Meet Santos by Mónica, the NYC brand making handbags from cactus leather

Lower Manhattan has stylish boutiques and trendy eateries that line the narrow streets. Near the intersection between Canal and Ludlow is Santos by Monica, An boutique for accessories and clothing created by Monica Santos.

The Lower East Side as her background, Santos is one of numerous emerging designers who represent the richness and diversity in New York City. New York City neighborhood–and what she envisioned as a ten-day pop-up shop has turned into an ongoing brick-and-mortar store.

Famous for her use of cactus leather and a modern, retro look, Santos has built a community around her label that she started herself. It is based on a New York address, an e-commerce site, and many stockists like MOMA Design Store. MOMA Design Store. Since her early viral onset, Santos’s brand has become famous via social media.

The beginning

After ten years of creating bags for high-end and fast fashion brands, Santos was inspired to create her brand following reflection on her previous work’s environmental footprint. “There were many various moments that coincided simultaneously. I was in San Francisco working for a fast fashion brand…I did not think about what I did,” said Santos after being immersed in San Francisco’s eco-conscious community, “seeing those two opposing values right next to each other” led Santos to review her strategies.

The beginning of Santos by Monica began with a handful of hand-made bags and masks inside Santos Studio of Work. “I wanted to take a step back and embrace the slow process of hand-making things,” said Santos. Biomaterials were discovered and led to her concept of creating bags using these materials, which led her to choose Cactus leather as her primary material.

Originating from Mexico, Cactus leather is a soft and durable substance similar to its animal counterparts in texture. Its quality and durability for more than ten years.

100% bio-based The cacti use chemical-free and regenerative methods and use less water than conventional leather-based processes due to their rainwater-based development origins. In addition, the cactus’s polymers originate from plant oils. In contrast, other alternatives are mostly made of polymers made from plastic.

Initially, there were only three meters of leather and just one design; Santos by Monica now has five distinct handbag designs in various colors and designs. The prices range between 255 and three hundred dollars. The bags are constructed from cactus leather with a cotton liner made of cotton. Natural fibers are paired with local hardware and produced in small quantities.

Brand Inspiration

With lots of eyes on Santos from Monica, from her online followers to the local crowd, her distinctive brand can explain Santos’s popularity.

“I grew up on an island surrounded by a million colors…My brand is a true reflection of my upbringing in terms of color,” said Santos and decided to eschew the usual neutral tones that many sustainable brands use to create an element of fun and excitement to the overall scene.

Styled with a functional inclination and different personalities in mind, Every bag is distinctive and is a “different personality,” said Santos. “The Dolores bag, for example, is an elongated tote meant for a very minimal person who’s going to work and wants to have their laptop inside, but also sometimes wants to go to the park with a bottle of wine that fits perfectly.”

Ethics and ethics approach

As Santos aims for fifteen percent or lower of internal waste, the search for ways to reduce its environmental footprint extends beyond the material itself. From free orders to recycling waste that other suppliers have discarded, Santos’ relationship with the suppliers will allow her to cut back on the excess she produces. This is an essential aspect of any company with sustainability objectives. “I cannot place a hundred orders into my system because it is against the principles of my company. However, I can move them in small by little as they flow into the system,” said Santos.

Although having a store comes with many issues, operating a fully-e-commerce store could reduce Santos’s chance to communicate with her clients and the ability to customize the products they purchase to ensure longevity.

“At the end of the day, you want to sell a product people can cherish and love for years,” said Santos. If it’s adding a different color inside the lining or custom snaps, Santos accepts all kinds of personalization to ensure that her products aren’t in the trash.

Having a shopfront as a company that uses material is vital to building a base of customers. Since many consumers are brand new to biomaterials, connecting with them opens the way for more effective sales.

“I’m trying to be as sustainable as possible, and I want to set an example for other brands and designers,” said Santos. She believes that transparency is crucial to keeping standards in place and creating confidence with her customers. “Say every little detail in the process; at the end of the day, you will create stronger brand loyalty with that.”

An organizer of store events in addition to public relations, Santos’ year ahead is filled with a busy calendar that includes annual pop-ups both in international and domestic locales. While she is mulling over the plans for establishing business roots in her native homeland in Puerto Rico, her main concern is to maintain the New York City community a refuge of sustainable goals.

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