MEET KAIRI, THE ACCESSORIES BRAND INNOVATING WITH PLANT-BASED LEATHERS

By Megan Doyle

In just 10 years, Beatrix Taylor has worn many hats in the fashion industry — from stylist to picture editor, clothing designer and fashion editor — her career has straddled the worlds of design and editorial.
While working for major publishers like Conde Nast and e-commerce giants Net-a-Porter and MatchesFashion, she couldn’t ignore the allure and challenge of building something herself from the ground up. “I had a fascination with sustainability — I was always Googling ethical materials,” she begins. “I wanted to go explore it and see how I could design with it.”

Those ethical materials are plant-based vegan leathers, something Beatrix has been researching diligently for the last few years. Unlike traditional vegan leather (polyurethane), which is derived from plastic, ethical vegan leathers come from more unlikely sources, including apples, cacti, grapes, mango or pineapple.
While the vegan leather market is booming — it’s set to be worth $89.6 billion by 2025 — just a few years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find any of these sustainable, plant-based vegan leathers available commercially, says Beatrix.

“I used to go to fabric fairs and think: these leathers are amazing, they feel like the future of design, but some of them were impossible to get hold of.

In 2019, cactus leather came on to the market, and Beatrix knew exactly what she’d do with it — launch her sustainable accessories brand, Kairi London.

Years of working in fashion styling and editorial have honed Beatrix’s aesthetic, so she had a clear vision for the brand from the beginning. “I’ve worked with so many designers throughout the last 10 years, and what I’m always interested in is simplicity in design,” she says. “I want Kairi to be an exciting place to shop. We have quite fun, interesting designs that are really wearable and simple. The fact that we use plant leathers is what makes us unique.”

Noticing a gap in the market for ethical vegan handbags that also felt and looked luxurious, Beatrix has been pouring her years of research into Kairi, creating a range of bags that have the look and feel of genuine leather with the help of a London-based bag maker.

The guy who makes my bags is passionate about leather making, so when I first introduced all these plant leathers he was like, can you please stop giving me these crap materials?” “But I knew they were going to improve and I wanted to develop them as much as I could. Eventually, he got into the challenge!

Together, they’ve been experimenting with plant-based vegan leathers and eagerly watching as the materials improved in quality. “What’s great is that these companies are developing and improving their materials,” she says. “They realise there’s a commercial awareness and that brands want to work with them, so they’re improving the quality and the softness all the time.”

Despite the growing interest and awareness of plant-based leather, there’s still a long way to go before it’s the preferred alternative to cow leather. Education will be a key focus when it comes to marketing her products, says Beatrix. “There are lots of people who don’t know anything about it, and there are a lot of people who say they’ll only buy a bag if it’s made from real leather, because to them that is a sign of quality,” she says. “The next challenge for me is showing people you can have a beautiful bag made from a plant-based material.”

Unlike real leather or even polyurethane, plant-based leather is difficult to mould, so a lot of brands opt for creating simple pouch designs. But not Kairi — the brand’s signature style is a structured shell-shaped bag, which comes in two sizes and a range of vivid colours.

These materials are 50 percent organic and 50 percent upcycled, and we have found backings made of wood or wool that allow us to make basically any shape in a bag with these materials.We have gotten to a point where we could make any design with it, plus it’s all organic and vegan.

The emphasis on sustainability runs through every aspect of the business — from the materials used to the manufacturing process. Kairi shell bags are made to order, which eliminates waste in the production line. “One of the other things I do is reuse everything — we keep every material we use so that we can make even just a keyring out of it — there’s absolutely no waste,” she says. With this sustainability mindset, she’s even helped change the habits of her manufacturer.

Our factory wasn’t used to saving scrap materials at all, but I was adamant that we had to use every little tiny piece. It’s also quite fun because we can see how to rework stuff!

Currently, the line includes a handful of styles, including the Curve, Baguette and Zigzag designs which Beatrix plans to build out as the brand grows. “We’re going to be expanding those themes — there will be a shell range so even if people can’t buy a £400 bag, they can buy the keyring version,” she says. “Rather than churning out design after design — because that’s basically just fast fashion — we want to have a beautiful range that people can buy into.”

As for the future of the brand, Beatrix has plenty of ideas up her sleeve, with plans to release two collections a year. “I have so many bag designs that I want to do, but I think it’s important not to roll them out too quickly.” she says. Organic growth is something Beatrix is adamant on — she’s keen to build the brand in a manageable way by selling directly to her customers through her online store, rather than seeking out stockists at this early stage. 

Despite being in its infancy, Kairi has found a dedicated audience by committing to sustainability across all facets of the brand and tapping into a burgeoning market for vegan and ethical products. “I saw a chart that broke down what different generations think sustainability is. People over 60 think it’s about high quality materials — something that lasts a long time — but 18 year olds think that it’s a vegan product,” she says.

“The sustainability space is really interesting because we’re finding out where we fit. We have fair production, we’re made in the UK, we have vegan and upcycled materials that are also high quality and durable, so in terms of sustainability, we tick all the boxes.

Megan Doyle is a contributor to THEFORWARDLAB. She’s an Australia-born, London-based freelance fashion journalist covering sustainability, luxury and fashion business. Having cut her teeth at the Business of Fashion, Megan has since written for Eco-Age, Luxury Society, Monocle Magazine, EcoCult and more. She is a Remake ambassador and contributor, who believes that the most sustainable clothing is what’s already in your wardrobe.