Maria Maleta combines intelligent design with a will to change behaviors in the fashion industry.
Knowing about shoe factories since kids, the brand's founders Ana Neto and Daniela Marques knew where all the waste was — and how they could make a difference about it.
In the first part of our chat with the creatives, we talked about the duality of their leather goods which were meant to last a lifetime. But their commitment to zero waste resulted in an after-sales experience that involves even taking old Maria Maleta leather bags and turning them into fresh new products for 30€.
With a durable build created from top-quality raw materials, the duo ensures that with a lifetime warranty to all of their products. To make it all even better, the two are deeply dedicated to maintaining a sustainable process by remaining exclusively handmade in Portugal and striving to keep their production 100% waste-free.
To find their insights on sustainability, circular production, and custom shopping experience, just continue scrolling.
What aspects of your background beyond the retail/design industry have influenced the way you approach fashion & sustainability?
I think our personal experiences are what have influenced us the most. We were always thinking about the way we purchased and wore fashion goods, including the amount of things that quickly became useless and the “waste” people were creating.
Both of us were born in families that have shoe factories, we knew all the processes and the waste that resulted from them. The seasons are very small, and you spend a lot of energy, time, and raw materials creating a lot of waste just for a very small “window” of opportunity. So, our vision for our brand was influenced by this personal experience in fashion. Our joint personality also influenced our brand, and the concerns that we feel about sustainability in our production process reflects our behavior in life.
You create lots of opportunities for your customers to have a special custom shopping experience. How does a digital process affect the relationship between client and creator?
We try to give our customers the best online experience we can. We put a lot of dedication and love into our customer services. Online shopping creates a lot of opportunities, but at the same time, it can generate a lot of frauds and bad experiences. When someone accesses our website, we try to make them feel safe and comfortable to make an order. We believe that we are doing this well but we want to increase this proximity to our customers and strengthen those relationships with more meaningful experiences. The online market is the present, and it will definitely be even stronger in the future; however, brands must be aware that the customers will be more demanding about these online experiences.
People often get sentimentally attached to lasting leather pieces, how does your lifetime warranty and relationship with the leather industry help to protect these emotions & your commitment to sustainability?
We believe that a lifetime warranty, more so than making life-lasting products, creates a solid relationship between the customers and the brand. The customer knows that we will be there for any issue. It creates a bond of confidence. It is very important for us, and we are very committed to enhancing these relationships with our clients. Besides that, repairing something is better for the environment than just throwing it away. The customers can have their favorite leather bag again, full of history and life experiences, preserving the meaningful and sentimental part of them.
You two have made it clear that working sustainably, with high-quality materials is a must. How did you come to the decision to work with leather?
For us, leather is an ancestral raw material that isn’t just high quality but is also a subproduct of a huge global industry (food). So, we probably will never abandon leather. The best way to be sustainable is to reduce the creation of waste. With a product that lasts a lifetime, you can minimize this waste. Once again, there has to be a balance between sustainability and quality.
You’ve defined material waste as “an error of design.” Can you speak a little more about what that means to you, and how the concept affects the entirety of your creative & leatherwork process?
For many, many years, waste was only that: Waste. But waste is nothing more than small pieces of raw material that can be used for other things. There are some preconceptions about waste that should be overcome. We use our leather waste to make the inner pockets of our bags. Sometimes the color doesn't match, but this is not a problem for us, we try to reuse all our waste in small details. We have the same mindset in packing. We don't see any issue in reusing a box that was already utilized for something different. A box is a box. So, if it could fulfill its purpose (to protect and transport the product) I don't see any problem in using it again. There are some incorrect preconceptions about reusing things, it gives the idea that the brand is not very careful or doesn't have money to buy new packages. But no, it’s just that the reuse of a box can still carry something to someone. It doesn't make sense to throw away something that can still perfectly fulfill its function, and at the same time, you are also helping to save some trees.
Do you believe our culture as a whole is moving toward a greater awareness of sustainability?
We want to think positively, but it will take some time to establish an overall awareness of sustainability around the world. Priorities are very different in different areas of the world, but the most important message to convey is that the way we are consuming is not good for the planet. This fast consumption cycle creates a huge amount of waste that we don't yet know what to do with. Time is making people realize that cheap products with synthetic materials last for a very brief moment and will soon become waste. The problem is that cheap products are actually expensive for the world. The role of leather is living proof that the investment in high-quality goods is worth it.
Living with essentials day by day — from circular production to reversible goods. 📌