Can you believe that today, Sept. 8, 2020, marks the beginning of a new school year?
Just over a month ago, the reopening of schools seemed like long a shot with the threat of spreading the coronavirus.
Ready or not, it’s time – ’tis the season for back-to-school shopping.
To make facing our end of summer reality check easier (and more conscious), we’ve been all over curating a selection of everything from sustainable wardrobe staples to healthy lunch recipes for the gal on the go.
And of course, we could never forget about our favourite back-to-school item: a fashionable backpack.
That’s how we came across Lambert in our search for “the one“: a vegan leather accessories brand based in Montreal, founded by Mélissa Lambert – a young mother who sought out to create the bags she once dreamed of wearing.
From collaborating with local designers throughout the pandemic, to keeping an eye on all the technical and ethical aspects of her brand while raising three beautiful boys, Lambert has inspired the whole team here at STYLE Canada.
Not to mention the fact that she’s hooked us on her Euro-chic designs made to simplify everyday life – just what we need on those early school mornings we’re rushing out the door.
Here, STYLE’s Digital Editor Anastasia Barbuzzi talks to Lambert about operating a fashion brand during COVID-19, the future of local and ethical manufacturing in Canada, her “it” bag, and so much more.
AB: What was your involvement in the fashion and design world before founding Lambert?
ML: Prior to launching Lambert, I worked as a brand manager for a telecommunications company and then in marketing for Quebec fashion magazines such as Clin D’Oeil (TVA Publication). I have always had a deep interest in fashion and a passion for entrepreneurship. In 2017, I combined these passions and launched Lambert, my dream job.
AB: What inspires you and your designs?
ML: I am inspired by a mix of everything; architecture, history, travel and fashion weeks. With Lambert, we merge these elements to create practical, chic, and multifunctional products that focus on vegan and refined materials.
AB: If you could sum up the image of your brand, how would you describe it?
ML: Lambert is a brand that offers bags and accessories that are both classic and trendy. We are a breath of fresh air, a new generation in bags and accessories. We are authentic, fashionable and eco- responsible.
AB: The fuel behind starting your own accessories brand was the desire to reinvent the “fashion of the backpack“. Why was that something you wanted to do in the first place?
ML: I created Lambert when I was pregnant with my second child. I found it was impossible to find a multipurpose backpack that was both practical and chic and also able to meet my everyday needs. I then teamed up with a talented Canadian designer to create a line of fashionable, comfortable and stylish multifunctional backpacks. From there, Lambert was born!
AB: Your brand pays a lot of attention to ethical materials and manufacturing. Why is that?
ML: Our target customers believe strongly in corporate values, transparency, knowing how the product is made, as well as the product’s environmental aspect. By offering vegan products, we are meeting the values of our customers. Furthermore, transparency is at the heart of our priorities. On our website we explain that all of our designs are conceptualized and developed in Canada, and our production is carried out in Guangzhou, China. We chose this region as they are known across the world as experts in vegan leather goods, which allows us to offer high quality products.
AB: There’s a lot of “green”, “ethical”, “vegan”, “animal-friendly” and “sustainable” brands entering the marketplace, which can be intimidating and overwhelming for many small business owners. What convinced you to move forward with your brand at the time that you did?
ML: I believe that the brands that will survive in the coming years will be those that are committed to authenticity, durability, and respect for animal life. The new generation of consumers are more educated when it comes to purchasing and ask more questions before committing to buying a new brand. I believe that we must continue to innovate in this direction, to find even more eco-friendly materials, such as vegetable, biodegradable and durable leathers, and materials made from recycled water bottles.
AB: What would you say sets Lambert apart from other vegan leather brands?
ML: At Lambert, all our products have been designed to simplify your daily life. Our bags are practical and functional and contain several compartments so that each item inserted is well organized and easy to find. Each and every object placed in our bags finds its place.
Our designs are created locally. Most of our designs can be worn in different ways to allow for more than one look (handbag, shoulder strap, backpack, etc.). The design of our products is a process that combines ingenuity and attention to detail.
“I believe that the brands that will survive in the coming years will be those that are committed to authenticity, durability, and respect for animal life.”
AB: For other small business owners looking to enter the space, what would you say is key to setting yourself apart?
ML: You must create a strong brand image and your own identity. Use social media to make yourself known and to stay connected to your target audience. By being transparent with your audience and customers, you become a brand that people trust. Stay focused!
AB: It’s a highly unpredictable time to be running a small fashion brand. How have you dealt with the effects of COVID-19 so far?
ML: We had to temporarily close our Lambert boutique in Old Montreal on March 14 due to COVID. We had to thank half of the team, re-assign roles and work remotely. We re-doubled our efforts online, we set up a chat on our website to be more connected with our customers. We took advantage of the fact that the store was closed to renovate it. This time allowed us to get more creative and we have a lot of new products to market this Fall. In short, we are stronger than we were before!
AB: In light of the coronavirus, where do you see the future of local and ethical manufacturing going from here?
ML: For the moment, our bags are created in Canada and produced in Guangzhou. Our goal is to diversify our production internationally and to work with various countries across the world. Local production remains an issue for most companies here, especially during the COVID, where many entrepreneurs found themselves unable to produce as most ateliers, factories and seamstresses were only making PPE. No one can predict the future, but one thing is for certain: this crisis will have had a long-term impact on most businesses.
AB: Do you have any advice for people who’re looking to build their own brand at this time?
ML: My advice would be to focus all your efforts on online sales. This is the best strategy for a new business and for existing businesses as well. Furthermore, you have to be willing to work hard and constantly create and innovate so that you can stand out in the crowd.
“No one can predict the future, but one thing is for certain: this crisis will have had a long-term impact on most businesses.”
AB: What goals do you have for Lambert?
ML: Lambert is celebrating its third anniversary today. In three years time, we would like to double our sales, our team, our number of models and accessories, and we would like to have a significant presence across Canada. We want to continue to innovate in the design of our products.
AB: Besides your online store, where else can people shop your bags?
ML: In addition to our online store, Lambert can be found in over 150 points of sale throughout the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick. We are quickly expanding across Canada and you will certainly be able to find our products in Ontario-based retail stores very soon!
AB: If there’s one style you think would convince someone to buy a second Lambert bag, what would it be?
ML: The Charlotte bag is our most practical model for everyday use. You can store all your personal and professional belongings inside, such as a 15-inch laptop, notebook, wallet, water bottle, cell phone, and keys. It’s the “passe-partout” bag that will accompany you from morning to night, from the office to a happy hour followed by dinner. It is both practical and chic, professional and trendy.
SHOP IT: Lambert, $139.99