Design.004: Minima Handcrafted

We spoke to Amanda Lee the Founder and Creative Director of Perth based contemporary accessories label ‘Minima Handcrafted’. She shared how her label started, why she’s so drawn to minimal design and the ins and outs of the leather tanning process. Lee studied her craft abroad in Italy, where she gained a holistic view of the industry.

Alexander Adam

Amanda Lee

Hi Amanda, can you tell us about the history of Minima and what inspired you to create an accessories label?

I have a background in interior design which gave me an opportunity to travel to some Italian tanneries, where I fell in love with leather.

It began as a hobby making handbags for friends and family. I found it emotionally rewarding so I decided to turn it into a business in order to follow my passion.

So I travelled to Florence, to study under an artisan who had over 30 years experience in crafting leather by hand, learning a great deal about leather tanning and traditional techniques.

Whenever I travelled overseas on holidays I always came back with a handbag or pair of shoes that had been handcrafted by a local craftsperson. I loved the feeling of supporting someone in their craft and having something unique, that would last over time. This gave me inspiration to start making my own designs.

I never thought I would actually have this opportunity to design and create for others. It is very rewarding to see people enjoy my creations.

All of your products are handcrafted using traditional skills and techniques. How important is this to your design ethos?

Handcrafting has a sort of romance about it, being passed from generation to generation, holding many traditions, making something handcrafted more valuable.

My hope is that people can appreciate the workmanship and think ‘wow, someone actually made this! This has human value’.

I feel in a world of fast fashion and impatience, its important for buyers to be responsible and take the time to think how something has been made or who made it.

There is no right way, but there are better ways.

What drew you to contemporary design?

I’m a minimal at heart. I value things that are simple and functional but that also have beautiful aesthetic.

The simplicity of Scandinavian design is the perfect example.

Minimal design is often harder to achieve than some people give credit for. To capture the essence of something indirectly, or without excessive and obvious frills, is an art within its self.

Minimal design within fashion accessories allows a single piece to work with many outfits and suit numerous styles. It becomes more versatile. Pieces can be worn across multiple seasons and remain attractive on different occasions.

What is the process involved in designing a Minima accessory?

A lot of my design is trial and error. Im very hands on and like to see the product in flesh. Making adjustments along the way.

I generally start with a photo I have taken when travelling and find a pattern that I like. I simplify the pattern while trying to keep the essence of the original design. For example the Satchel represent the archways of the Alhambra in Spain.

I also like to move various pieces and ideas together in various combinations. This way the handbag evolves. I am satisfied when the design has taken on its own form and yet there is still a visible relationship with the original inspiration.

After a design has been decided upon, Each and every one of our handbags is 100% hand crafted using traditional techniques from around the world. Each piece is carefully cut, assembled and sewn by hand using a range of leather craft hand tools.

By keeping a hands-on role, no two creations are exactly the same, each making its own unique statement.

Your products are environmentally friendly, which seems to be rare in this industry. Was this an important goal of yours from the outset?

Yes, this has always been a no brainer. I believe in a better world where there is less waste and environmental damage.

Therefore I always try to source sustainable products where ever I can from our leathers to the packaging.

All our bags are made with Italian vegetable tanned leather. The vegetable tanned leather productive cycle is strictly monitored to ensure a low impact on the environment.  It is the most natural and eco-friendly type of tanning. No animal is killed for its skin, it is tanned with natural tannins therefore does not contain toxic substances and the tanneries have made huge investments in purification systems and waste management.

Not only is it better for the environment, it also has a unique and timeless characteristic, retaining natural flaws and markings. I find this to be romantic and genuine.

I hope to help move the fashion industry in a more sustainable direction, valuing exceptional design, traditional craft and the environment.

What is your opinion of fast fashion?

Hmm this is a tough one.. Im not sure if fast fashion will ever go away (not for a long time) but I do believe there are better ways.

Be more conscious of what you are buying. Research is key.

Where was it made? Who made it? What is it made from? How is this material manufactured? How will it wear?

Buy less. Buy smart. Be your own style. Don't just buy something because its on trend. Can you wear it through all seasons? Do you love it? Do you need it?

I do believe the future of our environment and the well being of communities is in our hands.

Do you design pieces that you would wear yourself or do you focus your designs on market trends?

Yes, I wear all my designs!

I am committed to delivering effortless style that’s trans-seasonal and versatile.

With fluctuations in manufacturing costs, seasonal demands and other market factors, is it difficult to maintain reasonable prices for your products?

Yes, it’s a very hard time to have a fashion label. There is a fine balance between delivering a valuable product for a reasonable price. But this is something I always endeavour to do. One way in which we are achieving this is not over packaging. Not only is this better for waste but it also keeps costs down, a saving which is passed on to the customer.

How did your time studying in Italy influence your style?

I feel this has kept my designs quite traditional in terms of craftsmanship and techniques used. It has definitely had an influence on the type of leather I use. But in terms of aesthetics I like to look to all different countries for inspiration.

What are some challenges involved in creating a well curated collection?

One thing I have learnt along the way is that you cant please everyone. There is always something that someone wants that you just don't have. You cant do everything if you want to do it right, this is why I always stay true to my brand.

Can you tell us about your vegetable tanned leather and how you use it?

All our premium vegetable tanned leathers are sourced from a traditional Tuscan tannery – part of the Genuine Italian Vegetable Tanned Leather Consortium.

Today there are more than 20 associated tanneries, all of them operating in Tuscany, in the area between Pisa and Florence, all sharing the same passion for vegetable-tanned leather and the same standards of production.  

Vegetable tanning is an ancient and traditional craft process that tanneries have passed down over generations. It is one of the oldest methods of making leather and is still produced following the traditional methods. Turning raw hides into durable leather takes time and patience, and the skillful combination of technology and experience.

Each hide has unique natural markings and characteristics which are maintained during the tanning process. The end result is a genuine and lush appearance, and best of all, it ages beautifully. Over time our products will develop a ‘patina’, adding to its uniqueness.

The vegetable tanned leather productive cycle is strictly monitored to ensure a low impact on the environment.  It is the most natural and eco-friendly type of tanning.