A conversation between Kozha Numbers and The Canvas
Let’s begin with: what does “Kozha” mean?
“Leather” in Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, and most Eastern European languages.
How did KOZHA NUMBERS enter the world of leather?
KOZHA NUMBERS started with Ilona [Gerasimov] and I needing to challenge ourselves. We felt we were both clocking in and out of work without purpose; [we] felt like we were [not] being challenged. We're both very creative people and thinking outside the box was necessary for our careers. We automatically knew if we were going to do something, it had to be big. We first started designing shoes, specifically sandals, only because Ilona's dad had a shoe repair shop. However, we discovered there's a lot of manual strength to design and handmake shoes. We then jumped into handbags, and realized the benefit to bags is there is one size – you don't have to think about sizing and so we immediately pivoted towards bags.
There's so much mastery of craftsmanship that goes into quality handbags. How did you and Ilona learn the craft of sewing?
My mom is a seamstress and designed clothes, though she didn't know how to work with leather, just how to sew fabric together. I learned patterns with her. And then Ilona's dad worked with leather. Since we didn't have any formal schooling, we had to figure out the design and production process all by ourselves with our family as resources.
Where do you source your leather, and did you continue to design with the same leather used for shoes?
Yes, we do! We love the more sturdy, structured leather. We’ve ordered from the beginning, and continue to order, from the US military. We were actually their only clients at the beginning.
There are some negative connotations with the sustainability of leather. Can you speak to the material itself?
All of the leather that we source is a byproduct from the meat industry. The meat industry is so big that there are plenty of leathers to use that would typically be discarded. So when you think about the source of our leather normally being a product of waste, it's sustainable. It's far more sustainable than faux leather, as the process with fake leather is extremely unhealthy: the product is typically plastic, and the material is made intentionally for perceived leather as opposed to repurposed material, like ours.
Your leather actually feels like faux leather, only because it's so smooth, void of most wrinkles found in traditional leather. Is there a production method for forming the material’s finish?
The tannery that processes our leather is based in LA, which is actually really surprising, because America is not traditionally perceived as a place that has good leather or tanneries. Most of it comes from Spain and Mexico and then shipped to France or Italy. But, because LA has quite strict regulations of how you can treat leather, I find that our leather looks more unique. The leather that we use is actually fully tanned with water instead of oil. So it gives the material a more structured look as well.
Before this interview, you shared how KOHZA controls the whole design, production and distribution process, rendering a near carbon zero footprint. Can you speak to your process?
Everything from design to shipping, to even photoshoots are all in our studio space located in Portland, Oregon. And the carbon footprint that it leaves is so different than if we were to ship objects all around the world during the design and production phases. Or if we were to work with factories where you usually need to have a minimum order. For us, we make bags as they are sold. So having no products made without a purchase [means that] we maintain nearly zero waste. I personally think that the next step of companies that are going to prioritize being more eco-friendly requires total control over the process that is ultimately needed in order to achieve net zero waste.
What are you all exploring right now?
I'm working with canvas material, and will eventually launch a canvas pop up.
What do you mean?
Yeah, I'll show you. I just have to find it…. Here! [shows bag] So you know our utility bag that's our most popular bag? I'm designing a version made of canvas. This [points to the bag] is my very first. It's literally an artist's canvas. And so if somebody wants to paint it or whatever — there's your canvas!
So tell us, if there is a brand you could collaborate with, who would it be?
Thank you for your time, Lena, best of luck to the KOZHA NUMBERS!