Karanvir and Puneet Thakral usher in the future of fashion with Bark & Leaf.
By Narisa ‘Nina’ Phichitsingh
Many of us grew up aspiring to purchase our very own designer bags, symbols of achievement for women worldwide. However, we may wonder what impact they have on the environment.
Brands such as Bark & Leaf create handbags that have iconic styles yet address the world’s most pressing issue: sustainability. Masala talks to the brand’s founders, Karanvir and Puneet Thakral, two textile traders that have branched out into making beautiful, cruelty-free and biodegradable handbags, allowing you to be a woman with a (different) mission.
What are your backgrounds?
As traders, we sourced fabrics from all over the world for the women’s fashion industry. We started seeing a trend of people asking for eco-fabrics, and that was how we first started researching eco-friendly fabric and sustainable products.
What inspired you to manufacture and brand handbags?
We travel to different places to source various fabrics, which allows us to meet people from all walks of life. During one of our travels, we were inspired by the villagers making products from what Mother Nature offered them. We then started sourcing natural or recycled fibres and fabrics from these communities. Our journey took us to remote locations throughout Southeast Asia, where we explored the potential for producing natural fabrics and products of quality.
How did Bark & Leaf start?
We explored options with multiple village communities for manufacturing sustainable fashion products. After years of experimenting with different materials, fabrics, and waste products, we developed an innovative production process that allows discarded leaves and tree branches to be cohesive, pliable, and waterproof, resulting in unique sheets of fabric.
We realised that we shouldn’t just sell the sheets – we needed to add more value by making them into finished products. Hiring local villagers to use the handcrafting skills they had inherited for generations turned out to be the perfect solution.
What does ‘Bark & Leaf’ stand for?
The name Bark & Leaf encompasses all of nature. It fits in with our values, and the changes we want to create with our brand.
It’s about producing high quality products with a positive environmental and social impact, and is inspired by the circular economy concept which aims to minimise waste and make the most of resources. Our products are biodegradable and come in limited batches from materials found in nature, making them all the more unique.
Why is sustainability so important today?
As a race, humans produce so much waste. The damage from this waste, directly or indirectly, is borne by nature. Over the past few years, we have seen the extinction of so many animals, as well as wide-scale deforestation. We hope that as consumers, we become a little more conscious about what we do, and whether it impacts the environment, because every action has a consequence.
What materials do you use?
The core raw materials are lotus leaves, bamboo tree leaves, raintree leaves, and banana tree bark.
Why should the world be excited about them?
We use nature’s discarded leaves. This means we aren’t growing trees to pluck, nor are we plucking them from anywhere, as we use leaves that have naturally fallen off the tree. It’s the same with the branches and bark; we use the parts of trees that are dead. Forget recycling mere materials, we are basically recycling nature’s waste. That, to us, is super exciting.
How are the bags created?
We currently partner with more than 40 women across various communities in Thailand to help us with each step, from the raw materials to the finished product. Our bags are a combination of handmade and machine-made: our leaf fabric is made in-house, and the bags are stitched outside.
How would you describe your handbags?
The first observation we usually receive is that they are extremely light. The next response is that the look, feel and touch give them a unique edge. The misconception is usually, “Oh, it’s made from leaves, so it’s probably brittle and easily torn.” This is far from the truth. They can be used like any other bag – they can get wet and dusty; they’re durable.
What makes your designs unique?
The look and feel created by our leaf fabric is very unique. The part that we like the most is that no matter how hard we try, no two bags can be the same because of the different leaf patterns, shapes, and colour.
What is the future of women’s handbags?
We definitely see a shift away from fast fashion towards more conscious fashion.
I think we’ll see slower demand for fast fashion but a higher propensity to pay for good-quality, sustainable products. However, the underlying principle needs to be the same; it has to look good and be of a certain quality.
What is your advice for women who are attached to their leather-made designer bags, yet are still interested in the environment and being cruelty-free?
Don’t let people make you feel guilty for not having environmentally friendly or cruelty-free bags, as often there are very few options available that are also attractive. At the end of the day, we all innately want to look good, be complimented, and have nice things.
It’s our job as entrepreneurs to create a product that is both aesthetically beautiful and ethically made, and to make that option available to people. Your collection of bags will always have space for one more, and you’ll be surprised at how good you feel when holding a product that’s both aesthetically and ethically pleasing.
What’s your vision for the brand?
Although we have been working on this for two years, we still feel it’s fairly new. We see Bark & Leaf as a lifestyle brand that represents conscious consumerism, ethical and fair trade practices, and community development. We definitely want to move beyond handbags but for now, this is a good place to start based on the resources and network available to us.
To learn more, follow Bark & Leaf on Instagram @barknleaf, or check out their collections at www.barkandleaf.co