nordbo presents: womxn-owned — Cassandra Kane
Hi friends! I'm beyond pleased to introduce Cassandra, founder and designer of Sieme, home of some gorgeous and sustainably-made artisan Italian accessories. Read on to learn about her ✨fabulous✨ brand and the hard work she has done to create it!
womxn-owned chapter two: Cassandra Kane
Tell us about yourself and your brand.
As a designer working in New York and Italy for 10 + years, I watched as luxury brands I worked for discarded up to forty percent of natural materials in pursuit of identical perfection while large conglomerates squeezed artisan factories and makers into subserviency and forced sales. The system, even at the highest levels, was unsustainable. I grappled with the realities of waste and exploitation within the fashion industry at every level, even in the luxury handbag industry where up to 40% of material is discarded. In this awakening, I knew I needed to be a part of the solution.
Sieme was founded to address social, economic and environmental sustainability within the luxury accessories industry. We believe in using fashion to support and empower our community. In this spirit, we work exclusively with independent family-owned factories and artisans and use only deadstock and left over materials from local luxury production . With our designs, we strive to take our customers on a journey of artisanal Italian discovery, and artful wanderlust. We believe you should fill your home and your closet with designs that tell stories. Stories that connect you to these artisans and designers through a shared love of beautiful things. Products that make you feel good in your heart and are also good for the planet. The word Sieme is taken from the Italian word "insieme" which means together. It is only together that we can create the more ethical and circular fashion industry we wish to see.
Why did you decide to start your business?
Like many designers, I grew up entranced by the ephemeral ideas of fashion, the business of crafting identities and dreams, only to discover that when I arrived, the system was overwhelmingly wasteful and largely broken. After many years as a luxury designer in New York, I followed my heart to Florence Italy in search of La Bella Vita and a small corner of the fashion world where traditional craftsmanship, exceptional quality and innovative design still reigned supreme.
When I arrived in Florence, I found that even this designer paradise was buckling under the weight of the wasteful practices of our global production system while even the most luxury brands exploited local manufacturers and independent factories. In light of this realization, that these practices persisted in even the highest levels of our industry, I knew I needed to be a part of the solution.
What has been the most challenging part about owning your business? Your favorite part?
There have been a few big challenges. The first being building a new production process and finding the right partners to collaborate with. Because we are committing to using only scrap, and deadstock leftover materials, we need to adapt to each material as we find it. Therefore it is a much more fluid and in the moment way of creating product. Finding production partners who understand and share our vision and have the flexibility to work with us in the this way is a challenge. The Pandemic has actually been a blessing in that way (only) It has forced a lot of traditional businesses in Italy to think outside the box and become more open to working with non-traditional partners. And that is great for us!
The second biggest challenge is expose to new potential customers and people who believe in our vision and appreciate our products. As a small brand with limited resources, there is a lot of competition from bigger players who may not work as hard to ensure that their brands and products are 100% ethical and circular.
My favorite part of the business is the potential and opportunity to share our mission and amazing products with the world. Supporting local artisans and independent families while actively reducing waste across our industry and showing others that you can build a successful business this way is what keeps me going.
How has this been positive for your family or your lifestyle?
I think the biggest thing this experience has shown me is that if you have a dream, at some point, you just need to go for it. Start where you are and keep going, no matter what that might look like. For a long time I thought I needed to wait for the perfect product, the perfect investors, the perfect marketing, website etc. For almost a year before the Pandemic I was working on launching Sieme with a line of handbags made entirely from luxury leather waste in Italy. When the Pandemic hit, I knew no one would be shopping for handbags and so many local factories were struggling. So instead I pivoted and designed our Masked Scarves and Statement Masks to support local makers while utilizing deadstock fabrics. Our masks are made from the most luxurious deadstock in the world in the heart of Tuscany and customers love how beautiful, breathable and gentle they are on the skin. So while I didn’t envision starting Sieme with masks, I am so proud of how far we have come this year.
How do you use your business to uplift other marginalized groups in your community?
In addition to partnering with local makers, artisans and independent family owned factories in our community for all of our production, we have also started to offer our digital platform to our favorite artisans so they can sell online to American customers as well. Italy is very rooted in tradition and as a premium tourist destination, many local artisans have never felt the need to have a website or deal with the intricacies of online shops, order fulfillment, shipping and logistics. When the Pandemic hit and tourism quickly disappeared, so many local businesses were suddenly without access to sell their products and starting from scratch to try and sell internationally was incredibly daunting. Especially once you consider all of the time it takes to manage the website, social media, email marketing… the list goes on and on. At the end of the day, you barely have time to actually craft your products. That is where the Sieme Artisan Sample Sales originated. We partner with our favorite artisans and sell their products through our website specifically to American customers. The idea is to bring that artisan experience of being in Italy online so you can shop like you are discovering the streets of Italy, from anywhere in the world (and for prices you could only get in Italy too)
It has been challenging with all of the lockdowns Italy has experienced this past year but we have been able to help support a handful of local makers and artisans in the past few months and are looking forward to expanding our partnerships. It is all about building a community of support that can lift all of us up together, or as we say in Italy – “insieme”
These sample sales are very time sensitive and only available for a limited time so if you would love to know about the next one, make sure to head to our website and get on our mailing list!