Vegan fashion innovations have been taking the industry by storm in recent years, offering cruelty-free consumers a selection of innovative choices from wine leather to coconut wool. But within a vast new array of sustainable offerings such as vegan handbags and shoes, there is still a shortage of vegan accessories for men. Brands catering to men (and men only) are few and far between, and vegan fashion still seems largely a woman’s area.
Enter Watson & Wolfe, a UK-based brand focusing on vegan accessories for men. Their sophisticated range is made for the modern man who is fed up with choosing between two tacky nylon wallets, as those are the sole leather-free options. Founded by Helen Farr-Leander, Watson & Wolfe is addressing the gap in men’s fashion by creating a range of versatile, wearable everyday accessories in vegan leather. Helen recently sat down with us to share about her evolution from working within the world of luxury leather to seeing the horrors of the industry first-hand, turning vegan, and the creation of her brand.
Helen, we are so excited to hear how Watson & Wolfe got started! What inspired you to create a luxury line of vegan accessories for men? I spent 10 years working at Aspinal of London. I was there from inception and was pivotal in growing the business to £10M. There are a lot of female vegan accessory brands already, doing a fantastic job of proving that non-leather can compete. However, men are hugely under-represented. There is a handful offering handmade accessories, but none of them offer the level of craftsmanship and quality of Watson & Wolfe. I believe we need to offer this level of quality to entice more men to shop sustainably. To remove the stigma that sustainable it less luxurious.
What is your opinion on why there is such little choice in vegan and sustainable options for men? Do you believe there are preconceptions about men and Veganism within society that contribute to the lack of choice? Personally, I think that women are seen as a more viable option for making money, with seasonal changes and colour trends you can introduce more things, more often. Men are also the hardest consumer to green. This may be because sustainability isn’t seen as being very macho. I have written an article about this recently. We hope that by working with inspirational and influential males on our collections we can change this perception and show that buying sustainably is cool.
What inspired the name Watson & Wolfe? My dog is called Watson and we all know that dogs are descendants of the wolf. They have evolved. The name is a play on evolution. We are a non-leather brand which has evolved from a history of working with leather.
Speaking of Watson & Wolfe’s name as the idea of evolution, and moving away from working with leather; what fabrics and materials are you working with currently? Our first collection is made using PU. Most PU is produced using 100% petroleum-based components and lots of chemical processes, but ours is very different. More than 50% of the material is made using plant bio-polyols. Simply put, this is oil from non-food grade corn which is synthesized into a material. Our manufacturer also uses a water-based process instead of chemical processes and they have their own water and air filtration systems, so they are producing as cleanly as possible. Our lining is made using recycled plastic bottles. It’s the highest quality and thickness we could find and it feels really nice. Next year we hope to develop a collection using apple leather.
Who do you envision as Watson & Wolfe’s clientele? What do you hope your products will achieve in their day to day life? We want men to be proud to carry a sustainably produced, luxury item. We should all be showing off purchases which make a difference. We all share articles about plastic pollution, and yet we are slow to be part of the change. Our customer is almost certainly someone who cares about the planet, or someone who wants to buy a more sustainable gift for their partner. They prefer well-made items that will last and that makes them feel good. Our products are not just for vegan men, they’re for anyone who wants to take part in making fashion less wasteful and more responsible.
Can you share about what being a vegan means to you, and how it influences you in running your business? I went vegan for animal welfare and the health benefits I experience are a bonus. When I was researching this business I saw how depraved the meat and leather industry had become and it will only get worse if the demand for leather increases. I want no part of that and I would like the work we do to inspire others to reduce the use of leather too. We can prove that non-leather is luxurious and that consumers can make a sustainable choice without compromising on style or quality.
What are you most excited about for the future of Watson & Wolfe? We are most excited about making the business as sustainable as possible whilst ensuring a high level of quality and finish. We also want to be carbon neutral and waste-free. We believe that businesses should all be looking to reduce their environmental impact rather than being solely focused on profits. The fashion industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and remains the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil. If we each take responsibility for what impact we have, changes would happen faster. I want to see a significant change in my lifetime.
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All photos courtesy of Watson & Wolfe