A business professional at a luxury house turned designer to send a message she believed in. Amanda Navaian believed in creating a product that married luxury and sustainability seamlessly. Two years ago, she found a vegan material that became the hero of her accessories label that ticked all the necessary checks—considered materials, locally sourced and made, mindful processes and using local craftsmanship. The end result? Impactful designs that do not agree with compromising on the environment. House of Marici’s handbags champion a transparent manufacturing process using an innovative fruit-based leather—a low-impact alternative to its counterparts drawn from animals. The glistening Piñatex uses less water and generates minimal production waste, where no harmful chemicals are involved. The London-based brand that was launched this week—from home in the midst of the global health pandemic—speaks volumes of hope in the materials that will build the future of fashion.
The homegrown movement
Born to Iranian parents and brought up in Sweden, Amanda Navaian relocated to Dubai while she worked for a luxury group in the Middle East, an affiliate of the LVMH group. “I always dreamt of having my own business and at the same time I also wanted to build something that sent a deeper message.” That’s when, almost 10 years ago, she combined both passions and launched her first brand Navai. “Back then, I wanted to champion a local movement in Dubai—a notion that was non-existent in 2009—by creating social impact through fashion.” Today, the regional movement is flourishing and to mark a decade of her first venture, sister brand Marici was launched, but with a new focus on pioneering alternative, non-plastic based materials.
Staying true to her initiation in design, Navaian finally moved to London, where she set up the design studio based in South Kensington. Sustaining a completely locally-made process, the pieces are crafted closely in Somerset, while the hardware comes from Armenian jewellers and the fruit leather comes from a local factory. “Initially I was trying to find a reputable handbag factory in or around London to remain carbon neutral as 90 per cent of facilities in the UK had shut down because of brands outsourcing businesses,” she explains.
Crafting from Piñatex
“We pay five times the price for our fruit leather than regular calfskin,” Navaian says. Every Marici handbag is crafted from Piñatex—a biodegradable alternative made from waste pineapple leaves and processed into usable materials.
Given that fruit leather is a byproduct of an existing industry, it doesn’t require any additional land, water, pesticides or fertilisers. “Fruit leathers are usually derived from existing fruit industries and utilised parts of the fruits that are thrown out. These are then upcycled into materials using innovative technology,” Navaian adds. Today, leather can come from banana, apple, pineapple, cactus and even believe it or not, from waste coffee grounds. “If you were wondering, yes it does smell like coffee.” The options to explore and find alternatives are endless. She adds that luxury houses like Chanel have also used the exact same material that made her believe in it more.
Pushing boundaries in design
“We have also placed a cap on our production to not make more than a thousand bags per style, ten pices per colour, per style. It gives our clients an exclusive sense of ownership.” While the unique texture comes from Piñatex, the bags use pure raw silk inside, hidden magnetic closures, detachable card holders and completed with hardware crafted in 18k gold-plated brass for a rich finesse. The signature lion emblems on the box bags and clutches “convey a future of resilience and hope”, she adds passionately. The material is manipulated to give bold colour ways such as gold and silver, among variations pearl white, burgundy, cognac black and grey. The malleable vegan leather gives shape to multipurpose oversized soft pouches, top-handle mini bags, sleek clutches and geometric sling bags.
But Navaian insists that her vegan leather bags go beyond versatile design. “It’s always been important to manufacture locally, to know the people we work with, to see the conditions our bags are made in, and to be a part of creating jobs in our country.” It is a testament that fashion’s focus is shifting from the ends to means.