Felicity Cooney is an Australian designer who makes shoes and bags from kangaroo leather.
Her business is sustainability focused; using solar panels to power the office; a zero-waste cutting technique; recycled paper to print on; recycled cardboard for packaging; and, the tannery that she works with recycles 40% of the water that they use.
Shoe Trader spoke to Cooney about why she wanted her business to be sustainable, how the zero-waste cutting technique works and the challenges that the industry faces when it comes to sustainability.
How does the zero-waste cutting technique work?
I use a laser cutter for my [designs because] not every piece of leather is the same size or the same shape.
So I'll rotate things and squeeze things in or I'll cut two bags at once and cut all the A parts from one and all the B parts from another, or mix it up in a way that means that I can get the most usage out of the leather.
That's a reason why I love kangaroo leather as well, because it is a much stronger, much better leather.
What I would say from my experience with cow leather, is that there's definitely 30% of the cow leather that can't be used because they have the hide which naturally has places that are too thick to use and certain places that are too thin to use.
The kangaroo leather is very even throughout, it may be [only] 2% of the very edge that can't be used, but it's so little compared to cow leather.
Why was sustainability a core focus when setting up your business?
I always joke around that I was raised by – my mum is just a giant hippy – we composted before it was cool and my dad grew up in the country, and he is always wanting to make use of every last, tiny scrap of wood and bit of wire and he has a shed full of stuff that 'could be useful.'
I think that sort of 'make-do-and-mend' attitude was really instilled in me from a young age.
Going forward and taking that into my business, it was frustrating to me when I was working in the industry that there was so much time wasted and so much money wasted and so much material wasted.
I guess I'm a bit of an analytical person and I always break down things into 'that's useful' and 'that's not useful,' in terms of 'let's not produce that garment, lets produce this garment instead.'
I think fashion designers are innately interested in what's new and what's next, and so a lot of my peers at university also realised that things needed to be more sustainable and although we hadn't got shown the way exactly, it was definitely a focus that we all took forward to our work life.
I graduated from university in 2014 and I feel like they were struggling to implement a sustainable curriculum at that stage and it was a cutting-edge, fashion design school in New York.
Are they teaching it now at university?
They are teaching now at university, but it's a hard balance to strike, because I think that with designers, it is better to over-experiment, which is in itself a wasteful experience.
But I think it makes you a better designer overall, and I also think if companies structured themselves a little bit more in that way – so designers did have more time to experiment and hone down their designs to a more edited thing – I think that would be good.
A little more waste in the beginning can cause less waste at the end.
Even with zero waste pattern cutting, a lot of people have to cut and drape things three times in order to find the perfect way to use that amount of fabric the best way that they can.
Then that garment is taken into something that is produced a thousand times and that has cut down on waste exponentially.
Whereas a lot of companies want the designers to design one product, first time, and then that waste is taken into the thousand things they produce.