Piper & Skye comes from my Scottish heritage. My family’s ancestors lived in Scotland, specifically in Isle of Skye, where much of my family still honors and celebrates. I am an award-winning highland dancer and my father and brother both professional bagpipers, so there you have it! Piper & Skye was born. I am proud of my Scottish background, as it has played such a huge part in my life. Pretty much anywhere we would go as a family, my dad or brother would play their bagpipes and I would dance. Sometimes at gorgeous weddings, other times at conferences or homes for the elderly. It was a lot of fun, and those memories remain close to my heart.
"From the sustainable work structure to investing in materials that last, I have always believed in the overall importance of honoring people and nature."
What inspired you to create a sustainable brand?
Sustainability has always important to me from a very early age in every aspect of the word. I come from a family of businesspeople and entrepreneurs, where I witnessed first-hand the impact a company can have when they commit to the wellbeing of all employees and their families. I was lucky enough to launch the health and wellness program for a company size of about 1700. Through this process, it truly instilled in me that the more you invest in your team, your employees, your supply chain, and your community, the better the end product will be for everyone. With this you have the makings of a uniquely built organization with clear intentional direction and a set of values to be proud of.
My Grandmother used to take me shopping to all different places, whether it was Tijuana or the luxury section at Nordstrom, she always instilled in me that a woman should have a proud feeling when caring a piece of fashion on her arm, especially when it is created with a genuine purpose. From the sustainable work structure to investing in materials that last, I have always believed in the overall importance of honoring people and nature.
How would you define sustainability?
There are many official definitions of sustainability, but for me it means using my business to not only make great products that people want to buy but doing so while ensuring I make a positive impact and contribution on the planet and people of today. My reach might be small, and my supply chain quite “tight” (this is not by accident), and the impact I have on my community might be a tiny dot on the global scale, but I truly believe any small impact can make a change. I have taken the time to design my raw materials selection criteria, to painstakingly arrange to work with the people who own the companies I choose to work with, ensuring their values align with mine, and to do what I can to learn more about the carbon footprint and environmental impact my company is making. Thus, allowing me to set goals for improvement. I am happy to be referred to as a Transformational Company; one that is evolving and learning as it grows, always striving to do better.
Why do you think sustainability is important in the fashion industry today?
The fashion industry makes a sizable contribution to climate change, and not in a good way! According to the United Nations Climate Change report, we are responsible for about 8-10 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of global wastewater. While it is understandable that an emerging brand might believe their footprint doesn’t matter that much, I disagree. I truly believe that it is something we all must require of every single player in this industry, small or large. It is what the consumers of today look for. The value placed on a brand’s clearly communicated commitment to sustainable efforts is immeasurable, no matter their size. I believe consumers of today have started to take note of the emerging brands who have built these principles into the brand fabric and ethos early-on.
What is your earliest design memory for Piper & Skye?
I remember wanting to design a diaper bag – so many of my friends are in that time of their lives, starting and raising families, and reached out to me to design a diaper bag that they would love. I spent over a year researching diaper bags, interviewing moms and moms-to-be, visiting baby stores and doing research on the right pockets for the needs and wants of the moms of today. Eventually I came to a harsh realization that I am not a mom, and spending my days working on diaper bags wasn’t fulfilling or feeling very exciting to me. It wasn’t something I was passionate about nor something I could imagine being a part of my daily life. It was at this point I decided to turn inwards and dig deep to start designing bags I would want in my own life, bags I could see myself carrying every day for different occasions and all applications – work, walking the dog, going to the beach, an evening on the town, etc. And here we are today! The bag I use most is the Playa; a soft and squishy shoulder bag with two strap options, which can even be worn as a clutch if folded over. I also carry the Braemar Tote for business or travel, as it has a laptop pocket and fits a notebook and magazines, etc. Honestly, I adore every style we offer, as they are truly the styles which I designed for my needs of my own life.
Tell us about a life-changing or moment that changes the way you did everything.
There has not been a single life changing moment, it has been a slow and steady burn. We as a team just keep plugging away to learn more, adjusting to the ever-changing times, and ensure that along the way we all love what we wake up to do every day.
How would you describe your personal style?
I’m all over the map. I went through phases of goth, punk, skater chick, prom queen-aspiring, etc. I’m very eclectic. But today, as a 42-year-old woman who is active and exercises a lot, plus spends a lot of time in business meetings, I would say I am just me. Most of my friends and family would likely agree that I have always been that girl who people recognized as having her own unique style. I know what I like. Now, I don’t question it, I just run with it. I feel that can be seen throughout our collections as well. There is truly something for everyone and every style.
"It’s important for me to create beautiful bags and a brand that is transparent about our growth to sustainability."
What makes Piper & Skye stand apart from the others in the handbag industry?
