The path from the automobile industry to the accessories world isn't exactly a straight road. There are left turns and unexpected obstacles, dead ends and U-turns.
But for Von Holzhausen label designer Vicki von Holzhausen, that road, while challenging, has been rewarding.
"When you're a car designer, you're trained in the technicalities of how to engineer and build a product," says Von Holzhausen, who was a designer for brands such as Audi and Mercedes-Benz in Europe before moving to Malibu in 2012. "I applied that knowledge to creating a business and to manufacturing a completely different product from start to finish. My starting point with my bags was a lifestyle concept — a timeless vibe and clean, minimalist approach. I wanted to create an accessories collection because I felt an accessory is the iconic point in a woman's wardrobe."
Von Holzhausen started her eponymous bag collection in 2015, focusing on the minutiae, every detail thoughtfully considered. Launching the collection with a well-edited assortment of leather bags and small accessories, Von Holzhausen created a direct-to-consumer model that allowed her to use fine Italian leather and superior construction without having to charge excessive prices. (Items range from $55 for a pouch to $695 for a tote and can be bought through vonholzhausen.com.)
No stone was left unturned in the creation of her company: Von Holzhausen chose to use leather that was a byproduct of the food industry (meaning no animal was used solely for its hide) and found a tannery committed to sustainability and respect for the environment. She also incorporated a philanthropic element, giving 10% of profits to women's charities.
However, less than two years into her business, the mother of two — her husband, Franz von Holzhausen, is chief designer at Tesla — decided to reroute. Pondering what it meant to create something a person could keep for a very long time, Von Holzhausen thought about the idea of longevity and standing out in a saturated fashion market.
"People buy products for more than just a beautiful product," she says. "They want to understand the underlying message the brand is communicating, so I did a deep dive into what I wanted that to be for my company."
After much consideration, Von Holzhausen felt what made her company stand out were three things: design, sustainability and freedom. Obsessed with ways to be more progressive in regard to those elements, she began searching for new materials with which to construct her bags. That led her back to where she came from: the automobile industry.
"I found the material through sourcing it from the car industry," says Von Holzhausen of the fabric she has now trademarked as Technik-Leather (technical leather). The innovative fabric's list of qualities is impressive. It's 100% vegan and animal-friendly, has no waste factor, is stain-, scratch- and water-resistant, and is half the weight of leather. (And those are just a few of its qualities.) But those benefits come with a price. "[Technik-Leather] costs just as much as fine Italian leather, so there is no cutting corners on this," says the designer.
In addition, taking a fabric durable enough to be used in a car and then using it for a purse isn't as easy as it may sound. "It's designed for one purpose, and I am using it for another purpose," Von Holzhausen says. "Basically, I'm using something with intense science behind it, but it has the supple hand of leather with a lot of added benefits. It's a performance fabric, at the end of the day."
Von Holzhausen released her first Technik-Leather bag, the Shopper ($395), earlier this year, then added belts a few months later. This fall brings the new Market Tote ($250), and several more styles are on the horizon, including relaunches of past bestsellers in the new fabrication. Smaller accessories such as cardholders, pouches and wallets are also being developed. "When we launched Technik-Leather, all of our database subscribers were traditional consumers," says Von Holzhausen, who makes all of the Technik-Leather pieces in Los Angeles. "We launched and explained the benefits and we converted a lot of people. A lot of them went from shopping leather to non-leather."
By the end of the year, Von Holzhausen says she expects to be fully invested in her Technik-Leather strategy, eventually phasing out leather goods. There are also plans for new categories, although she won't go into details. "I feel like the future is what I'm doing," says Von Holzhausen. "Over course of two years, I've built a holistic vision of what ethical style looks like."
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