In Conversation with Shivani Patel
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Shivani Patel. I run a lifestyle accessories brand called Arture. It’s a sustainable and vegan brand. We make wallets and handbags using cork fabrics from the Mediterranean. I am basically an accessory designer by qualification. I studied design and then started thinking about a sustainable alternative to leather. One thing led to another and then I stumbled across cork fabrics and I thought it was perfect for my vision for the brand. We have been in operation for almost 4 years so far. We started the brand in 2015 by crowdfunding it and launched it towards the end of 2015.
Which past experiences would you say have shaped your work, design sensibilities, & aesthetic?
I think a lot of it comes from my family. I think that is the case with most people, your taste develops from what you are surrounded with, and your individuality is then added to the mix to make it something different. I would say I’m a lot more minimal than the rest of my family. For me, personal style has developed over the years. The growth of the brand and my personal growth in fashion has been parallel. As a designer in college, I realised that I really like functionality, simplicity, playing with different elements and removable components. That has come into my brand also. I think it’s a huge part of who I am as a designer.
What is your personal philosophy in life?
I am trying to learn to not take everything too seriously. That would come into the design as well, don’t overthink things. Sometimes your first version of something can be your best version, don’t overcomplicate it.
What inspires your work?
Inspiration can come from anywhere. Last year I planned this trip to Europe to go and visit the cork forest which is our fabric source. As a young entrepreneur then I couldn’t really afford this trip, but I said I want to make it happen this year. That dream to go on the trip inspired a whole collection of travel accessories. And then when I did go, that trip and everything I saw inspired different collections. But just the vision of that trip that may or may not have happened itself inspired me well. On the mood board I put up a story about my dream for the trip, and then I came up with the companions that I would have wanted to accompany me and that inspired the accessories I would require.
Can you tell us more about the cork forest?
The cork forests basically grow in the Mediterranean belt, so Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy. In Portugal, there are acres and acres of Cork trees growing. To introduce cork to you, to harvest cork they just harvest the bark of the tree. It’s essential to the survival of the tree to shed its bark, just like a snake. Once the bark is harvested the cork tree sucks tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, so that makes the process carbon negative. They then cut the bark into bits, boil it to soften it and then shave it really thin. And then they mount it onto a fabric backing which is what we use. It does not damage the tree in any way. If they feel the tree is not ready to be harvested they leave it untouched as it can damage the tree. It’s a family-run profession, it is always done by hand and no machinery used. The bark regenerates in 9 to 13 years and again the same tree sheds its bark. The tree lives for about 200 – 250 years.
What is your vision for your work?
I want to get into new product lines, like belts and handbags. As a company, we want to spread awareness and get people to understand sustainability a little more. We want people to understand that it’s not out of their reach or too expensive. Price-wise people sometimes question why it is so expensive, we want to educate them. We want to be a happy, friendly and approachable brand. We have a lot of repeat customers. It’s all about small things, there was this viral quote on Instagram, it said, “We don’t need a few people doing zero waste perfectly, we need a lot of people doing it imperfectly.” So if everyone does small things every day, all of it adds up.
Who are your favourite artists?
I find inspiration in different things that may not be related to my work. Once I was listening to this podcast by Seth Godin, I listen to Marie Forleo, and different people tend to spark my creativity from different fields, not necessarily from fashion alone.
What is your favourite travel destination and why?
I loved my trip last year to Portugal, Italy and Barcelona. It was my first long holiday as an adult, so it meant a lot to me.
Your favourite book, film and music that motivate & inspire you.
I listen to a lot of Prateek Kuhad. I’m currently reading Eat Pray Love. I’m going to Bali, so I thought let’s be cliched about this. I also loved 1984. I loved Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Tamasha, and I just watched Chopsticks and that was great.
Tell us something about your brand.
Once I decided to make a non-leather brand, it took me some time to make that shift from working on leather products to working on non-leather. My value was that in addition to being non-leather I also wanted to be eco-friendly, and most of the leather alternatives are plastic-based and not good for the environment. So when I discovered cork, I thought it was perfect.
We got a PETA approved vegan certification and we decided that there will be no animal product in any form. Our linings are organic cotton. I wouldn’t say we are 100% eco-friendly, I think no one is right now, but we’re getting there. We couldn’t use cotton thread as it is not strong enough for such a product, so we had to use synthetic thread. But we have a deal with the supplier wherein they guarantee that their supply chain and their process is sustainable. So they have a seven step effluent purification process and no effluent is released untreated. The water that exits their factory is drinkable. So that’s the way I try to maintain our standards of sustainability.