that work to emulate animal hides have come a long way, and the makers of those fabrics are the engineers – not us.  Our job is to source + keep abreast of the developments, and sample as we go, working out what is viable cost-wise + what our customer wants.  In terms of synthetics, where I started, was ensuring the painted surface was responsibly made + not using toxic levels of any ingredients.  We’ve now moved to a high proportion of recycled materials + a small component of cactus – both of which are increasing in volume next season.  We have to keep our eyes + ears open, keep learning + keep pushing forward.  Our point of difference can’t simply be our materials, because if we can buy them – anyone can buy them.  Our USP has to be our design ideas, our execution, our storytelling + our personality.

We really loved “Adored pieces don't go to landfill.  They're treasured, collected, shared, repaired, upcycled.” How does this philosophy affect your designs? 

We design pieces that are relatively classic, with elements of surprise, or as I termed it when we first started ‘when function meets frivolous’.   I really like utilitarianism but I also like a nod to eccentricity here + there.  We design + tell stories with love in mind – truly, if you buy something that you love, you’ll look after it, turn it into a collection + not think of it as a disposable item.  Function is part of this connection, but so is classical beauty.

The film “A Makers View” that you made giving insight into your workers and the skill and talent of all the team at the factory, how have you kept up such a strong connection during the last eighteen months? 

A tonne of WeChat messaging.  Video + photos help of course also.  I have a very good relationship with the factory + I believe we trust each other, so the dynamic is respectful, yet frank.  I believe much can be achieved through straight talking communication + knowing how to deliver information that will result in action.  The factory team are so damn organised, I have huge respect for what they do + am really grateful they’re in my corner.

What’s the secret to keeping your style fresh during lockdown?

I don’t allow myself to fall into a slump.  I get up early, shower, go for a walk, listen to an audible book or a podcast, come home, write my daily pages, get dressed in something that inspires me (sometimes that’s just comfort but I always want to look presentable) + I always put some level of makeup on if it’s a weekday.

Where would you like to go, once we can all travel again? 

The list is long.  HK, London, Copenhagen, Paris, NY, Tokyo, Athens then some island hopping starting with Santorini.  At this stage, I’m happy for a trip across Melbourne to see + hug friends I’ve not seen for too long.

If you had to match one of our 45s with one of your bags for a trip - what would be the perfect combo and why?

I’d say the Double Hazey + the Mahogany Daytripper.  The colours match up nicely, and the combo feels like a dreamy summer road trip.

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