Back in April of this past year, I had the pleasure of attending GUNAS the Brand’s Earth Month Celebration party.
I was extremely excited at the time to attend because I had long been a GUNAS fan, though I had yet to actually see their bags in person. Gunas is a 100% vegan, cruelty free and eco-friendly brand, who’s handbags and wallets are as well designed as some of the most high-end non-vegan brands. I love how tough, yet chic their designs are. There’s not one bag in their collection one can describe as being “granola”, which is sometimes hard to find in a vegan specific brand.
At the event, I got to meet Sugandh, the brand’s founder and designer. We’ve since stayed in touch, and she very recently took some time to do an interview for Brooklyn Bliss readers.
Tell us your vegetarian/vegan story! Why did you go veg? How long have you been veg? Etc.
There were a lot of things that made me turn vegetarian. I come from a meat-eating family… but I turned vegetarian at the age of 12. It was just a decision I took at that age. I’ve always loved animals and couldn’t comprehend how I could eat something that I loved. Each time I would read an article highlighting the horrors and cruelty of the leather and meat industry, I would be more convinced and happy about a decision I made at such a young age. It wasn’t till I moved to the United States that I realized how unaware people are about the “behind the scenes” situation of the leather Industry that I decided to take matters in my own hands.
How did GUNAS come to be?
I am a trained Industrial Designer and an entrepreneur at heart. In order to be an entrepreneur I really had to do something that I would love doing forever, felt passionate about and wouldn’t fall out of love with easily. The idea of creating GUNAS was a complete package for me. Having witnessed the horrific side effects of the leather industry on our natural resources while growing up in India I was aware of it’s harsh consequences. India is the biggest supplier of leather to the world and also a country where the cows are worshipped. This equation just did not add up in my mind. That’s when the idea of creating a designer brand of cruelty free fashion products struck me. I used my design and business skills to create GUNAS and launched it in 2009 at New York Fashion Week through Nolcha.
Were you involved in the fashion industry prior to forming GUNAS? And if so was it difficult working in an industry where compassionate design is not a priority?
When I was developing my plans for GUNAS, I only had my Industrial Design experience to bank on. I had worked in several design mediums but never fashion. So I decided to work with a few local handbag designers in New York, learn the tricks of the trade and then start my own. While working with these leather handbag brands, I could easily tell how ignorant they were about “vegan” fashion. I remember a co-worker of mine once commented that all leather was eco-friendly since it was derived from nature. It was such moments that made my conviction to start GUNAS even stronger. GUNAS is not just a handbag company. We are a brand with a philosophy and a heart.
Vegan/vegetarian shoes and handbags have come a long way since I went vegan. What are your thoughts on the current variety on the market right now, and how does that play into how you design for GUNAS?
Yes, vegan fashion has certainly come a long way. But since this market is so niche, I find that most other vegan handbag brands, in order to keep their costs extremely low and target a larger audience beyond those in favor of veganism are sorting to use inferior materials and production methods. They have fallen in the traps of fast fashion, similar to the fast food industry. Just being vegan is not enough in my opinion. At GUNAS, we use a variety of alternative fabrics ranging from Japanese nylons, coated canvases, recycled fabrics for our linings and also rescued fabrics. Also, we produce in limited quantities and custom orders in order to avoid over production.
Take us through the design process, from inception to production for your products.
The design process at GUNAS is quite simple. The process starts with the brands classic silhouettes and elements. Each season we’ll introduce 1-2 new silhouettes and do our trend research of the colors and fabrics for that particular season and incorporate it in our designs. We try to design bags that will transition easily within your wardrobe from one season to the next.
There are a lot more options now for shoes and accessories made of man-made materials from mass retailers like Target and Payless. Do you consider these retailers competition, considering they are much less expensive than vegan, eco-friendly brands? Or is it like comparing apples to oranges?
I certainly don’t find retailers like Target or Payless as competition. I see them as a platform of introduction to vegan fashion for consumers. It’s always good to have less expensive, affordable options available out there. It’s the first step of awareness for a vegan newbie. When a person really gets into it and studies deeper, they’ll find that they need to go beyond just supporting brands that use “Man-made” materials. That’s when they’ll discover GUNAS.
What are some of your favorite fashion related websites and publications?
I love browsing through Vogue, Women’s Wear Daily and Marie Claire on a regular basis. Besides that I’m sure to keep an eye out on Pinterest and visit blogs such as Fashion Me Green, Eco Salon, Stylelist, Hypbeast to name a few.
Where are your current favorite places to shop?
I enjoy shopping from small boutiques and specialty retailers. You can always find unique things from lesser-known designers. I specially enjoy walking down streets of SOHO in New York.
What’s some of your favorite pieces in your current collection?
I absolutely adore my Rockstar bag and Scarlet wallet. When travelling over the weekend, I love carrying my Paris bag with me. These are my favorite pieces.
What’s next in store for GUNAS?
We just launched our family-owned studio in India this summer. All our bags will now be hand-crafted in-house in a 100% guaranteed sweat-shop free environment. We hope to continue developing this resource this year. We are already accomplishing a lot of custom bag orders, which we are able to beautifully make in our own facility. Each bag will now be handmade, personally inspected by me for perfection.
Thank you Sugandh for taking time out of your crazy busy schedule to speak to us!
Know what else is in store for Brooklyn Bliss readers? GUNAS is giving away one of their chic wallets to lucky follower! Tune in tomorrow for the giveaway details.