Meet Helga Douglas Founder Of Svala

By Jodi Truglio — March 27, 2019

Svala the vegan luxury brand with a heart of gold. Not only is the company committed to creating cruelty-free handbags that are just as stunning as they are multifunctional, they are also committed to reducing their carbon footprint by repurposing materials such as pineapple leaf fibres that would normally have been discarded and ended up in a landfill. The company manufactures all of their products in downtown Los Angeles and ensures their artisans who handcraft each bag are paid a fair wage and have comfortable working conditions.

I recently had to pleasure of asking Helga Douglas who is the founder and creative mind behind Svala a few questions. 


Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? What is your fashion background? 

My first experience working in fashion was during high school when I interned at Vogue and GQ in Australia. While I was at university, I studied business and marketing and later worked for a company that managed the wholesale, PR and marketing for Versace in Australia. I have never had any formal design training in fashion but I learned along the way when I started Svala.

Is there a designer that influenced you or that you admire?

From a creative standpoint, I have always loved Gianni Versace and how he brought such joy to his designs. He encouraged women to be bold and bright and own their power. I am also inspired by the many emerging designers who are pushing the boundaries of sustainable fashion with their commitment to transparency as well as ethical sourcing and practices.

Was it a difficult transition to go from designing lingerie to handbags?

The main challenge was sourcing my fabrics and hardware as well as finding the right manufacturer. But other than that, it has been very exciting working with new, innovative, animal-free fabrics and bringing the line to life.

What inspired your luxury handbag line? Did you face any challenges sourcing your fabric?

I was constantly looking for animal-friendly handbags but was unable to find exactly what I was looking for so I decided to design my own. I spent a lot of time searching for materials and eventually got lucky with some help from my friends and family. My sister found me the Italian vegan fabrics that I ended up using and one of my best friends and my mother introduced me to Piñatex®.

What is your design process like? 

I typically sketch out the style on my own and source the hardware that I need. I then take the sketch, hardware and fabrics to my manufacturer so that we can start working on the samples together.

Besides saving the life of an animal, what are some benefits to using a vegan purse or handbag compared to using a leather one?

Through my research, I understand that the worldwide demand for leather products is leading to increased deforestation to make more space for the cattle farms to meet this demand and the leather is not always a by-product of the food industry. Thankfully, there are so many innovative and beautiful animal-free fabrics available now which have many high-tech qualities and are very durable. I am super excited about the fabrics which are made from recycled food waste such as Piñatex® and apple leather, which I am looking forward to including in the Svala line soon.

What attracted you to use Piñatex®, is it easy to work with?

Piñatex® is a very sustainable fabric that is made from pineapple leaf fiber which is a by-product of the pineapple harvest. No extra land, fertilizer or water is needed in the creation of this fabric. I love the unique, modern look of this fabric and it is very durable and easy to work with.

Is there a difference between Italian Vegan Leather and regular polyurethane?

The Italian vegan leather we use is sourced from a family-owned, eco-conscious, solar-powered factory in Italy that solely produces animal-friendly fabrics and is working towards a solvent-free product. It supplies several high-end European brands and provides an a-toxic product, fully compliant with the “REACH” European norm.

What inspired the shape of your handbags?

I love classical, timeless shapes that are seasonless and wanted to build a line around these qualities. I am also very inspired by the simplicity of Scandinavian and Italian design. Many of the Svala bags are convertible as I wanted the bags to be very versatile to suit the on-the-go lifestyle of the modern woman.

Are you involved with any charitable causes?

Svala donates  10% of our profits each year to various animal and environment related organizations, including Wild Aid, whose mission is to end illegal wildlife trade in our lifetime.

What does the word sustainable fashion mean to you?

I understand that the term sustainable fashion refers to the growing movement where people are becoming more aware of the environmental and social impacts of the business of fashion and how products are made. It is very exciting to see this spreading and to see people becoming more interested in the process as a whole as well as searching for better fabrics and companies that have ethical manufacturing processes.

What was it like for you to attend Vegan Fashion Week?

 It was great to participate in an event that brought together businesses from all over the world who all have a shared vision of sustainable, cruelty-free fashion. It was fun meeting all of the attendees as well as the other vendors.

What are some things that people may not realize about your company Svala?

 Svala means swallow in Icelandic. The swallow is a symbol of love, hope, loyalty and freedom – everything I wanted my brand to stand for. My mother is from Iceland and this country has always been an inspiration to me so I wanted to choose a name for my business that reflected that.

What purse from your line are you currently using?

I use the Sara wallet as my everyday wallet and I typically use the Gemma convertible backpack purse during the day but when I need to carry my laptop I use the Simma Tote. At night, I interchange between the Didi clutch and the Tashi crossbody. I also use the Sara wallet as an evening purse as it has a detachable chain strap.

Besides your phone and keys what are some items that you must always carry with you in your purse.

I always carry my notebook during the day. I love writing lists of things I need to do to keep me focused and on track.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

I am excited to expand my handbag and accessories line and introduce new, interesting, sustainable fabrics that are currently being developed. I am also looking forward to expanding our work with charitable causes and increasing our carbon offset program.


Courtesy Images: Svala

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