All of our leather is a by product of the food industry. We use vegetable and oiled-tanned leather to avoid harmful chrome-bathed tanned leather as much as possible. Vegetable tanning is the most traditional and natural tanning method of them all. It has been around for centuries and has since then been perfected in every possible way. It is significantly better for the environment compared to chrome tanning. The leather can also be recycled and is biodegradable. Vegetable tanning, uses tannins; which are a substance that naturally occurs in for example bark. The bark of trees like oak, chestnut, mangrove and many more are used to extract tannins into which hides are immersed for several weeks. The leather gets a wonderful earthy, woody and natural smell – but the method is costly due to the traditional process, the need of highly skilled craftsmen and the long production time.
All of our leathers are biodegradable except for the Croc hide used for the Louise bag.
90% of our leather is from North American Tanneries with 10% coming from South Korea. The reason why we have selected to only work with these handful of tanneries, is, their compliance with ethical labour practices and environmental laws to insure the least amount of impact.
10% of all proceeds from our travel products (duffle, dog leash, dopp kit etc) go towards Nature Conservancy Canada.
Our to waste/off cuts are all used inside the bags or are recycled. We use pieces of leather as small as 1” sq. Anything that is smaller, is recycled to make Recyc Leather ™ - This material is used for the interfacing of bags, shoes and garments.
Everything from cut to sew is made in our Vancouver Atelier with a small all female team. We make handbags and leather goods to last a lifetime; which is why we have a lifetime warranty.
Our studio is located in Vancouver's beautiful Chinatown; this is where all our handbags are made. In our own studio we can ensure the methods and practices are to our standards. We start each handbag by cutting out the leather, edge coating, punching holes, setting grommets, rivets and hardware by hand. Then we skive the leather on a skiving machine. The skiving machine has a drum blade takes off a specific and predetermined amount of leather to reduce thickness at seems. All of our bags are sewn together on either our Juki walking foot machine or Signer push pedal machine.
Each design starts with an inspiration. Sometimes it's the leather, a person, or a piece of hardware. Once Stephanie has an idea she starts by drawing out the design in her note book. From there she draws out a pattern on recycled paper, then assembles a mock bag using these paper pattern pieces. Usually each bag takes several variations of paper prototypes before the pattern and design is resolved. Once the pattern/design is finished in paper, Stephanie will use this new pattern to create a second prototype in recycled leather to see how the pattern will work in the leather. In this second prototype; construction methods are worked out and the design is further solidified. Feedback is key in this step. When the bags are in this second prototyping phase we often allow the staff, friends and family members to wear them and see where improvements can be made. Once the second prototype is resolved we make our pattern pieces in a computer aided design program so the pattern can be laser cut out for accuracy.
We are obsessed with leather. We spend meticulous hours searching for a perfect leather hide. We require a leather that is going to really work hard for our clientele and provide them with a product that will last decades and beautifies with wear. Once we have found a leather we love we will ensure the manufacturing of the leather mets are local economy and ethical practices - when possible.
Our current leather selection:
Oiled tanned leather from Massachusetts:
Oiled leather is a hide that has been tanned using oils. This hide has several benefits including; its pliable properties, water resistant, easy to remove scuff marks, and requires less upkeep then most leathers.
Black soft pebbled leather from Alberta:
Full grain tumbled black buffalo leather from Alberta; Has a matt finish with no sheen, and buttery soft to the touch. Takes a lot of wear and tear with minimal upkeep.
This adds the finishing touch to every bag. We believe that hardware should have a purpose and work just as hard for you as our leather and designs. We work with a company in Ohio for 98% of the pieces. However, for our custom chain and handles we work with our manufacturer in China. Although our brand ethos is to work with local manufacturers as much as possible we were not able to do so for every aspect of the handbag.
Local economy, voting with your dollar, and creating a community.
Another reason why we keep our manufacturing in North America is the benefit of a local economy for our community. When a handbag is purchased at Sonya Lee it goes directly into the business, supporting the women of Sonya Lee, paying rent, utilities, paying other creatives (photographers, graphic designers, and web developers etc) and buying supplies from our north American suppliers - this chain of money provides more to the north American economy which in tern hopefully creates more jobs and distributes this wealth through out the community.
Stephanie's brother taught her the importance of voting with your dollar. If you don't believe in the ethics or ethos of a product, don't buy it, thats the best way to 'vote' against their practices. Stephanie lives buy this rule and as the companies owner she insures her best that Sonya Lee abides by this rule.
"Rendering & Leather Reduce Environmental Impact - The U.S. ...." Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.
"Leather - Wikipedia." Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.
"Recyc Leather™ | Sustainable Recycled Leather." 13 Aug. 2018, Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.