This rare interview with Matt and Nat President Manny Kohli may answer a lot of your questions about the brand
By Chere Di Boscio
It’s one of the most popular vegan brands, ever. But who’s behind the Canadian company Matt and Nat, exactly? Hint: there’s no one named Matt. Nor is there a Nat (the name comes from the words Material and Natural). It’s actually the brand’s President Manny Kohli, who is the current driving force behind the label.
Kohli is the business mind, and has a hand in design. He helps look for innovative vegan fabrics, and does some press work, too. He’s even helped the brand expand from offering solely vegan bags, to shoes and coats, too.
He rarely talks to the press, so when I was given a rare interview with Matt and Nat President Manny Kohli, I jumped at the chance. Here below, we discuss how the brand was founded, how Kohli responds to critics, and what’s in the pipes for the sustainable future of Matt and Nat.
A Rare Interview With Matt And Nat President Manny Kohli
Matt and Nat are pretty much pioneers in the world of vegan fashion. What made you want to launch a vegan accessories brand?
There was a gap in the market of fashion forward bags that were also ethical. So we decided to offer bags that not only keep up with the trends, but also do not harm animals in the process.
Talk us through the design process a bit. Are you directly involved still, or do you have a team working on the designs?
The design team and I usually travel together to gain inspiration. We believe that there is beauty and inspiration in everything around us, and you never know what might inspire us for the next collection. So It is a collaborative team effort.
In terms of design, what aesthetic are you aiming at in general?
We do like to stick to the minimalist approach, and it is in the DNA of the brand. We are constantly trying to put out a collection that is minimal, practical, on trend and made to become a long lasting staple in your wardrobe.
Vegan leather has often been criticised as being ‘plasticky’ and worse, containing PVC. What steps have you taken to make the brand more eco friendly?
We are constantly looking at new fabrics that are more sustainable and ethical. We launched our new fabric last fall called PURITY, which is made of PVB: recycled windshield resins. This is our attempt at steering away from PVC to put a collection that is as sustainable yet as durable as possible.
There has been some criticism from sustainable bloggers that Matt & Nat are not using ethical factories. How would you counter that?
We try to be as transparent as we possibly can. Our website has a section which displays images of our factories and the working conditions. I typically take 2 trips a year to visit the factories personally to ensure all operations are ethically done. Our factories also operate under SA8000 certifications, which further ensure the entire manufacturing process is ethical.
What’s the brand’s policy towards social inclusion, since it has become some a huge issue these days?
We are big believers of living beautifully. In fact, it is our brand motto. We believe this can only be achieved through equality and recognising that. Although we may all be different, we are all humans and equals. We can only grow by embracing diversity and spreading love. We try to portray this through our campaigns each season, which always strive to be inclusive and to showcase diversity. We take great pride in the fact that the team working behind MATT & NAT is also diverse, and is always working hard to remain educated and involved in social issues.
Has Covid affected your business positively or negatively?
This is a double edged sword. On the one hand, yes, Covid has undoubtedly affected our business, as we are unable to operate as we did previously. Sales have been hit due to store closures, retailers who previously purchased from us not being able to survive the pandemic. Job security not being present is leading to less disposable income, and less consumption. There is a domino effect that has impacted almost every industry.
However, it has allowed us to think outside of the box, to find new ways to adapt to this ever changing situation. We have to admit we were all comfortable conducting business in a certain manner, and then overnight we were challenged to try find a new map. This has been an exhilarating process for us, because it has truly shaken us to the core and forced us to push ourselves to really explore our full potential.
We have had the chance to develop relationships with our customers like never before because reality is we are all going through this together. Leaning on each other is the only way to make it through together. Our team has managed almost overnight to beautifully find a way to work from home, and still attempt to make our operations seamless.
This year has truly allowed us to reflect on everything and realise that we have so much to be grateful for.
Tell us a bit more about the latest collection made from windshields. How did that come about?
We have over the years been testing different fabrics that were more sustainable than PVC, yet durable, too. And finally after much R&D, we came across PVB. This fabric give windshield resins a new life through our bags, and now we are proud to say there is a collection we offer that is made of fully recycled materials, yet 100% fashionable too!
How are you planning to move the brand even further towards sustainability in the future?
The research never ends, there is always something we can do to be even more sustainable. It’s an ongoing journey. Our goal is to spread this across all categories we have to offer. We understand we are not perfect, but it takes all of us to make small changes imperfectly to make a change. Until then we do our best to ‘live beautifully’.