MATT & NAT is so much more than beautiful bags. The all-vegan, eco-conscious, Canadian accessory company puts a love of animals and the planet on par with a love of smart and sleek design. The companies mantra, live beautifully, is the distillation of their vision to create beautiful things that can have a positive world impact. In addition to their commitment to a product that is completely cruelty-free, they are also dedicated to using recycled and upcycled materials in their designs, (the bag linings are made exclusively from recycled pop bottles and there are top secret plans in the works to use upcycled bike tires).
Director and designer, Dina Khamara, spoke with me about the companies humble beginnings, nature’s influence on their designs, and how vegan birthday cupcakes play an important role in office morale.
1. Tell me about your role at MATT & NAT!
I am the creative director, which means that I oversee the design and marketing departments. I’ve been with MATT & NAT for 8 years, having started initially as an assistant designer. Seeing that we’re a small company, that gave me a chance to experience different sides of the business over time, which has been great. What I love most about the job is the creative aspect, getting to shape and communicate the vision of the brand.
2. MATT & NAT was born out of a business plan written for a university project by founder and creative director, Inder Bedi, a man largely influenced by Eastern philosophies. What were the ideas at the core of the plan and, nearly 20 years later, do those ideas still hold true?
I think that ultimately, Inder wanted to create a brand that is respectful of nature and inspiring for people. Over time, we developed the concept of “Living beautifully”, which became the message at the core of MATT & NAT. To us, Living Beautifully means seeing the positivity, humanity, creativity and beauty in everything, and living thoughtfully. This gets translated into everything that we do, from sourcing sustainable materials to the way we conduct business.
3. MATT & NAT stands for ‘material and nature’. Can you speak to how your products are inspired by our planet’s naturally occurring designs?
I think that the influence of nature is mostly reflected in the flow of our designs; the simplicity and functionality which remind us of the effect that time, wind and water can have over land, giving rise to beautiful, odd shapes like canyons. We also love using materials like cork, not only because it’s a great renewable and biodegradable resource, but also for it’s very natural-looking speckled surface.
4. Let’s talk about the workspace! Your head office in Montreal is a ‘cruelty-free’ zone. Can you talk about what this means and your (fabulous) traditions of monthly veggie potlucks and vegan cupcake birthday celebrations?
It’s a little unorthodox! We decided a long time ago that our office and kitchen would be vegetarian, to go with our company values of love, authenticity and respect. The monthly potlucks give us a chance to sit together and laugh, exchange recipes and build that community spirit.
5. I read in an interview with Inder that one of the biggest challenges in the companies early days was convincing people that quality products could be made without leather. Does this continue to be a stigma or do you feel there has been an important shift as people become aware of the issues around products that rely so heavily on materials derived from animals?
I feel like things are really progressing. In the past few years, we’ve shifted our focus to work with boutiques and people that are like-minded. They understand our concept and share our values, and are excited to convey them to the customers. In that context, not using leather becomes a non-issue.
6. Many people will seek you out who already are vegan and are looking for animal-free products, but do you have any hopes/thoughts/feelings for encouraging the transition from the other side as people happen upon your products for their stellar designs alone?
I find that the universe has a way with these things; sometimes we’re only able to understand certain ideas and concepts when the timing is right, and it’s a very individual thing. When people see harmony and acceptance, they are attracted to that light and curious about it. It seems like the change and desire to change have to come from within.
7. The future! As we move through these uncertain times of climate change and environmental degradation and a culture of disposable consumption, what are your thoughts on the role an ethical company can play in contributing to the solution, and what are MATT & NAT’s plans to be part of that conversation?
In every challenging situation, there is always an opportunity to change and make things better. Ethical companies bring a lot of awareness to the table and because their focus is on sustainability as opposed to being strictly profit-based, it allows them a certain freedom to do things differently. Right now, the lining of all our products is 100% recycled, made from plastic bottles. On average, this represents about 120,000 recycled bottles per year to manufacture our bags. Although that’s significant, there is always more to be done! We are working on a number of progressive initiatives to minimize our carbon footprint and just generally to make a difference in the world around us, from sourcing fully biodegradable materials, developing recycling programs or scheduling volunteer work as part of our regular schedule.
Thank you Dina, and MATT & NAT, for making the world a better place with your beautiful things and your compassionate vision! For more information on MATT & NAT, to buy yourself a fabulous spring bag, or to stay tuned to their latest designs and developments, visit their website, blog, and tumblr, and follow them on twitter, and their lovely, lovely instragram.