by Lauren Pearson
ASK Scandinavia is a brand we are delighted to feature on our website, as it aligns with our values and offers a range of thoughtful, timeless, and functional pieces that are made to last. ASK is a Helsinki-based, female-founded company that designs and manufactures sustainable bags and accessories. The brand draws inspiration from Scandinavian design and chooses to highlight materials in their simplest and most natural form. Environmental responsibility and ethical labor are central to their mission. From the materials used, to their methods of production, ASK prioritizes environmental longevity.
We had the pleasure to chat with Karoliina Barlund, the founder of the brand. Below is a bullet point of our conversation, followed by a deep dive in the philosophy of the brand, the innovative materials used and why, in our opinion, ASK is superior to other vegan handbag brands outs there.
Santicler (S): Tell us about your background and what prompted you to launch the brand?
Karoliina (K): I'm a Finnish fashion and portrait photographer working between London and Helsinki. When I became a mother 6 years ago, I couldn't find a changing bag that I wanted to buy and that's when the idea came and we started to ASK with a couple of my friends. We knew quite quickly that we wanted to expand and make different kinds of bags with sustainability as a foundation and guiding principle.
S: What does ASK Scandinavia stand for?
K: The name is an abbreviation of the original founders' first names. Scandinavia is a reflection of the design aesthetic we follow.
S: Every piece in your tightly edited collection is wonderfully functional and made from sustainable materials. Tell us more about your design process? How about your sourcing and manufacturing practices?
K: We ideate, plan the collection and products together, as a group. Next, Anette Cantagallo designs the individual products, sources most of our materials and manages the manufacturing process. We source our materials in Italy and manufacture in a family-owned factory in Portugal, thus ensuring the supply chain is transparent and consolidated.
S: What are the biggest challenges you have been facing as a small, upcoming brand?
K: It takes time to get people to notice us, but slowly we have succeeded with features in Vogue US and Vogue Germany for example.
S: If you could have one wish granted, what would that be?
K: I wish that people around the world with the same core values we have at ASK would discover our brand, would give our products a try and would enjoy our bags every single day, for years to come.
ASK designs products that stay true to the Scandinavian design concept of creating simple, useful, and long-lasting items. The Scandinavian Design Movement is regarded for its impeccable balance of minimalism and functionality. The movement emerged in the 1950s in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, and Norway. Influences from modernism and technology inspired the simplistic and practical design aesthetic. ASK Scandinavia’s streamlined designs are a nod to this minimalist philosophy.
ASK Scandinavia’s Plant Leather Collection:
ASK recently designed an innovative new collection using Desserto®, a plant-based leather from 100% organically grown cactus plants. Inspired by the growing plastic pollution problem, Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez conducted two years of research and development before releasing their patented Desserto® product in 2019. This new organic material is derived from the Nopal cactus (more commonly known as the prickly pear cactus). This vegan leather is the first of its kind, as it is grown using entirely sustainable measures and made of cactus. Utilizing this creative alternative, ASK has launched a new line of bags that look, feel, and perform like leather, with the added benefit of being cruelty-free and vegan.
There are many factors that make using cactus such a sustainable choice. It’s cultivated with rainwater and natural minerals eliminating the need for irrigation. Cactus has properties that regenerate the health of the soil, it’s incredibly resilient, and it can withstand extreme climates and conditions. The vegan leather is made from the leaves of mature cacti in Zacatecas, Mexico. Using only the mature leaves ensures that the cacti will continue to grow and prosper. From there the leaves naturally dehydrate under the sun. During this process, approximately one linear meter of Desserto® leather can be produced using three cactus leaves. Neither herbicides nor pesticides are used in the production process, and the leather is recyclable, plastic-free, and partially biodegradable.
In the fashion industry, finding leather alternatives can benefit the environment tremendously. Plant-based leathers eliminate the need for environmentally damaging processes such as raising and feeding methane-emitting cattle, tanning with harsh chemicals, and excessive water use throughout. Raising livestock is a labor-intensive process that requires massive volumes of feed, fertilizer, land, and other resources. Cattle emit excessive amounts of the greenhouse gas methane which is a major contributor to climate change. To top it all off, leather is then tanned, re-tanned, and dyed, all of which necessitate the use of hazardous chemicals.
ASK Scandinavia created their Ocean collection using Econyl recycled nylon. Econyl is manufactured by an Italian company named Aquafil. Econyl is manufactured out of synthetic waste like fishing nets, discarded fabric, and plastic that end up in our landfills and oceans. Aquafil has found a way to regenerate these synthetic fibers into nylon yarn that competes in quality to virgin nylon. ASK Scandinavia is amongst brands like Stella McCartney, Gucci, and Prada who incorporate Econyl textiles in their designs. This speaks to the quality of ASK’s Ocean collection.
The importance of companies like ASK supporting ethical manufacturing cannot be overstated. Conventional nylon production methods are detrimental to the environment because they use immense amounts of water and generate unhealthy levels of nitrogen oxide. Nitrogen oxide is known to be ten times as harmful and potent as carbon dioxide making it a major source of pollution. Nylon is not biodegradable and requires three times as much energy to manufacture as cotton. The lifespan of nylon has significantly decreased, due to the mass production of low-quality nylon that is easily discarded after only a few wears. Keeping in line with ASK’s mission, Econyl can be recycled indefinitely and is made to last.
ASK's philosophy of #passitforward is deeply ingrained in its values and actions. ASK uses 100% recyclable and partially biodegradable packaging for its goods. They strive to use recycled, upcycled, and re-usable materials as much as possible and strive to improve with every limited production batch. Throughout their design process, they find new purposes for their excess material to avoid waste and to offset their carbon footprint. To ensure that their products last as long as possible, ASK provides its customers with the option of having their products repaired by one of their cobbler partners. Please click here and contact us in case you need help mending or refurbishing one of your previously purchased ASK products.
It is rare to find like-minded brands that are not only focused on form and function but are dedicated to the integrity of their supply chain in the same way we are here at Santicler. It is hard enough to start a company, develop and market a product, but it is much harder when you are trying to do so while sourcing innovative and sustainable materials and taking conscientious measures that put the environment first. For all these reasons, and because we love the deceivingly simple way ASK products combine form and function, we have chosen to introduce the collection to our ever-expanding Santicler community. Click here to shop the ASK Scandinavia assortment now!