Want to invest in a classic piece that is every bit chic and ethical?
Scroll through the page of this stylish European accessory brand and you will literally want to save everything on the page just because everything they make is so so everyday stylish. Ms Bays just like us strongly believe that there is no need to compromise in terms of beauty while making conscious products.
We are in conversation with Saskia Aelen the co-founder of a luxurious fashion accessories brand that in their own words is ‘beautiful and clean in both style and vision’ and we couldn’t agree more! Read Saskia’s interview to get inspired by her journey to know what really drives her…
1. Tell us about your brand? What do you guys do?
Well, we are the founders of Ms. Bay. When you say “Eco, chic and 100% fair”, we succeed in combining these holy three in handbags! Ms. Bay is a young Belgian accessory label that combines modern aesthetics with a vision for the future. With our first collection, we aim to prove that luxury design can be responsible. We only use recycled materials such as salmon leather, a waste product from the food industry. Moreover, we work with fairtrade certified workshops in India. With Ms. bay, we resolutely choose for a future-proof fashion industry. Our collection of handbags and small accessories are simple yet elegant, fashionable yet timeless.
2. What inspired you to start your brand?
I started Ms. Bay because in fashion as I saw it at the time, you had either aesthetic or ethical brands and products. But I am and wanted both! I used to be working for Fair-trade cooperations in East-Africa. Feeling like I could be doing a job focussing on social equality and wear high heels at the same time, I often surprised people with my looks. I didn’t match the stereotype, but I couldn’t understand why beauty in and out wouldn’t be a perfect match? After 4 years, I moved back to Europe where I started working for a large fashion brand. It couldn’t possibly be a bigger difference from the life I was coming from.
And I couldn’t understand how people loving fashion, loving beauty, didn’t wonder about how that beauty came to be.
It struck me just how troubled the fashion industry really is. For the first time, I could really experience what fast fashion really is, behind its pretty face. Meanwhile, also the environmental problems became more apparent and a broader audience started to demand more transparency and a more durable fashion industry.
With little research, I discovered so many sustainable possibilities and materials that could perfectly be integrated with fashion, just waiting for someone to pick them up and introduce them.
We shouldn’t be waiting for big brands to change their course, they can’t so easily. But small brands càn and meanwhile create awareness. So I decided that it was time to start Ms. Bay; a slow fashion brand that wants to be timelessly modern, to be appreciated by women who are searching for gorgeous things without having to feel guilty about them.
3. What is your brand ethos?
The one and only word that I try to always keep in mind when working on Ms. Bay is BEAUTY. That’s our main drive. We want to create beauty.
And I don’t believe beauty can come from exploitation nor from pollution. So these aspects of sustainability are inseparable from that main focus.
I also try to think of .. of how it makes sense. Like, what value does it add? I could design adorable things with little use, but that just doesn’t make sense because, in the end, they would, as pretty as they are, end up as waste.
4. Why do you think Sustainability in fashion is essential?
For so many reasons! The most obvious reason is our environment. We are growing in numbers. We simply can’t sustain our current lifestyles without bringing more inequality and without damaging the sacred natural resources we depend upon beyond repair.
In addition to the importance of keeping a healthy and varied environment, I’m also a firm believer in the benefits of wanting less and striving for quality. The current pace of fashion has brought us a lot more clothes and accessories. I read about the numbers of how our spending habits have changed over the past years; we spend more and more on fashion. But we wear our clothes less and throw them away faster.
I think we should go back to cherishing our fashion. Really choose items that you fall in love with; items that match who you are and what you want to say about yourself with how you look. But this also means that these items should be made to last so we càn keep on loving them for longer. Instead of masses of the same, I’d want everyone to want less, of better quality and with character.
I believe it will make us more satisfied and happy to slow it down. It will in a way make us connect to our ‘things’ and ourselves again. Does that sound very cheesy?
5. What are some of the challenges of being a sustainable brand?
The challenges are many! Some have to do with starting small, sustainable or not; you have to scream and shout to be seen amongst the masses of brands out there. Marketing is so important. And even though it’s true that social media has made it possible to reach audiences more easily, it’s still a struggle to get your story out there.
Another problem that I deal with is about material resources. Innovative materials are often more expensive and because they aren’t being manufactured by huge factories, nor being bought in large quantities by other buyers, many producers of these materials have minimum ordering quantities. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible for them to produce at all.
That makes perfect sense, but it also means that every time it’s a huge and risky investment for a small brand like Ms. Bay or some materials is not possible at all.
6. What do you envision for your brand in the coming years?
I work towards a steady growth. I’m not afraid of being ambitious. We will keep on integrating new materials to become ever more sustainable and also grow in terms of design. I want to develop a whole series of accessories for daily use, for women and men! That would also mean more fair jobs for the ladies in India in the workshops that I collaborate with. And knowing that they can achieve their goals, grow and improve their lives from something they can take pride out, that really means a lot to me.
To achieve all of that, I want to find what I call Ms. Bay-ambassadors; retailers worldwide who want to spread the story of fish leather with me! A shop in every large city in the world, wouldn’t that be something?
7. Biggest milestone for the brand?
Well, for an outsider it might sound silly what I’m about to answer; but I think our biggest milestone so far was simply our launch last April! Because, just behind the start of any brand, there is a long personal story before we went public.
For over a year, I researched several materials, I visited several factories in many countries, I had many samples made and many more texts written and logos designed.
All this while I was working full time for a boss. I literally invested all my time and savings into the realization of my dream. And then, Ms. Bay was ready to go public!
I was so proud, so happy and so ready to finally start ‘for real’.
Now, after half a year, to see that what Ms. Bay has to tell also really resonates with people is very rewarding. I hope we can continue along this path and convince more and more people of the real beauty of sustainable fashion and Ms. Bay.
8. Which other sustainable brands do you think does a great job?
It’s really hard to choose just one! But if I have to, I’d go for my fellow Belgian entrepreneur, W.R. Yuma (https://www.wryuma.com/) They make sunglasses out of recycled plastics such as old fridges, car dashboards, .. And every little aspect of their company is as eco-friendly as they can get. Really awesome!
9. What does sustainability mean to you?
When I was pre-selling Ms. Bay at a pop-up shop earlier this year, I was trying to explain ‘slow’ and ‘sustainable’ fashion to an old lady who stopped by my shop. She laughed and said, “Well, I really love what you talk about, but in my days, we just called that common sense”
And that is exactly what sustainability means to me; if it doesn’t make much sense in term of life-span, use, quality or origin, make a different choice. Wanting less and striving for quality will lead to a more sustainable world. Living sustainable doesn’t have to cost more money, you just have to have the courage to eliminate the unnecessaries. And that doesn’t mean going back to ‘old’ ways or living a ‘minimal’ lifestyle, just make conscious choices and reflect on what you buy. Ask yourself ‘Will I still love this in a year from now? How was this made?’. These simple questions will already take you a long way!