Mani-Q&A with Cathryn Wills, founder of Sans Beast.

May 24 2018

We sat down with Sans Beast founder and director, Cathryn Wills, and asked her a bunch of questions over coffee and a manicure. Heads up, the resulting interview is next level inspiring.

Sans Beast

Beauty without the beast; it’s not a Tale as Old as Time. It’s the mantra of Melbourne's newest vegan handbag and accessories label, Sans Beast. These guys turn the volume up on style and functionality. If you haven’t seen their launch collection yet, be prepared to want, well, everything.

We sat down with Sans Beast founder and director, Cathryn Wills, and asked her a bunch of questions over coffee and a manicure. Fair warning; if you’re on the edge of quitting your job to go full girlboss for a cause, your inspo lies below.

Cathryn’s coffee of choice: double espresso / A-Coffee

Manicolour of choice: The classic red, Cherry Pie

Sans Beast

Tell us a bit about what you were doing before Sans Beast.

I was Managing and Creative Director at MIMCO, and I resigned from the role in early 2016. I wasn’t clear on what I was going to do, but I knew working with leather wasn’t part of my future. I travelled a bit, consulted a bit, all the while forming a plan.

I incorporated the business in May 2017, and started sketching, planning + building the brand identity. We launched in March 2018.

Where did the motivation to step away from leather spring from?

I’ve been interested in animal welfare my whole life. I had a bit of a disconnect when I was leading MIMCO, because clearly, leather is a big part of the business. Truth be told though, I put this aside, as I loved the brand, the team & the role. I also justified it to myself, that leather was a by-product of the meat industry. But the more I learnt about transparency, and the more involved I got in CSR in the Group (CRG), it became clear that true transparency when it comes to animal welfare is close to impossible. So yes you can be buying from great tanneries and you can have great factories on board, but the road from gate to fashion purchase is often unclear.

The guidelines for ethical leather production, relate to humane slaughter. I eventually woke up to being concerned for not just how the animal died, but how it lived. And that’s before we’ve even started talking about the environmental devastation caused by factory farming.

I had to find my professional courage to walk away from a very successful business & start a new chapter.

What’s your vision for SB?

I want to create a world. I want Sans Beast to be a brand that’s opinionated, aesthetically appealing and collectible, but not evangelistic in its’ messaging. You know, I’m starting this business after a career of 30 years in fashion, 12 of which were in leather, so I’m definitely not creating this brand with a judgemental mindset. Sans Beast is a brand that says, look, we can all afford to adopt a more ethical and sustainable approach - it’s never too late. I want people to consider where their fashion is coming from.

My vision for Sans Beast is to create beauty and to create conversation.

Tell us a bit about the launch collection.

Series 1 is called The Night Army of Madame Flamingo - which comes from my 8 year old story-telling self. I’ve always been a story teller. This launch collection is inspired by WW2 and the women of the French Resistance, so there’s a utilitarian functional mood throughout. The brand itself is about functionality and practicality with an edge of frivolity - I like a bit of eccentricity and eclecticism, so long as everything has a function. I’m definitely not a minimalist.

San Beast

One of the things Kester Black is big on is the work we do with charities. Sans Beast similarly supports a charity called Edgar’s Mission. Can you tell us a bit about Edgar’s Mission and the work they do?

Edgars Mission is a not for profit animal rescue sanctuary in Lancefield, Victoria. They have about 460 animal residents (cows, pigs, goats, horses & more), all of whom have been rescued from various situations. We had a beautiful day there a couple of years ago and learned a lot; the tour is informative & inspiring. I’ve since been back and taken my nieces and nephews out there to visit.

We made the call to support Edgars Mission from day one of the brand launch – albeit with small amounts, yet we’re committed to growing this as the business builds.

Who are your design inspirations?

The work of Dries van Noten & Miuccia Prada always – but that’s more admiration than design inspiration. I could watch movies, walk through art galleries, spend time in nature & sit for days going through a rather large collection of reference books at home, and I’d be a happy person with stories to tell & collections to conceive.

What’s your forecast for the next big trend in fashion?

Sustainability is of course the word on everyone's lips. I’d like to think it’s not a trend, but a movement – and there is a lot we need to talk about in this space. Fast fashion or disposable fashion are not doing the earth any favours. We need to see less disposal. We need to be upcycling, recycling, buying less, and buying better. We need to be buying things we truly love and will love for a long time, instead of just buying an item for Friday night and then being totally over it in two weeks. And we need to be looking for quality and understanding that quality costs money.

What’s your favourite fashion moment of all time?

Dries Van Noten 20th anniversary in 2005. My dream dinner party setting.

What’s the proudest moment of this career?

I’m proud of many aspects of the MIMCO chapter & I left at a time when I could bookend that period and be satisfied with what I achieved there.

Starting Sans Beast is of course a different sort of pride – I’ve got no financial results to high five the universe on, but I feel content that I’ve started something I believe in. Stepping away from comfort and going out on a limb hasn’t been easy, but it feels 100% right for me. I’ve always considered myself a resilient person, but nothing has prepared me for the loneliness that comes with [entrepreneurship], the need for resilience - without a team, without the padding of salary / title / big business. But I back myself, so I’m proud that I’m living my truth.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

I’m embarrassed to say this but I look at my phone to check emails, I check sales, I check Instagram, I check the weather, I feed our cats and by the time I’m done I’m in the bathroom ready to have a shower.

Talk us through your beauty routine.

I cleanse & moisturise with Aesop and I use a Mecca sunscreen each morning.

What’s the most memorable holiday you ever took?

They’re all memorable! Italy is a favourite destination. Before starting Sans Beast, I travelled with my partner John for three months, through Spain, Italy & Greece. I like being on the road & I get something out of every destination. The best ideas come when I’m in a different environment.

What frightens you?

Failure.

What makes you happy?

Lots of things. I have a beautiful partner. Two great cats. An amazing family and a handful of very special friends. I love creating. I’m generally a happy person, and I’m very grateful for the life that I have. I’ve learned to listen to my inner voice – so when things are not so good, I tend to take steps to change them.

Sans Beast

Quick fire.

Morning person or night owl? Morning person.

Favourite city in the world? Rome.

What are you binge watching on TV right now? Suits.

Who are you listening to right now? Janelle Monae.

What are you reading right now? The Advantage by Patrick M. Lencioni. It’s all about company, business & team health. It’s not sexy but it’s a great book.

What’s the last item your purchased? Two pairs of shoes from LA-based vegan shoe brand SUSI Studio.

What animal do you most identify with? Black panther.

Favourite place to eat in Melbourne? At my kitchen bench with John and a home-cooked meal (cooked by John, because I don’t cook anything!)

Go-to nail colour? Black.

Sneakers or heels? Sneakers recently, but I’m a heels girl really.

And lastly, any tough love advice for young entrepreneurs who are keen on starting their own business?

I would just say, and it sounds boring, but everything costs more than you think it’s going to cost, so make sure you’ve got a fall back plan and make sure you’re willing to burn through some cash at the start.

This might sound a little tough - but - get over yourself if you feel like your idea is the most unique idea on the planet. Everyone has had the same idea at some point, so what are YOU doing that’s going to give your product a unique selling proposition to make it stand out in the market? Determine you have a strong USP before you start. And be prepared to work your f-ing backside off.