Manny Kohli, president and owner of Canadian vegan accessories brand Matt and Nat, talks to Drapers about veganism, sustainability and pioneering future fabrics.
Founded in 1995 by Inder Bedi, Tornoto-base accessories brand Matt and Nat has built its brand based on ethical and vegan bags, in fashionable designs and trend-led styles. The brand has more than 200 stockists worldwide and 50 in the UK, including Asos and John Lewis, where the brand launched for autumn 18. Wholesale prices for the collection range for £13 for a purse to £72 for a weekend bag. Drapers speaks to owner and president Manny Kohli, who joined the business in 2001, about his passion for veganism and the brand’s ongoing fabric innovation.
What drew you to the business?
I am from India, and in my culture, cows are considered a sacred animal and it felt very natural to create a brand that respected this. I have never touched beef. I was a vegetarian for the first year when I joined Matt & Nat, and then became a vegan in 2001, and have been ever since.
I could see immediately that this lifestyle was limiting and saw a real opportunity to develop vegan products. Matt & Nat launched in 1995. The company slowly grew, and in 2001, I joined and became the president and owner. [Bedi left the company in 2013.]
How would you describe the ethos of the brand?
It was built on of the principles of veganism, which respects life and nature. This meant that there was a lot of attention paid to the material and quality.
What does the name mean?
Matt & Nat stands for “Material and Nature”
How would you describe your typical customer?
They are looking for a brand that is practical, functional and stylish. They are looking to buy into a brand that has a strong story behind it.
Why is it important to you to create sustainable products?
I believe that living a vegan, cruelty-free life is a kindhearted and beautiful thing for the world. The best thing about this life choice is definitely its health benefits.
Over the years, we have been experimenting with different recycled materials such as nylon, cardboard, rubber, cork and rubber tyres. Since 2007, we have been committed to using linings made solely of 100% recycled plastic bottles. We recycle three million plastic bottles a year in the manufacturing of our bags.
In what ways has the brand grown since you started out?
We have great relationships with all of our factories in China and they help us to discover new, more sustainable materials, to test and prototype. Our most recent material that we just launched this season – the Loom collection – is our most sustainable material yet as it is 100% recyclable.
Sourcing innovative material is something that we are constantly challenging ourselves with. We are continuously prototyping new materials and testing durability. This is what is most important for us because we want people to associate our brand with quality and product longevity.
We have a vegan shoe and sunglasses collection, and from autumn 18 we will be selling soy candles.
What have been some of the highlights since you launched?
We have raised more than $100,000 on the Hope bag – 100% of the profits go to a charity selected by the customer. We work with six charities and change them each season.
Launching the shoe collection in 2016 and launching the brand in international retailers including John Lewis.
How do you keep yourself motivated and creative?
I am always looking to grow the brand in the most positive and exciting way. In terms of style and design, I am inspired by modern architecture.
Is there anyone in the industry you particularly admire?
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Start small but start today
Favourite clothing brand
Favourite places to shop
New York for clothes, and local markets when I’m in Montreal for fresh fruit and vegetables
Last fashion purchase
Last book you read
Winning by Jack Welch
Last film you watched
The Shape of Water
What would we find you doing at the weekend?
Spending time with my family at home in Toronto, Canada.