Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Bearing fruit: Irish couple who make vegan leather accessories out of apple skins win €10,000 store deal

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The couple launched Kalo, a vegan handbag range made out of leather sourced from apple skins, in November 2022 – and in less than 12 months, their range was stocked in Arnotts department store.

In addition to their full-time jobs, Kate and Michael set up Kalo with big ambitions. However, even they were surprised at how quickly it grew, carving out a niche in the Irish accessories fashion landscape with vegan leather bags costing from €120.

Five years after they met in Copper Face Jacks nightclub in Dublin, Kate and Michael were celebrating another milestone yesterday after Kalo was selected as the winner of Pitch 23 by the Brown Thomas Arnotts retail group.

Today’s News in 90 seconds – 12th January 2024

The annual initiative gives emerging Irish businesses the chance to earn an exclusive opportunity to sell their wares within the department store. As part of their prize, Kalo gets a €10,000 business development fund as well as space in the Henry Street store and a presence online at

“This is huge, we are over the moon – we put our heart and soul into the pitch journey,” said Michael, a 29-year-old from Rathfarnham in Dublin who is nicknamed ‘Malo’ and works in the tech industry. He said the brand name is a combination of the couple’s names.

After researching vegan possibilities, they sourced Italian apple leather – a by-product of the apple juice industry – and contracted a manufacturer in China to fashion it into bags.

After studying science at college, Kate (27) worked as a make-up artist with cosmetics brand Charlotte Tilbury in Brown Thomas for a year. While looking at bags in store, she noticed there wasn’t a vegan leather option at an affordable entry level.

“When I became vegetarian I thought it shouldn’t just be limited to what I’m eating, I should practise that in all areas of my life as much as I can, so that’s when I started looking for vegan leather options,” said Kate.

“The only things I could really find were types of cheap, plastic leather which is really bad for the environment. Or the other end of the spectrum, super-expensive designer stuff, which a lot of people couldn’t afford. So I saw the gap in the market.”

In their research, the couple found vegan leathers from all sorts of fruits such as cactus, mango and pineapple. “I got samples of all of them and I just thought the apple leather was the closest to real leather – it just felt very durable and I liked the look of it, ” said Kate.

The couple said they intend to invest the €10,000 prize money in production and increase their stock levels. They currently have two styles: the “Everything” bag (€130) with two interchangeable apple leather straps and the “Essential” bag (€120) with both styles available in three colours – black, nude pink and bright orange. They also have a hairband (€20) and are working on a new bag for summer.

“The whole thing about our bags is we want them to be really versatile so you have a few looks in one,” said Kate. “Michael and I are both very passionate about Kalo. I design all the product and he has the pragmatic head in terms of logistics. He is more “businessy” than me so I think that way it works really well.”

Growing up in Straffan, Co Kildare, Kate has always been interested in social media and marketing. Recently she has been working on producing content for well-known fashion and beauty brands, but says she always knew she wanted to use these skills for her own business. She has more than 36,000 followers on Instagram while the brand’s Wearekalo account has almost 8,000 followers.

In spite of what some people might think as they scroll through pages on social media, Kate said the Irish influencer space “is very supportive of each other, which is great”.

“Everyone gets a buzz out of seeing other people succeed. It makes them think they can do the same thing and I think that’s why there are so many small Irish brands popping up – we can see other people doing it.

“Sharing is definitely the best thing you can do and some influencers have bought our bags, which means the world as well.”

When it comes to social media tips for other businesses starting up, Kate said: “People love seeing behind the scenes, even the things that are really mundane, like going to the post office with your parcels.

“I post a lot of that because you are bringing them along with you on the journey. You are showing them the good and the bad side of it, you’re not just showing them the finished result.

“It’s the whole journey and I think people really like that. Just show everything. Show your personality and the story, people really resonate with that.”

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