A Look Inside the HER Design LLC Workshop

This being the second Holiday season for TreeHugger, we thought we'd ask for a tour of Santa's workshop. Maybe see if any green designs had made it that far north since last year. Sadly, Northland Security Department refused. Then we met someone from HER Design LLC, a Massachusetts based designer of handbags and accessories, who was kind enough to invite us behind their web page for a chat about design and textile choices. Reaction? What a scrumptious green haberdashery. What temptations for an on-the-go sassy gal-about-town. The first we were shown was Leaf, a laptop-book bag (pictured here); then Mushroom, their "impact bag" for fall/winter; and, finally, Lily, a dressy prototype for spring/summer of 2006. Each bag featured varying amounts of "Treetap®,", a fair-trade produced, natural rubber coated organic canvas. Besides Treetap®, Ultrasuede®, organic cotton, hemp canvas, and silk are their main materials of construction. As always, men are left to wonder, "what do women carry in these mysterious bags"? All the more intriguing here because HER Design bags are designed and distributed with sustainability and humane treatment of animals in mind. Our guide, Christopher Riegle, offered no insights as to what customers put inside the bags, but did say: "We use fashion colors but also offer neutrals to appeal to two types of customer: those who may dress around their accessories, and those who want something that goes with anything. Some of the bags are occasion/event bags (our silk collection), some are more versatile day bags. It turns out that Poppy is also a great diaper bag". 'Green in the City' morphs with pragmatism.

On Styling:
"Helen our designer definitely has her own sensibility. First, inspiration strikes, and then it's a process of honing that natural object or silhouette into something that can be functional. The materials definitely inform the design. To date, flowers have been a strong influence".

Markets:
"We've sold to all climate zones from Maine down to Florida. In warm climates, like Florida we can sell our hemp canvas bags year-round. Here in the northeast, however, customers won't carry canvas in fall and winter".

Leather substitutes:
"Although, as with most handbags, we hybridize several materials, we are looking for acknowledgement of our efforts to use a variety of new materials, some natural and some synthetic, to replace and even surpass leather. As a small player in an industry designed to work with leather, it can be hard to prove your point".

"What we've finally settled on for the hard-finish leather look is "Treetap®", a natural "vegetal rubber" coated canvas used for base, handle, trim, a piping. We're pleased with the high performance of Treetap®. Designing with it allows us to sell to shops and end users who want/need to see something leather-like".

"As we want so much to appeal to, and ideally affect some measure of change in a particular type of consumer, it's been an important find, and we're pleased to support the cooperative that supplies Treetap® rubber".

"Ultrasuede® of course is a synthetic suede leather substitute widely used in clothing and home furnishings. It is often used for upholstery due to it's wear resistance. In the end — after sampling lots of alternatives, including McDonough's DesignTex upholstery fabrics — we chose Ultrasuede®. From our perspective, 'microsuedes' are still the "ethical" choice over skins and hides, although as much as we'd like to, we can't ignore the poly content. The challenge we've yet to overcome is finding a natural suede substitute that is both resilient and acceptable to the market".

Future styles:
"For spring/summer 06, it's back to natural fibers for us — a half-dozen all-new styles in 100% certified, US-produced organic cotton canvas with Treetap® trim. We're dyeing the fabric using low-impact, formaldehyde-free, low-metal/low-sulfur dyes. It's commercially processed to make it colorfast like you'd expect a dyed garment to be. And even though the canvas is water-resistent, we're treating it with soy wax to enhance this quality. It's as close as we've come to our vision of a "pure" eco/sustainable product that works for our market, and we're proud of this. This is the ideal we've been working toward — marrying unique and refined design with eco/animal friendly fabrication".

TreeHugger especially liked HER Design's use of BioBags® as a packaging alternative. They're a readily bio-degradable alternative to poly bags, being made made of cornstarch and vegetable oil. Although this is an unusual use, HER's supplier for the BioBags® has reportedly had other customers use them for packaging. But what grabbed us first .... this is from a guy viewpoint of course ... is the sultry feel of BioBags®. In synch with the products and definitely not something that should go to the dustbin.

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