This Fashion Designer Is Preserving The Planet By Using Recycled Leather, Preparing For Vegan Materials


Veganism goes beyond the food industry. Some of the culture and practice extends to consumer packaged goods, including the fashion industry. The VeganSociety reported that over 63,000 products from more than 2,500 companies worldwide are registered, including 25,000 cosmetics, toiletries and 18,000 foods and beverages. Vegan fashion brands are beginning to embrace everything from shoes to underwear as consumers demand more sustainable products.

The debate about vegan leather is increasing. The global leather goods market was valued at US$419.5 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach around US$720.8 billion by 2030. According to global fashion search platform Lyst, searches for vegan leather have increased by 69% year over year. In addition, the demand for eco-vegan leather has grown steadily; Searches for leather saw a 3.5% decline. As sustainability in the leather industry becomes more important to consumers, designers are developing strategies on how to maintain design quality, cost-effectiveness and authenticity with new materials.

Denise Focil, founder of AS by DF, a contemporary ready-to-wear label, specializes in creating classic garments designed to protect the future of our planet. She and her team launched a recycled leather collection that uses leather scraps that would otherwise have been landfill waste, and the process uses 90% less water than traditional leather tanning. She is now focused on moving into the vegan leather space over the next few years. Focil has become an official partner of the non-profit organization Ocean Conservancy, an organization dedicated to cleaning up the oceans. With a pledge to donate $10 with every sale, AS by DF has donated over $40,000 this year.

“I don’t hold any proprietary information for recycled leather or any other type of leather, but as a brand that’s an innovator and pioneer in this area, we’re talking to a few different factories right now,” says Focil. “The next evolution of leather is completely cruelty-free; manufactured in a completely green process. So no emissions, no water consumption and made from purely natural materials. So 100% natural and biodegradable, but still feels and looks just like leather. You can’t tell the difference.”

Focil studied fashion to become a designer. Straight out of college she moved to Italy to design motorcycle jackets for Alpinestars. After three years, she decided to move back to Los Angeles. Working with the leather at Alpinestars for pure motorcycle jackets sparked their urge to create a label for women’s clothing. In 2009 she founded her own Advanced Contemporary label.

“As an entrepreneur,” emphasizes Focil, “you get a lot of advice from a lot of people. There is a lot of criticism in fashion. You are only as good as your last season. So you have to be strong and be able to think. A great piece of advice I was given a long, long time ago was that when you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom and want to give up, these are the moments when you will hit the next big opportunities. In moments like this, you can’t give up. This is not the right time to retire from the race.”

While at Alpinestars, she and the owner fell in love and married. However, one of the most difficult conversations she had with him was that she wanted to start her own label. Her ambition to fight for what she wants and deserves has made her a leader. Additionally, it has helped her craft leaders on her team bring that drive to the workplace.

Ten years after its launch, AS by DF has become 100% completely plastic-free in its packaging. It took her a year to come up with a new strategy, but Focil stuck with it to stay true to her mission. She also just released her first curve collection.

“We make thousands of garments a season,” she says. “Each garment comes in a plastic polybag. They are all literally used to get to the retailer. Then the retailer throws them in the trash… I’m like, ‘I’m such a big part of the problem.’ Our landfills are overflowing. In my little part, I wanted to do the right thing. So I searched for a mission: “How do I remove all plastic from all my packaging?” Except for the tape we use on our boxes.” If you’re not actively looking for it, you won’t even know it.”

As Focil continues to grow and develop the AS by DF brand, it is focusing on the following key steps:

  • Ask for advice. Create a small tribe of people you trust and trust their leadership.
  • Prepare for uphill battles, especially when trying to innovate in an established market. This mindset will help you stay resilient.
  • Page on the odyssey of risk. Significant risks lead to great rewards or lessons; both are invaluable to a brand’s success.

“We operate in the sustainable field, environmentally friendly,” concludes Focil. “We’re constantly fighting a tough battle. I hear regularly: ‘Nobody does that. It is impossible. It’s so expensive.’ I know it doesn’t exist. Well, let’s invent it. Let’s work together with our factories, let’s work together with our factories to create something. Let’s think of a solution… We innovate. And in that space it takes so much resilience. So I always think, ‘If I give up, my team will give up ten times faster.’ I have to be that person you can’t wear down. That resilience has created an amazing team of men and women.”



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