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Career Q&A with the founder of upcycled, ethical brand: Tototè.Studio

By Aileen Yu


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Retailers and brands have had to face unprecedented challenges due to the impact of the pandemic on the global economy this year. According to consumer data tracker, PSFK Research, the fashion industry is placing new value on sustainability, circularity and efficiency. Along with these current market trends, a surge of social protests worldwide have also led shoppers to re-evaluate their stance on issues such as eco-responsibility, local production and inclusivity.

In this Q&A series, FashionUnited is spotlighting four sustainable and ethical brands that are on the path towards a more socially conscious and circular fashion future. Based in Amsterdam, Tototè.Studio is a newly launched upcycled, ethical label that creates bags by using leftover luxury leather and silk, all made locally by migrants with a refugee background. Founder and designer, Laurèl Bodenhorst Meyer, recently told FashionUnited via email how her extensive background working in fashion has led her to launch an ethical brand that aims to join forces with major industry players to collaborate on solutions that will better the people and the planet.

TOTOTÈ.STUDIO, Amsterdam made, upcycled designer bags

The brand:

  • Upcycled design: 100 percent made of leftover leather + lined with 100 percent silk and unique vintage scarfs
  • Ethical design: 100 percent manufactured by newly arrived migrants with a refugee background
  • Dutch design: 100 percent locally produced in the Netherlands

What’s the best part about creating your own sustainable and ethical label?

For Tototè.Studio, I would say the greatest part is being able to create value and meaning within an industry with quite a negative footprint since fast fashion arrived in the 1990s. I am really happy to see that more and more brands are emerging with the aim to do good. It’s important that brands come together to help build a stronger foundation with the intention to be able to overrule the fast-fashion industry as a whole, one day.

What’s the most challenging part and how do you tackle that?

With that said, this intention is also one of the most challenging parts of starting a sustainable brand. The good thing is that if you start fresh, you can decide to take the right path and make responsible decisions from the beginning. Yet, due to major fashion players focused on profiting off sustainability, “greenwashing” makes it more challenging for smaller sustainable brands that are creating products with the right intentions but are also producing with smaller marketing budgets.

What’s the most valuable advice you’ve ever received?

There are three pieces of advice that I keep repeating to myself and that form the foundation of my work-ethic. First is that ‘good things take time’, second is ‘to choose wisely instead of quickly’, and third is ‘to know when to press the off-button on my work horse and to take my show pony out’ (which is a Dutch saying!). I find it hard to pull myself away from work due to my passion and dedication, but I recently learned that new ideas and creativity arise when you do things non-work related.

What is your background, did you always want to work in fashion?

I studied at the Amsterdam Fashion University as well as at the Italian Fashion University Polimoda where I graduated with a Masters in Fashion. Additionally, I worked for several years within the fashion industry, as the global public relations coordinator for G-Star RAW.

How did you find the inspiration to launch Tototè.Studio?

Due to a personal history of hospitalizations during my youth, I developed a clear understanding of the value of life and creating meaning. This combined with my background in fashion which gave me a realistic perspective towards the industry, made me aspire to redirect ‘the bad’ into good. Today, this attitude is the voice of my brand.

What do you envision for the future of Tototè.Studio?

It would be amazing to build on relationships and agreements with influential fashion companies to take over their leftover stock, which would otherwise have been discarded. Often, this is still a grey-area as of course they are not eager to share the amount of wasted materials and even garments that never arrive in stores. If we are able to repurpose these leftovers, this is a transparent and effective way to move forward as an industry together.

Unfortunately, a lot of waste is now landing up on landfill or in bonfires, and this can be prevented. Besides this, we will keep building on the relations and collaboration with all the talented, newly arrived refugees-all of whom play a vital part in Tototè.Studio’s end-product.

What is your go-to sustainable and ethical fashion outfit tip?

I would highly recommend investing in durable pieces which really add value to your closet. This could be from sustainable brands, local brands or through buying vintage. I would also suggest finding a good tailor as nothing is as important as a perfect fit. I can happily say that, besides underwear and socks, over 70 percent of my wardrobe is vintage or from sustainable brands. If you do some research on brands and work on developing an eye for quality fabrics, you’ll find pieces that will be in your wardrobe for a lifetime.

Photos: courtesy of TOTOTÈ.STUDIO

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