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A collage of black + white images of Sans Beast vegan handbags, models, team members + makers.


By Jennifer Wills


To mark our 7th birthday, our founder Cathryn shares her reflections on creating - and sustaining - a vegan bag brand.


"I left an executive level role in fashion retail in 2016, making the decision to take a different path, but not knowing what that path would be. I didn’t think I’d stay in the handbags space - I’d been in it for a long time, and thought I’d want something new. Yet, the more I thought about it, and did research, the more I recognised it was the best move for me to create something different in a field that needed a new voice - leather handbags, but not made from leather.  After educating myself on the perils of the leather industry + animal exploitation in industrial agriculture, I knew that there was a space to be created in vegan fashion.

I first went vegetarian in 2015, moving to vegan in late 2016, early 2017.  After consulting to a few businesses, I decided to start Sans Beast - a name I’d come up with within weeks of leaving my role at MIMCO, yet felt it was too personal a statement, so I’d shelved the idea until I had decompressed from years of long hours + heavy responsibility. Little did I know that starting + running a brand would bring even more responsibility, more work + occasionally, anxiety, than I’d ever experienced. But, it was worth it.

Our first collection was called The Night Army of Madame Flamingo.  It was conceptualised around the idea of revolution - and the shapes + designs were inspired by bags worn by the military, specifically, images were sourced from women of the French Resistance in WW2. I’m not inspired by war - yet the bags + accessories carried by soldiers are functional, and this sense of utility inspires me.  

Images of Sans Beast Vegan Handbags from our first collection


We launched on the runways of Melbourne Fashion Festival in 2018 + hitting that ‘go live’ button on our website was one of the most exciting moments.  I pressed the ‘go’ button on our first email, and felt so much emotion in the moment - we saw traffic come to our site + sales started immediately.  My sister Jennifer + my partner John were there with me, and we were elated at the response we received from launch. What followed was months of angst, as we realised it would take a mammoth effort to bring traffic to the site + get the brand known. We have many people to thank for this - Hayley from @sheetsociety was so generous with her knowledge, the @clikcollective team also shared their learnings + helped us out, Adam Worling from @awpr was instrumental on the PR side of things, and countless friends + family cheered us on.  

4 image grid of Sans Beast Vegan Handbags + our first studio in Kensington, Melbourne

Our first delivery of stock was so exciting + we got busy packing orders + despatching. I was still immersed in big business thinking however, and learnt pretty quickly that it takes time to sell through stock, and of course, we had bought too much. These learnings continue to happen for us to this day - we get better each season, but quantification of stock is something that requires ongoing finessing.

The metal trims on our first order were not plated correctly + we noticed the plating was chipping off fast. Plating will always fade over time, but the situation with the first delivery was an anomaly. We had to get it all replaced, and had to learn - fast - how to detach zip pullers from zippers (thankfully the zippers were plated correctly) + replace them with the new trims. We were open + honest about the issue + our small but growing community showed us grace + forgiveness for this issue. 


4 image grid of Sans Beast Vegan Handbags from our first + second collections

We grew organically for 2 years, and then COVID struck.  Lockdowns ensued + no one was buying handbags. Stockists canceled stock and we had to pivot fast to a focus on direct to consumer, and disband (mostly) with our wholesale strategy. To do this day we have kept wholesale tight, and have stuck with those who kept their orders in place + supported us through this tough chapter. Special mention to @davidjones for growing with us + giving us floorspace to show the Sans Beast brand.  

Conceptualising + shooting campaigns is always a creative joy for me.  I’ve got favourite shoots + not so favourite shoots - but in the moment, they’re all creatively rewarding. Working with brilliant collaborators makes this so, and we couldn’t do what we do without them - special mention to Scott + the team at @cubedstudio as well as the clever folk at @selftitled for helping us create the visual language that is Sans Beast. 

4 image grid of Sans Beast Vegan Handbags from earlier collections


Fast forward to 2024 as we mark 7 years since the brand was established.  Small business is not easy - John + I fund the brand ourselves + this is both liberating + limiting, as our pockets are not super deep. Growth is going to be slower than it will be in a business that has external funding. A small, purpose-led business can also be tough for those who join the team - it’s a transparent space where your work has to count every day. This doesn’t suit everyone + we’ve welcomed + farewelled enough people to know this, but also to get comfortable in the knowledge that we can’t be everything to everyone. Having worked in bigger businesses for most of my career, I know how comfortable a big team, HR resource + distance from those funding the business, can be. Working alongside founders provides learning, inspiration, access to deep industry knowledge + contacts - and I’d always encourage people to consider the pros + cons when looking at joining a small biz.

4 image grid of Sans Beast Vegan Handbags from earlier collections



One of the biggest joys for me is seeing the ever growing community of Sans Beast lovers, wearing + advocating for our product. I am also incredibly proud of the fact that we have contributed to like minded charities from day 1. We have raised over $45,000 for Edgar’s Mission over the years, planted almost 16,000 trees with One Tree Planted + we continue to donate to Sea Shepherd every month.  

Thank you for being on this trip with us. 2024 (and 2023) have been the toughest I’ve ever seen in retail, and whilst I don’t know what the future holds, I am committed to giving Sans Beast my energy, creativity, brainpower + enthusiasm for as long as is viable. When I get lost in the numbers or the logistics of doing all that needs to be done - I remember that we are standing up + saying that animals do not deserve to be exploited, for food or for fashion. Our voice counts, your voice counts, and for this, I am so very grateful."





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