Business
Kaunas IN
2021 02 24
Inspired by ideas of sustainability, Kaunas small businesses encourage people to look at fashion differently

“Have you ever considered the fact that only around 14 percent of clothes are recycled, and the rest “settles” in such countries like India or Pakistan, and even more often, end up in landfills?” Kaunas resident Dominykas Petkevičius asked rhetorically. Three years ago, he unexpectedly started a recycled jeans business Folded Tellers, which has grown into a whole community of people inspired by eco-friendly and sustainability ideas. Another Kaunas resident, Ingrida Jasinskė, who created kARTu brand of handmade handbags, says that sustainable and responsible slow fashion trends are gradually entering the market, and customer awareness is growing year by year.

“It’s a pity and frustrating to observe such numbers. Especially knowing that the highest quality, luxurious new clothes go to the landfill due to the smallest tear or smear, while all of this can be fixed by tailors and washhouses,” Dominykas says when telling the story of how his business began.

At first, everything seemed like a fun experiment: to order the products written off by the famous jeans’ manufacturer Levis from the USA, ship them to Lithuania and then see what can be done with those new but unwanted clothes. Dominykas still cannot forget the feeling he had when he opened the first parcel. “These were wonderful, fashionable, extremely high-quality jeans. It’s just that… they were all covered in some kind of grease. I have no idea who did this or why, but the fact was that the manufacturer and the sellers considered it a waste. Meanwhile, we tried and were able to wash those stains very well, thus bringing the clothes back to life, which not only cost 2 to 3 times less than the ones bought in a brand store but will also serve the new owners for years. That’s when we realized that what we do is not only a business but also a meaningful and eco-friendly activity. Each pair of such saved jeans doesn’t end up in a landfill, thus saving thousands of liters of water and other resources needed to make the fabric and the product itself,” the founder of Folded Tellers brand.

In preparation for the second shipment, Dominykas had already recruited a whole host of helpers and was ready for another stain removal session. However, the four times larger order that arrived this time contained the goods returned by the buyers with completely different damages: a torn button, broken zipper, or unstitched seam.

“My whole plan had to change in an instant and I had to look for people in Kaunas who sew, insert buttons and fix other damages. Back then we realized that each time we must be prepared for surprises and sometimes they are very unpleasant, for example, when you get clothes that are completely cut into pieces and look like they are unlikely to be restored,” the entrepreneur talks about the unpredictable behind the scenes of the business.

Of course, there were other surprises too. One of them was the pandemic that resembled a roller coaster and Brexit, which has almost completely closed one of the main Folded Tellers’ markets. “We started trading on open platforms. We did particularly well on eBay; our “resurrected” jeans were liked by Germans and Brits, who bought them willingly. And then right after Brexit, almost overnight, everything was turned upside down, and the Brits, who were among the most active players in the e-marketplace in Europe and perhaps in the world, suddenly disappeared in fright. Truth be told, it was yet another incentive to strengthen our own website and sales here in Lithuania (what we were slowly doing anyway). I think that business and its development is more about what you can give to the community and not what you can get. This might sound utopic, but I think that with this business model we can make a friendly exchange with Kaunas and the Lithuanian community. I would like to focus on that. Therefore, we have set a goal for the coming years: to reduce our dependence on foreign markets and to join local markets louder and more actively,” Dominykas says.

Thank you and support messages from grateful clients and returning customers remind the entrepreneur that he is moving in the right direction. And when asked what he thinks of other people who bring jeans, furs, or other long-lasting fabrics/clothes to life with their own hands, Dominykas only smiles, “I don’t see them as competitors, they are rather ideological partners that help carry the flag of eco-friendliness and sustainability.”

 

Storytelling handbags

The kARTu brand that started in Kaunas seven years ago, always emphasizes that it is the representative of slow fashion. The creators of exclusive handbags do not mass produce uniform products and sew only as many as needed depending on how many orders they get.

“Sometimes customers ask us about possible sales, but we are not the brand that promotes the sales culture, because we simply have nothing to sell out, we have not accumulated an excessive number of products that should be reduced. I am very happy about that because I think that the dark side of sales is that if encourages over-consumption, by pushing people to buy things they don’t need,” Ingrida Jasinskė, the founder of kARTu company, says.

Following the same principle of sustainability, she has taken a very responsible approach to the raw material itself and its use throughout the whole design and manufacturing process of the handbag. When handbags are being produced, the scraps of leather are never thrown away but used for making smaller products, and smaller remains are given to children’s daycare centers, who sincerely welcome such raw material for their handicrafts. And yet another bunch of leather scraps goes to small craftsmen who create brooches, hair accessories, or paintings.

“We are currently interacting and working with a student in London, who is making an entire clothing collection from leather scraps. This is definitely a good example of responsible fashion,” the handbag designer says.

Throughout the years of its existence, the brand has gathered a bunch of loyal friends, who were convinced by kARTu ideas, philosophy, and approach to fashion.

“We sincerely believe that growth is only possible when the customer becomes your friend and joins you on this path. We feel happy and inspired when the clients, who are happy with their handbag, return to us with their mother, friend, sister, or other people, thus expanding our circle of friends. We are the opposite of fast-fashion representatives with their huge assortment; who are driven solely by monetary ambitions, with the main goal to immediately replace one product with another,” the head of the company explains her work principles. She notes that the Lithuanian consumer changes and progresses every year, and the brand is discovered by people who foster a responsible approach to consumption and environmental protection, which is further emphasized by the conscious decision not to choose fast fashion products.

What should be done for a handbag to not end up yet another item in the closet? To create stories! And that is what kARTu does. A story related to the properties of the spices is created for each handbag and such stories have already become the face of the company, recognizable and loved by customers.

“I want for kARTu handbag to be the kind of handbag, which, discovered by a teenage girl in her grandmother’s closet after many years, and despite all the time that has passed and marks that were left, would be the most valuable and told the one-of-the-kind story, that it is worthy of being reborn in the wardrobe of any era,” Ingrida says.

This business also differs from fast fashion because of its great focus on handiwork. According to Ingrida, although this phrase has recently become undeservedly overused, this is how every kARTu handbag is made. Not in a factory, but in a cozy studio in Kaunas, where professional craftswomen and men work, putting their whole heart and creative energy into each handbag.

Professional craftsmen working in Kaunas were one of the reasons that helped the brand grow. Until then, Ingrida had traveled a lot and lived abroad, but after staying in Kaunas, she decided that the city was perfect for developing the idea of unique handbags due to its convenient location, excellent craftsmen working here, as well as well-arranged logistics, thanks to which, kARTu leather handbags and backpacks smoothly reach the world’s largest megacities: London, New York or Tokyo (residents of these cities are among the most frequent foreign customers). The feeling of closeness to the city is further enhanced by participation in events, city celebrations, which, handbag manufacturers are always happy to join.

Meanwhile, the pandemic adjusted this small business in two ways: on the one hand, like everyone else, it brought a lot of uncertainty and chaos. On the other hand, manufacturers had every opportunity to stay mobile and make lightning-fast decisions. “The pandemic did not destroy us but made us stronger. We started to work even more efficiently online and strengthened our online commerce, giving the user the opportunity to communicate with us even more conveniently through “live” video calls. We also used programmers to create an individual opportunity to make our handbag patterns online, without leaving the house. Being able to personalize products and play this creative game is a new thing, but I am glad customers are interested in doing it. And in quarantine, when we spend a lot of time at home, it even becomes a kind of entertainment, because, as you know, “safe” entertainment is not so available at the moment.”