Luisa Scheffler’s label BEMENTI is just that. Made out of prickly pear, she designs vegan and sustainable bags that look just as good as genuine leather. We met up with her and asked about her vision of the sustainable future of shopping.
Tell us everything from the beginning: how did you come to establish your own brand? What was the vision behind it?
I had long since had the desire to have my own label, and I was really interested in the whole topic of brand development and management. I wanted to build something that had a positive impact on the world and changed something for the long term, so that when I reached the end of my life I hadn’t just lived, I’d also made a difference that would still be meaningful in the future. Every year, the leather industry kills billions of animals, destroys the environment and has a severe health-related impact on the people involved in production. I was convinced that there must be another material that you could make beautiful and high-quality handbags out of without having a detrimental effect on animals, people and the environment.
How did you get started? Searching for a sustainable factory can be rather difficult. How did you find yours?
After deciding to start BEMENTI, to be honest, I was at a loss to start off with. Every new company is different, and that means there’s no definite plan for how you should do things. For me, the most important thing was to start by finding the perfect material. At the same time, I was designing my first products and looking for a supplier that could make a prototype.
It was clear to me from the beginning that my handbags should be handmade in Italy, as the country is renowned for its craftsmanship and I wanted that exact experience and quality for my handbags. After lengthy research, I finally found a manufacturer who gave me a good impression straight away. After a really nice video conversation with the managing director, I had my first prototypes made out of prickly pear leather. The collaboration was great from the get-go. A couple of months later, I then went to Italy to meet the whole team in person and of course to take a look at the production process on site, to see how my pencil drawing had become a high-quality handbag, step by step, thanks to careful handcrafting.
Your bags are made out of prickly pear. Why did you decide to use that material in particular?
Most companies that don’t use genuine leather use polyurethane (PU) leather, so it’s artificial. This material might be vegan, but it’s not environmentally friendly and the quality isn’t that good. That’s why it was never an option for me, and I spent a lot of time researching what alternatives there were. Eventually, I came across plant-based materials, which have now undergone significant development: pineapple leather, apple leather, mushroom leather, wine leather, corn leather. I found out more about all of the materials, but the only one that I was 100% convinced by was prickly pear leather. It doesn’t just look like genuine leather, it’s also extremely robust, water-repellent, supple and breathable – it’s just great.
What’s more, prickly pear leather boasts a unique level of sustainability. The plant requires very little water and grows purely using rainfall and minerals that occur naturally in the soil. Artificial irrigation and fertilisation are therefore unnecessary. The prickly pear can be harvested for many years, with one plant providing on average eight years of high-quality raw material. The harvesting itself is also sustainable. The ripe leaves of the prickly pear are cut off every six to eight months without causing any damage to the plant. They are then dried in the sun without the need for any additional energy. Quite the opposite – because of its high CO2 binding capacity, it has a positive side effect. All of that makes prickly pear leather the perfect material – not just for beautiful handbags but also for shoes, jackets, furniture and much more.
As consumers, what can we do to shop in a more environmentally friendly way?
One of the most important points is that we are better informed. That we examine brands in advance and look, for example, at how and where items are made and which materials are used. Many people don’t know where the clothes they’re wearing come from, for instance, and especially the conditions they were manufactured in. It’s also important to steer clear of fast fashion and give more consideration to what we’re buying and what we actually need. That’s what I want to achieve with BEMENTI. I want to make beautiful products out of materials that people don’t need to suffer or die for. At the same time, I’ve tried to design all of my handbags and accessories so they’re timeless. Because of the timeless design and high quality of the material and workmanship, my prickly pear leather handbags can be worn for many years and accompany people as they experience life’s biggest moments.