Like so many fashion-brand origin stories, Canada's Samara handbags came about because its designer couldn’t find the piece she wanted in stores: In this case, an ethically-made, vegan, minimalist, and functional bag that won’t cost your entire pay cheque.
“Samara is designed for people who find elegance from simplicity and are not looking for flashy or overly colourful accessories,” says founder Salima Visram, who launched the buzzy Toronto-based, leather-free accessories label in 2018 with her younger sister Samara (the label is named after her). It now carries over a dozen products, including the bestselling carry-all tote and multi-compartment shoulder bag.
This fall, the sisters upped their sustainability game, releasing the customer-favourite mini card-holder in an “apple leather” material. Made from the by-product of apple skins (normally discarded by juicing companies), it’s newly developed technology that's far more environmentally friendly than vegan (synthetic) leather. (While synthetic leather is cruelty-free, its processing requires lots of chemicals.)
Experimenting with apple leather is part of the brand’s commitment to ensure that every product is “extremely high quality, but it all helps the world in some way, and does not harm anything in the process of it being made,” says Visram, who got her start in the fashion industry while studying international business and development at McGill University in Montreal. While there, she founded the social-impact company The Soular Backpack, which makes solar-powered backpacks for children in East Africa — the sisters were born and raised in Kenya — so they can do their homework at night without using expensive kerosene. (A portion of Samara’s sales goes to the initiative.)
Visram says she is inspired by direct-to-consumer fashion label Everlane, known for its focus on “radical transparency,” and Toronto fine-jewelry innovator Mejuri within the sustainability space. “I really look up to Everlane in terms of how transparent they are with their factories,” says Visram, who has visited every factory that Samara works with at least once. “And Glossier, not in terms of sustainability, but just the way they're able to connect with their community in a very authentic way; that's also a huge part of building a brand today."