My approach is responsible, not sustainable.
With Tina Lutz, a fashion luminary returned home a few years ago. The fashion designer, born in Germany and trained at ESMOD Paris first worked for Issey Miyake in Paris and Tokyo, before moving to New York in 1992 where she was hired as the senior designer of Calvin Klein – to the heydays of American fashion. After further stages in her career she co-founded the luxury knitwear label Lutz & Patmos in 2000. It became known especially through cooperations with Julianne Moore, Jane Birkin, Carine Roitfeld and Sofia Coppola. After years abroad she launched Lutz Morris in 2017 – a label for timeless, luxurious and environmentally conscious handbags made in Germany. A conversation about dying craft, international design funding and sustainability.
You lived in New York for many years. Why did you actually decide to come back to Germany?
In 2015 we decided to move to Germany because my parents were not doing too well. Originally we only wanted to stay for a year, but it soon became clear that the time was not enough. Moreover, my husband and son started feeling better and better in Berlin, the city is becoming more international anyway. So we’re still here. Fortunately, my parents too.
Lutz Morris was launched in 2017. Did the idea originate from the move?
During the first year in Berlin I still had some brand consulting commitments in New York and regularly flew back and forth. Longterm that hardly would‘ve been possible. For the first Christmas in Berlin my husband gifted me with a German made leather casket for storing pens. It had an attached frame construction, similar to what I now use for my bags. Something in that leather box back then insanely inspired me, I had not known, that something like that exists. All of a sudden I had a lot of ideas for bags in my head. At first I thought, I cannot do that, my background is in tailoring and knitwear. The label actually found me, not the other way around.
Your bags are exclusively produced in Germany, where there is traditionally a long history in leather crafts.
Nevertheless, my research here was initially very disillusioning and depressing. There is a lot of know-how in Germany, but hardly any support for the companies. On my search for suitable partners and production sites I visited a lot of factories where it could be seen that they had once been much larger. For some of them it was already known that they would close in a few years because the operators would retire and could not find successors.
But in the end the search was succesful?
Exactly. Today 98 percent of the leather we use comes from Germany, the remaining two percent from Italy – the Novelty leather, that simply doesn’t exist here yet. The tannery is by the way just around the corner from the leather factory and the cardboards for the packaging come from the same city in the Rhein region. Everything is deliberately as close as possible to each other. All chains come from the Black Forest, and the frames from the proximity of Offenbach.
With your bags you also perceive an environmentally conscious approach.
It is an important topic for me, possibly because of the fact that I was raised in Germany. Sustainability has been thought here already for decades. As I moved to New York in 1992 the garbage wasn’t being separated there yet – when in Germany it was already common practice. I still remember so well how painful it was for me to simply throw everything into the same container.
Since 21 years I have had labels of my own. Professionally, I‘ve always tried to think environmentally consciously.
In what way?
There are three important things for me in this context. Firstly: support artisans and thereby keep a craft alive. In the past I’ve particularly tried to network and work with women in the developing and emerging countries and in this way promote them. Macramé in Bolivia or embroidery in Kabul were created within this frame. Now I am supporting the German craft.
Secondly: Produce as responsibly as possible. I deliberately call my approach responsible rather than sustainable, because I don’t think anything that is produced, can be sustainable – we really don‘t need anything. Sustainable would be not to produce at all.
Thirdly: Give something back. I have supported help organisations also in the past. Now from every bag sold Lutz Morris gives ten dollars to Every Mother Counts, an NGO founded by a longtime friend of mine, Christy Turlington, who is committed to improve the medical care of pregnant women worldwide.
With materials such as leather, does the question of responsible procurement of resources and manufacture actually arise all the more?
Certainly. In the beginning it was a big dilemma for me – should one still be using leather at all? After intensive research, it’s actually more responsible to work with certified leather than with plastic synthetic leather.
I only work with environmentally certified factories, especially when it comes to tanneries. For me, leading a responsible label also means, for example, that we recycle everything in the office. Our shipping boxes are also recycled. We inform our customers about this. Incidentally, sustainability is of interest to all our buyers today, not just those from Germany.
With Lutz Morris you are pursuing a conscious as well as an aesthetic claim – the combination of both was unthinkable for a long time. Why actually?
I recently visited a leather fair in Milan and the topic of sustainability was everywhere. However, it’s always more expensive. Many manufacturers and consumers are not ready to reassess. Fortunately, that is changing steadily.
Commitment to the environment is honoured today. You recently won the Fashion Group International Sustainable Award in New York.
Such an award is ofcourse, in general, an important signal effect for the topic sustainability and an opportunity for a young label like Lutz Morris. I hope, that through this people will see how much effort we put in everyday. Awards also fund ideas.
Speaking of funding: since 2006 you have been a member of CFDA, the American fashion chamber and more recently also a member of the Fashion Council Germany. How do you experience the support of designers in the USA compared to Germany?
It‘s ofcourse difficult to compare, after all the CFDA has been around for much longer and is considerably larger. For Amrican designers it was, perhaps, easier to institutionalize themselves than it is here – in the USA, atleast back then, everything fashionable was centered in New York, here fashion is scattered all over the country. Germany is also missing the Calvin Kleins, Ralph Laurens and Donna Karans.
You have been taking on active tasks in the CFDA for several years.
I was member in various committees, one for sustainability and for seven years on the committee for the admission of new members. From the annual applications we selected those that meet the criteria – the CFDA examines to which extent brands actually have serious intentions, or wheter they are merely flash ideas. Young labels must have been active for about three years already and need to present where they are commercially represented. This is a form of quality assurance: the CFDA has long since become something of a brand itself.
What can Germany learn from this?
I believe, that having an institution like a fashion chamber helps in general. It’s always important to exchange ideas and support each other. I taught fashion design at the Rhode Island School – passing on my knowledge was very important to me. I see the same with the CFDA which tests and recommends manufacturers, for example and young brands benefit from this all the more. Generally I think Germany should believe in itself more. Here there is often a mistrust of new ideas. This can also be seen in the consumer behaviour, as yet unknown labels often have it more difficult.
Do you see this with the customers of Lutz Morris aswell?
In fact, most of my customers are based in the USA, followed by the UK and Middle East finally followed by Germany. I think it has to do with the fact that after the 25 years in New York I am simply more known there and have a wider network there.
Young labels from Berlin and Germany often don‘t lack good ideas, but rather the ability to commercialize them. You launched your brand directly with a sales launch on Matchesfashion and have won retailers in various countries in a short time. What are you doing differently?
I believe it helped that I had first worked for other labels before I started my own business. These days many start with their businesses right after university without having gained any experience.
Lutz Morris is still a young brand. Where do you want to go in the future?
Ofcourse I would like to be able to live out of what I do. Aside from that I wish that my factories are able to stay open in the future, that I can create solid workplaces and continue supporting women worldwide through Every Mother Counts. In the longterm, I can also imagine expanding Lutz Morris with further product lines. In the autumn there will first be a cooperation with the eyewear label Perreira that pursues similar values as we do.
What role does Berlin actually play here?
Interestingly enough, the city plays a rather subordinate role for me, at least as a creative environment. What I enjoy about Berlin is how fast I can be everywhere, whether in London, Paris or Milan; all of them strategically important centers for me, that are much more difficult to get to from the USA. Although I miss New York, one thing is certain: I don’t miss the jetlag.