Acne Studios Morning Gabardine Dress - £363   Charlie May Leather Foil Jacket - £625
Blake LDN Foxborough Sweater - £120   Topshop Unique Pool Sliders - £55
Etre Cecile Bad Ass Paris - £70   V Simplicity Tier Ring - £75
Merchant Archive Leather Tote Bag - £430   Moxham Otto Silver - £62

Lost Property of London

Lost Property of London is a handbag label that specialises in upcyciing. By using sustainable materials like South American coffee sacks, wax cotton and leather (which would normally be regarded as waste to big global brand factories), the London based label salvages these unwanted goods into luxury but well priced eco totes, travel bags and clutches. Now we know what you're thinking, "It's ethical/green/eco/sustainable, thats not cool or on-trend." But we can assure you, things are different now. Gone are the days you shudder when you heard any one of those four sacred words. There are a new wave of young designers who cater for their eco-conscious streak without compromising on style, and it definitely helps there is a wider public awareness for environmental considerations than say 10 years ago. And Lost Property of London aims to do just that, delivering handbags that have a desirable aesthetic that 'just happened' to be eco-conscious.

And if that's not enough, they're selective with their material suppliers to ensure the products are made from the most ethical fabrics. They even use their off-cut materials to make a limited collection of wash bags and pouches.

We caught up with the founder and designer, Katy Bell at her lovely studio just off Essex Road, North London to find out more about what it takes to make it as a young eco designer.

Can you tell more about your label and how it began?

I studied textile design at Central Saint Martins and ended up specialising in print, I went straight into a design studio after graduating in 2006, called Nylon in Bayswater, where I was there for a year. It was very repetitive, printing the same thing from the computer, which was fine for a while. But it made me realised even more that I wanted to start my own label. It's funny because working in a job like that makes you realise how stubborn and strong willed you are and I suddenly knew 'who I was' quite quickly after uni. After that I worked as a PA for a set designer which was brilliant because through her, I did some creative tutoring for GCSE students, preparing their portfolios in art and textiles, which I loved.

It was around then that I heard about the Liberty open day, the Best of British, and I always hoped to have my own fashion label so got talked into going, the queue was really long and by the time we got there they were running so behind with time because so many people turned up, and they told me I only had five minutes to pitch one idea, luckily I had to original Maltby tote which I had mocked up in my portfolio with some Liberty print lining on the inside. To which I asked whether Liberty had ever thought of doing a green, eco, sustainable bag, and they said, "YES, we've been looking for someone like you, can we have 250 of these bags please?" I knew I wanted to do something like this but I had no idea what direction it was going to go, but I am glad things turned out the way they did because I knew there was a market for my work, so I felt confident with myself in organising production and going to the bank with a business plan. It's something I always try to get across when anyone asks me how I started my own company, that you can just do it yourself. Ever since then, it's just growing and growing and Liberty have helped me no end, as soon as you say one of your stockists is Liberty when you're exhibiting in Paris, everyone takes note of that.

Have you always been drawn to using sustainable materials?

Back at college, without I realising it, every project I did revolved around up-cycling. I think it was my way of limiting myself, giving myself a challenge, making sure it's something that already exists, finding faulty fabric and even making sculptures out of old books. So without necessarily realising it I would always hone back into reusing materials. It's not always easy to make it commercial, and can make it harder for yourself. If I'm trying to go more luxurious and I buy in some leather, some people seem to want to know everything about it, other just want to be seen as heading in the right direction of being green. But it scares me to know there are people out there who want to know every single thing about your product, every certificate. And it's near impossible to be 100% sustainable because something in the making process will be creating a carbon footprint, small or not. That will always be a challenge until maybe more people get on board of sustainability, because unfortunately it makes everything a bit more expensive as well. I will source vegetan/veg leather for example, which is leather that only uses natural dyes as opposed to chemicals, so I always try to compromise a balance of aesthetics vs eco with my materials.

Where do you source your materials?

Mostly nearby in London, because I much prefer going to the place and seeing what you're going to get. Obviously there are benefits with sourcing from anywhere in North England because it's so much cheaper, it's where the mills originally were, which you can see when browsing online. My leather is sourced here as well, so for as long as I can, I will keeping sourcing close to home.

Tell me about the design process

I do all the designs and drawings here (in her studio in Highbury), sometimes some sampling. But now I think that I've been working 3 years on with the same team and the same manufacturers, they understand who I am, what I mean when I draw something in a certain way and how the finish should be.

What's your starting point when you come to design a new collection?

I guess this goes back to sourcing anything upcycled. I go to my suppliers and for example, one of my online suppliers, they pick up materials from Barbour, who have warehouses of fabric and if there's one fault line running through it they won't use it. So sourcing dictates the journey of where I'm going next in terms of what fabric I can find. Other than that I'm always inspired by what's around, architecture in particular, and of course prints. Also I was based in Clapham before so being based here in Highbury and seeing this new side of London has been really inspiring.

Sometimes when I meet buyers from Italy they feel like the bags belong to them and their country, and we joke about it because we wonder whether it's the coffee reference, because they love their coffee. Also a lot of my online customers are Australian, so it's market that I'm looking into and we've found some stockists out there which is great. I think it's because they're a little bit ahead of us in terms of sustainability as well, so it's great to hear feedback from different nationalities.

Do you have any favourite accessory/print designers?

In terms of bags, I find it hard not to always say Celine, I think they're classic, simple, classy looking bags. I think that's a personal opinion because when I'm shopping, I'll pick up the more masculine looking pieces, and I think Celine do that very well with its classic clean lines. In terms of print designers, there are so many I can't even begin to pick one. When I did the Liberty collaboration, I can totally appreciate the ditsy florals, but I prefer more graphic prints like Draw In Light thats more how I used to print. I think anyone who's clever with scale is great.

If you had to collaborate with another designer is there someone you think would be a good fit for the Lost Property of London brand?

We're actually looking for someone to collaborate with but its hard to find someone who has the same ethos but is still out there enough so maybe I need to work someone who's more established, I'm open to ideas. I remember thinking I would love to do something with Eley Kishimoto, because I appreciate their prints. The weird unfortunate thing is we've had people approach us, who are smaller than or they're so brand new that they don't understand that I'm not in the position to carry them. I need someone either on my level or above. But working with Liberty has definitely made me want to collaborate with more designers.

So what's next for you?

Hopefully if we continue to grow, I want travel more, and to be able to meet the stockists in Japan or maybe go to Australia as the market is so strong out there. I used to think setting up a shop would be final step in having a successful brand. But actually having an online shop now and previously working in a shop, watching the owner getting more and more stressed, I'm not sure that's the way forward. Just because of how expensive it is, covering your costs, rent. I see it as a bit of a risk because more than ever, people seem to be buying online, which is going really well for us. But people who are maybe the generation above ours won\t buy online, they want to see what they're getting. That's why the pop up shop at Circus 11 was great for us because I was testing out who your customers are face to face, which is different to online customers.

Lost Property of London is available to buy on their online store, Liberty of London, Urban Outfitters and various worldwide and online boutiques.

Louisa Lau
15:59 - 19/01/12