Anne Schollenberger is a German accessories label that specialises in hats, bags and shoes. The luxury brand was founded in 2022 and started out as a vegan brand right away, focusing on cactus “leather”. Part of the proceeds are donated to animal welfare charities. FashionUnited spoke to the label’s founder, Anne-Kristin Schollenberger, who just returned from Neonyt. She spoke about the label’s Green Product Award nomination, its beginnings, vegan production and what to expect in the future.
Schollenberger studied at the Hamburg Academy for Communication Design and Art Direction from 1994 to 1998 and then worked as a project manager in various agencies before setting up her own event agency in 2001. When there were no more events during the pandemic, she decided to realise her big dream by founding her own label.
What was it like to fulfil your dream?
I would have loved to study fashion design right after school. But my parents were against it and said, ‘Do something sensible’ (laughs). So I decided to study communication design and art direction, which helped me a lot. But shoes, hats and bags have always been my passion, and during the pandemic I attended online seminars that reminded me of my old dream.
How did you find the manufacturing companies and was it difficult to convince them to work with cactus leather?
Finding producers was difficult, it took a while. During the pandemic it was not possible to travel and check at companies or materials on location. So I did a lot of classic research, especially on vegan “leather”. I was sure from the start that I did not want my vegan material to be fabric-based but rather a high-quality alternative to leather. The first thing that pops into the head of many customers when hearing ‘vegan bag’ is a jute bag. So I did a lot of research into vegan leather and had a lot of samples sent to me and in the end, the cactus leather impressed me the most.
Then I researched various production countries - in some, Turkey for example, you don't need to even start with small quantities, that is less than 500 pieces. The majority of people from Italy said, ‘No, we only work with leather’. But then I came across Portugal - the country is very advanced in terms of sustainability. Here I met the first producer who helped me find the others.
After all, I needed three production facilities for very different crafts, and finding someone to make the shoes I wanted was particularly difficult. I sent a lot of emails - I think almost 200 on one day - and first got to know people via Zoom. Finally I found my current bag manufacturer. The experts there already knew about vegan materials and were willing to invest in small quantities. I soon also found someone who made shoes (who agreed with the words “we would be happy to be the midwife for your baby”), who then pointed me towards a hat producer.
And do you visit the companies yourself?
Yes, I have visited them now, in 2022. They were really good, just as I imagined.
In your first collection, the snakeskin pattern is very central. Isn't that contradictory as a vegan label that is committed to animal welfare?
We often get asked if all the products will have a snakeskin pattern, but that was just the first collection. Things may look completely different with the next collection; I'm not focused on cactus leather either. First of all, it was important to me to attract attention and show what a leather alternative can do, that it is high-quality vegan. And thus refuting the excuse of traditional brands that still use leather because they think it can't be done without it.
Leather alternatives and especially cactus leather are criticized because of their polyurethane (PU) content. What is your take on this?
PU is usually still necessary and cactus leather uses recycled PU as a carrier material. After all, it is recycled PU and the proportion is getting smaller and smaller. The material now consists of almost 70 percent cactus and the producers are working on reducing the percentage of PU.
You coordinate the accessories in the design process already - how should one imagine this exactly?
When I start designing my fashion accessories, I think about, for example, how distinctive elements can be used for the handbag, the shoes and the hat. Then I look for vegan leather that is available in different thicknesses but of the same colour so that it can be used for all three products.
Four percent of the profits from the sale of the bags, shoes and hats go to the German charity “Promis für Tiere” (Celebrities for Animals) - how did you come across this organisation?
I met Christian Ehrlich (managing director of the animal protection society, ed.) at an event. At “Promis für Tiere”, there are various projects from species protection to supporting street dogs and every cent goes to the organisation. He really checks and questions the organisations that the money goes to. That convinced me.
What's next? Will Anne Schollenberger perhaps become international?
The feedback is really good and everything I do for the label is fun; it was absolutely the right decision. I would have perhaps thought it would have been a little easier to get into stores. That is why we will stay focused on Germany for now and then expand internationally.