The accessory and handbag industry is very competitive, but I have always pushed my skills and knowledge to the boundaries – to do better and to be better. I believe that shines through to our consumers. It’s important for me to create beautiful bags and a brand that is transparent about our growth to sustainability. I never wanted to simply make handbags to make money, that would not make me happy. I want to create an overall feeling that when you wear a Piper & Skye bag you feel good about it. The same feeling my grandmother instilled in me; to feel proud about the way you look and about doing your part to make our environment better. At the end of the day, I’m proud of myself for creating a company that is constantly learning and growing, pushing itself to be better and to do better. That’s what drives me.
If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before beginning your career, what would it be?
You never know what is coming or what is going to happen in the world. It is not always going to be easy, but if you stay true to yourself and the things that matter to you as a human being, things will be ok. It might take a long time, but in the end, running a company with the intention of having a positive impact on the world will be something you will always be proud of. You will never regret it.
Tell us more about your brand’s eco-friendly practices?
We are currently working with a company to establish our baseline environmental impact. This will allow me to set goals moving forward and start working with my team and supply chain on how we can make bigger strides towards improvement. I want Piper & Skye to leave a positive impact on the world. I have settled on a list of criteria for my raw materials selection, which you can read about it here: https://www.piperandskye.com/pages/ sustainability. Although I can say with confidence that my raw materials check all the boxes, I also recognize that innovative textiles are coming out every day and we are always looking for new and exciting leather alternatives.
We no longer carry excess inventory. We have negotiated with our manufacturers to make smaller quantities, which in returns means less waste. All our packaging is now sustainable, and our hardware is sourced from a certified sustainable company. It is by no accident that we have a very lean supply chain – logistically and relationally. This means I have minimized shipping and transport waste as much as possible. I am a certified Lean Greenbelt, six sigma. This training, taken over 10 years ago, taught me the business case for such practices as waste reduction in warehousing, purchasing, assembly line production, even HR policies and procedures. In addition, I love the fact that in two hours, I can be on the doorstep of my suppliers and manufacturers, as everything is produced, tanned, and manufactured here in North America. I deal with the owners of these companies on a regular basis and I know that their employees are treated more than fairly. I know that they too are striving to better their environmental impact. This is something I ask about before anything else when engaging with a potential new partner. We don’t just design and produce beautiful handbags. There is so much more to this company! We might just be a dark horse in the whole scheme of things.
"We want to create products and services that people are excited about. We want to create a brand that people can trust to make a genuinely positive impact, and a global company that people look forward to engaging with."
What do you envision for the future of Piper & Skye?
I have set some lofty goals related to sustainability and related certifications, whether fashion- related or global sustainability, from all industries. I have been working on these for quite some time. I see those goals being accomplished and then setting new goals for my company. How else can I make a positive impact on the world around me? Where else can I learn more about how to do even better? I am really enjoying what’s evolving in front of my eyes, as far as how the fashion industry is having to adapt to the pandemic. Digital means of communication are crucial now, more than ever before. Customers want to engage with new digital platforms and there is so much emerging with AI, VR, live video streaming, see-now- buy-now, gaming, and innovative ways to reach the customer we’ve never seen before.
People want to feel noticed and special, and as we slowly engage in some of these new mediums, it is fascinating to imagine where all this will take us. The biggest problem we are trying to solve is end-of-life for handbags, or as we now call it, circularity. What happens to a handbag when it would normally end up in a landfill? We are looking into options such as re-selling, donating to charities, and more uniquely, how to deconstruct a leather handbag so that it can either be transformed into material for producing a brand-new product. Circularity is certainly a buzzword we hear a lot today, but the time is now for us to be thinking about this in the luxury handbag industry and really considering how we can regenerate raw materials and even finished goods.
Ultimately, much of my time is spent imagining Piper & Skye’s role in this new sustainable, crucial, and digitally driven era of post-pandemic consumerism. We want to create products and services that people are excited about. We want to create a brand that people can trust to make a genuinely positive impact, and a global company that people look forward to engaging with.
Tell us more about your charity work, and how people can find out about it?
During the pandemic I realized that I was able to tap into my supply chain and make use of a small company across the country to make masks for shelters. I have always worked to support shelters which exist for the survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence. We were able to distribute a few thousand masks to shelters across Canada. The shelters were largely unseen for many months at the beginning of the pandemic. This communication with shelters at this time led to my understanding that shelters are inundated with people showing up to their front doors, and due to being over capacity, turned away. Oftentimes, back home to their abuser or facing homelessness. The stats on returning home to your abuser are not good, let me just say that. I reached out to a few friends of mine and we started working on connecting vacant furnished condos with the shelter residents who were able and wanting to transition to the next phase in their lives and thus started Safe Transitions.
Safe Transitions, a non-profit organization, acts as an intermediary organization connecting shelters with landlords who will provide subsidized and affordable homes for long term individuals ready to begin their transition to a new beginning. The project was incubated during a time of emergency and great need, but today the initiative continues to grow and shows no signs of diminishing.
Answers By: Piper & Skye Founder, Joanna Macdonald