Sustainability is now one of those buzzwords that brands everywhere are adding to their business models to create more environmentally and ethically-conscious practices.
British accessories brand BEEN London is not one of these labels; they have put sustainability at the forefront since its inception.
From the Hackney Wick-based studio, the brand handcrafts bags from recycled materials using zero waste pattern cutting techniques, and a low waste production process. The label has now teamed up with Amelia Windsor (yes that Windsor) to create your new post-lockdown accessory essential.
The Mel x BEEN London limited edition crossbody uses materials that would have otherwise ended up in landfill. Mel opted for recycled leather as well as cotton lining from preloved clothing to create the versatile black and silver tote silhouette. What’s more, a tree will be planted with every purchase in collaboration with non-profit Tree Nation.
We caught up with BEEN London’s founder Genia Mineeva and Amelia Windsor to find out more about the collaboration.
How did this collection come about?
Genia: “I’ve always been amazed by how Mel uses her platform to elevate the causes she cares about - be it through her work with Fashion Roundtable or The Blue Marine Foundation or promoting independent brands with a real focus on sustainability. So we got in touch back in December last year and it was very clear from the very first conversation that we really care about the same things: beautiful products made with true integrity and in-depth understanding of the impact of fashion. We wanted to create something that would have a true, tangible impact and be really cool and functional at the same time.”
Mel: “I really admired Genia and her team. I love that their bags are hand-made in London and they have constant contact and communication with their workshop, so they don’t need to ship samples across the world. Their use of 100 per cent recycled materials is extremely exciting and innovative as well as their huge efforts to be ethical and sustainable despite only being a small independent brand. Each step of the creation of their products has been thought out with care for the planet and for every person involved.”
What was the design process like?
Mel: “It was wonderful to see the details that go into creating a bag. Genia and Jana who run the workshop kindly took me through the step-by-step process and I loved how everyone had a say when it came to transforming a design into a bag. It made me appreciate how much skill is needed to create a piece that is made to last and love forever.”
Genia: “Mel x BEEN London is a Zoom baby! Mel was absolutely incredible at leading the entire design process, while our team helped with sourcing the finest certified recycled materials. I have to say, those calls were fun and everyone involved really loved the whole journey - from picking the most beautiful shade of pink for the recycled polyester lining to designing and deciding that every bag would come with complimentary personalisation and finding that perfect spot for embossing initials on.
We then went to see the bags being made in our studio here in East London and Mel got to meet all our artisans, chat to them about the process and the incredible skills involved in making a bag entirely by hand using waste.”
What was your inspiration behind the collection?
Mel: “I was aiming for a bag that I could fit everything into comfortably whilst walking across London - water bottle, book, and coffee cup. I absolutely love listening to a podcast or music whilst trying to get from A to B using City Mapper and need a bag that doesn’t constantly fall off your shoulder if you’re having a boogie on the street. I also wanted it to be a timeless bag that you could cherish forever and could go with any outfit. The pop of bright pink for the interior is made from recycled clothing and adds a little surprise colour to contrast with the black and silver.”
As consumers, what should we do to ensure that we are not being duped by greenwashing?
Genia: “For me this is again a question of why the brand exists in the first place. If sustainability is a tiny CSR bolt-on and the main purpose is selling more stuff to more people and indefinite growth - this is not sustainable by definition. Look out for brands that were set up to make a difference and you can’t go wrong.”
How important is it to shop locally?
Mel: “I think it’s super important to keep artisanal skill alive in the UK. The textile industry used to be such a huge part of the economy and should be restored and respected. The building that Jana’s team works in is filled with creative studios that reminded me of the massive amount of artistic talent there is in London and how much magic it brings to the city. “
Mel x BEEN London is available exclusively on been.london.