Wild Tussah is a socially conscious handbag label, working hard to create sustainable products while supporting and empowering local craftsmen from local ethnic weaving villages as well as talented leather workers* in order to preserve traditions and stimulate the local economy. Check out my interview with the creative mind behind the brand, and scroll down to the very end to see how you can win one of these beautifully hand made and ethical bags!
*While LFB is not a 100% vegan blog (due to food allergies), I do support vegan options as much as possible. Wild Tussah bags are made with leather, however, when learning about the brand, although I myself do not purchase leather products (unless second hand), I felt that what Wild Tussah was doing for local artisans, traditions, and sustainability needed to be highlighted and I am more than delighted to be working with this brand.
LFB: First and foremost, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
Danica: I am a sustainable fashion designer and travel addict who went on a life changing 5-week trip through South East Asia.
I am currently an expat living in Melbourne, Australia.
LFB: How did you come up with the concept for Wild Tussah and could you tell us about how Wild Tussah came to be?
Danica: I had always appreciated handicrafts from foreign cultures, but had never looked into weaving until I trekked through both Laos and Vietnam a few years ago. After I befriended my Hmong tour guide and I learned about the process of creating traditional textiles and the potential loss of this art form, I decided I wanted to learn more about it and figure out a way to help preserve this ancient handicraft.
Thus, Wild Tussah was created. Wild Tussah preserves ancient weave cultures through incorporating artisan textiles in sustainable handbag designs. We also partner up with other designers who use our textiles, and tell our artisans’ stories.
LFB: Wild Tussah works with locals in Vietnam to create incredible works of art that are also aesthetically beautiful and functional. How did you guys first manage to secure these artisans and craftsmen and get them interested in working with you? How exactly do these local artisans benefit from working with Wild Tussah?
Danica: We work with 3 different artisan groups; Black Hmong, Lu and Cham people.
I first experienced Black Hmong people whilst trekking through Sapa. My tour guide was Black Hmong, and we connected on the trip. When I reached out to her a year later to explain Wild Tussah and to talk about sourcing textiles from her, she was excited and agreed to work with me.
After moving to Saigon, Vietnam, I then encountered Lu textiles in a local weaving shop. I was stunned by the timeless look and the quality of these weaves. Once I was able to figure out what group of people they came from (even the store owner didn’t know!), I found a Lu village in northern Vietnam that sold vintage Lu weaves.
And lastly, I met a Cham woman in Saigon who offered for her son to show Wild Tussah translator, Khuê, and me around her hometown up north since we wanted to learn more about Cham culture. We interviewed the weavers there and learned more about their weaving traditions. After we spoke to the Cham woman back in Saigon about how we wanted to use the textiles, she agreed to work with us.
These artisans benefit in partnering up with us by receiving fair pay for their handicraft and the ability to sell their vintage textiles that would otherwise get thrown away. We also tell their stories and connect them to an international market.
LFB: Can you walk us through the process from start to finish of one of your bags?
Danica: First, Khuê and I source textiles from our artisans. Once we see the patterns and colors that we are going to work with, we then decide on a minimalistic handbag design that will showcase the textile and be a wardrobe staple.
Our bag specifications designer then takes all of our instructions and creates a graphic that our handbag maker, Mr. Viet, can look at to make the initial pattern.
Next, we source the leather and hardware that we want to use, go over the design with Mr. Viet and have him make a sample for us.
After lots of tweaking, we place a larger order with him to make for our Wild Tussah customers. And voilà! You have our Day to Night Bags, Cham Totes and Cham Wallets!
LFB: What made it so important to you to create a business that takes tradition into account and puts so much emphasis on helping out local economies and local artisans? What kind of environmental considerations does Wild Tussah take into account?
Danica: I find it very important to keep these traditional aspects of minority cultures, since it acts as a language. Once it is lost, it can never be recreated it.
I also see the power in using business for good because through creating these designs and getting them into the hands of people who care about culture preservation and alleviating poverty, together we are able to decrease human trafficking rates across the Chinese border and keep a beautiful ancient handicraft tradition alive. Helping these communities has an overall ripple affect.
To minimize textile waste and help the environment, we specifically design handbags so that they fit the patterns of the textiles we work with. For instance, Lu artisans often make diamond shapes within their vintage skirts. We re-purpose these Lu skirts and use them in our Day to Night handbag design since the dimensions of this bag fits these textile patterns the best and enable us to make more handbags out of one skirt. Any excess pieces we have leftover, we keep so that we can use them in future designs – either as the featured textile on the exterior of the bag or as lining in the interior.
LFB: How have the lives changed for those whom you have worked with? (the artisans and craftsmen themselves)
Danica: In the future we would like to track this more, but currently we can say that we have given them more demand for this handicraft which enables them to continue doing what they love, and have a purpose for any old textiles they are looking to sell.
LFB: It is so refreshing to see a company that is part of the fashion industry but that also takes into consideration what kind of social and environmental responsibilities we still have as human beings. Do you think this is something only smaller companies can do, or do you think that larger companies could be doing these kinds of things as well?
Danica: I think that all companies should have a social mission, and that is the direction that business is going in thankfully. As an individual consumer, you can make a difference through your buying power and choice. Everyone should expect more from their brands; including transparency, high-quality products and positive social outcomes within the business.
LFB: What are your hopes for the future, ethically and environmentally, for the fashion industry and fashion brands?
Danica: Sustainable fashion has the ability to solve bigger social issues in society, which I find so powerful! It can be a solution to poverty, bad working conditions, human trafficking, environmental-issues, loss of cultures and so much more.
My hope is that the fashion industry as a whole makes a shift into thinking and creating consciously, and recognizes the impact that fast fashion has on the world as a whole.
LFB: What kind of plans does Wild tussah have for the future?
Danica: First on the Wild Tussah goal list is to head over to Sapa, Vietnam, live there for a month with our weave artisans, and capture their personal stories and handicraft making for a short doco.
My long-term goal is to expand the handicrafts and countries we work with, and make my way to South America!
LFB: Could you please tell us what you consider to be the most important aspect of living a lifestyle?
Danica: The most important aspect is to choose what your values are; recognize the impact you make by your daily choices and live a life that you are proud of.
Win this beautifully hand-crafted tote bag in yellow pictured above!
Photography: Thommy White
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