Accessories can be a tough game to get into when you’re not already an established brand. In addition to having an appealing product, you must have something that differentiates you from all the other pouches and cross-bodies out there. And we think Morgan Bogle’s just-launched handbag label Freedom of Animals could very well have what it takes.
We’ll admit: some of her bags look a little familiar and she even cites The Row and Céline as sources of inspiration.
If you’re going to pick an established label to be inspired by (as long as they aren’t identical–which they aren’t), picking ones whose price points exclude most of the population is not the worst idea. Plus, in addition to being more affordable, Boyle’s bags are made sustainable and ethically in the USA with 100% faux leather–and they don’t really look it. It’s pretty clear that Bogle, an alum of both Central Saint Martin’s and SCAD, and still has a successful styling career, knows what she’s doing (and cares a lot about the way she’s doing it).
We chatted with her about her fascinating background, difficulties sourcing sustainable materials, overall goals, and more. Read on for our interview.
Fashionista: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into fashion?
Morgan Bogle: I grew up on a sailboat on the Caribbean between Miami and Venezuela and I was always an artist and so I went to Central Saint Martins in London for fashion illustration and then went to Savannah College of Art and Design, where I graduated with a bachelor’s in fashion design. I then moved to New York and interned for Marc Jacobs himself and then I interned at Elle for Nina Garcia and Isabel Dupré, got a job doing design at Nanette Lepore, then moved on to styling at V magazine, where I assisted Brian Malloy. Then, I assisted a bunch of celebrity stylists and traveled all over the world doing all sorts of celebrity stuff. Then, I started doing my own thing in commercial styling and doing campaigns.
When and why did you decide you wanted to start your own line?
During that time, I sort of realized that there was a void in the sustainable/faux leather fashion world, and so I developed a line in the past year that catered to that void, but also it was important to me to make an impact on a sustainable and conscious level, because I was raised a vegan and I grew up loving animals. In the past six years, I’ve rescued 10 pit bulls and I’ve volunteered at various wildlife organizations around the world, so it was important to me to do something that was not only eco, but also animal-free, ethical and conscious.
I imagine it would be difficult to find good animal-free materials…
It’s been so difficult. My first priority was to be vegan, and as soon as I found out that vegan material is so harmful for the planet it became this quest to find an alternative so it took me a year and finally I found recycled plastic faux leather that’s 40% biodegradable and it’s all dyed with vegetable-based dyes. Faux leather is generally plastic, so its like oil and the manufacturing of it is really harmful. But mine is all recycled and post-consumer plastic, so there are no chemicals used whatsoever to make it.
And it’s all made in the US?
In addition to the sustainable fabric, I also use 100% organic lining and my hardware is from Italy from a small family-run hardware operation, but that’s the only thing that’s outsourced. Everything else is made in the USA and it’s all shipped in recycled and eco-friendly packaging.
Are you working on a second collection?
Resort will be similar and there are going to be a lot of crossover designs, a couple of color variations, but it will be very similar to fall, so it’s like a seamless transition.
Aesthetically, what was your starting point for the bags?
From me being a stylist, I have to carry so much around all the time, so function has always been so important to me. Aesthetically, Celine and The Row have always been my biggest inspiration, so I wanted to try to morph the two of them and also include my sustainable fabrics, which have limitations. Unlike leather, you can’t apply them to every single bag shape, so I wanted them to be simple and chic and color blocked, but also functional and able to carry a lot. That’s why I designed this double pouch which is a signature design for us, which I’ve applied to three different bags and three different shapes. It’s simple and sleek and doesn’t take up a lot of room, but there’s two of them sewn together so that you can actually carry a lot more. All of my bags also have little compartments where you can keep your tech pieces. Being able to have options of holding it and wearing it over your shoulder or crossbody is really important to me, so I make sure I designed all of those elements into each bag so you can take it from day to night.
Starting a business is obviously difficult. What has been your biggest challenge so far?
The biggest challenge for sure has been the sustainable aspect of the company. I think most people are excited about sustainability, but I don’t know if everybody is ready for it or believes that it can be as chic, as wearable, as sellable as everything that’s already on the market To me, having to explain that to people and prove that to people has been challenging, but once they see the bags, and once they hear the story, they get it, so it’s just about getting these meetings and showing these people that there isn’t an aesthetic difference and the fabric actually feels so similar to leather that most people might not even know. I do believe that once people see it and catch on, they’ll be excited to be supporting something that’s good for the planet.
Are you still styling or just focusing on the bags?
I am still styling part-time, just because I love being on photoshoots and commercials and traveling all over the world. It’s kind of hard to give that up, but I’ve had to reduce my schedule at least by 50% so that I could focus on the bags and build a team. I have some great people working with me and we have a nice office in soho. My boyfriend–he’s a part of the company with me. He does the marketing, the branding, the photography, and so we really spend most of our time working on the bag line.
What’s next for Freedom of Animals? Where do you see the line five years from now?
We’re introducing a men’s bag for spring ’14 and we’re introducing mens and womens shoes slowly–probably like one style at a time in the next year and then eventually it will be belts and shoes and jewelry. We want to be the go-to for sustainable faux leather accessories. I would love to build my direct-to-consumer online site, but also my ideal situation would be Barneys and Opening Ceremony, and Creatures of Comfort and Net-a-Porter and I’ve already actually had meetings with all of them that have gone really well, so hopefully that will happen in the near future.
Click through to see the fall look book and head to Freedomofanimals.com to shop.