A talk with the woman putting the vegetable back in tanning.

by Veronica Iannuzzi

At twenty-five years old Marie-Anne Miljours is in her third year of growing a Montreal-based leather bag company called Matu. She and her team use the environmentally friendly practice of vegetable tanning to treat and finish their leathers. This process uses tannins, which come naturally from the bark and leaves of many plants, to produce leather goods that have a classic and minimalist aesthetic.

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So let’s start from the beginning, what inspired you to create the brand?

M: I studied fashion design in woman’s wear and I did my internship in New York. When I came back I had one year of my bachelor degree left and I started working with an industrial designer. I really grew to love the craft and especially the manufacturing of accessories. The beauty of accessories is that it’s for everyone. In contrast to making clothes because you have to choose a silhouette that fits just one kind of person. But with accessories you don’t have to choose. You just create the accessory and everyone can just put it on and make it their own. So I decided to create Matu in July of 2013 and the last year of my Bachelor degree was dedicated to making my first collection.

Can you tell me about your process in making Matu’s pieces?

M: We use the process of vegetable tanning to treat and prepare our leathers. The more traditional and popular method to finish leathers is the use of chrome tanning but we decided to use vegetable tanning instead.

And why did you choose this method over the other:

M: Chrome tanning uses chemicals that are very toxic and very bad for the environment. I wanted to make a difference and create my products using a method that is better for both the environment and for the hands creating these pieces. And actually, vegetable tanning was the primary way to treat leathers before the industrial revolution. A big reason why people shifted to chrome tanning is because it’s a much shorter process. Vegetable tanning can take up to twelve months and chrome tanning takes a fraction of the time. Another reason chrome tanning is more popular is because it’s much cheaper. Therefore vegetable tanning is more of a commitment in regards to money and time. Vegetable tanning is becoming more popular with time but chrome tanning is still the most popular tanning method on the market.

Who supplies you with the leathers?

M: We have suppliers in Montreal who buy from tanneries around the world but we create every product here in Montreal. Actually we’re in the process of moving to our new and bigger atelier.

Can you describe the aesthetic of your pieces?

M: I wanted to create timeless pieces that any person can carry effortlessly. I think a minimalist silhouette is iconic and it can appeal to any person or style.

What are your plans for the future for Matu:

M: We want to make a difference in the fashion industry. Fashion is one of the most polluted industries in the world and Matu stands for decreasing our ecological footprint. But more importantly, our pieces are primarily about the lifestyle choice. We hope that people will choose leather pieces that are made with methods that cause less harm to the environment. In fact, I’m going to France for a month to visit different tanneries in and around Paris. We hope to create new contacts and pick up tips on the craft of vegetable tanning from the French themselves.

Are you selling to stores right now?

M: Yes, we have seven boutiques in and around Montreal who sell our products and we have five e-commerce shops. We have our own E-shop and you can also shop online at Etsy. You can buy our products at Betina Lou, Autour de la Table, and Centin.

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