Preserving Artisanal Design with STELAR

STELAR is an accessories brand founded by Lorna Watson, a trained goldsmith and designer, with 25 years expertise in the luxury goods industry, with the aim to re-define the concept of luxury, while balancing people, purpose and profit. STELAR reinterprets age-old artisanal techniques through its handcrafted leather goods utilising traditional basket weaving skills that are re-interpreted and hand-woven using the finest locally sourced leather. Each item is accompanied by its own unique code which connects the owner to the origins of their bag, introduces them to the artisan who created it, and in turn, supports the artisan communities they work with.

What led you to start STELAR? And is there a meaning behind the name?

Founded on the defining principles of Craftsmanship, Community, Transparency and Regeneration, STELAR was born in Bali, where, for the past four years I have been immersed in learning about a wealth of historical craft techniques amidst the challenges that Balinese communities are facing. The onset of mass production and demands for cheaper labour within the fast fashion industry has forced many artisans to leave their communities in search of unskilled jobs, at considerable social cost. I am passionate about ensuring the foundations of our business revive age-old craftsmanship, re-build communities and champion a change for good.

How would you describe your products and where do you get your design inspiration from?

STELAR is an accessories brand that reflects a new generation of social entrepreneurs, driven by a mission to re-define the concept of luxury, while balancing people, purpose and profit. Working in collaboration with artisan communities to re-imagine ancient weaving techniques, STELAR creates exceptional quality, hand-woven bags and accessories using locally sourced natural, raw materials, designed and made to last.

Traceability is at the heart of what we do. Every hand-crafted item is accompanied by a unique digital code, connecting the owner to the origins of their bag and the artisan who created it. By adopting a circular and regenerative approach to our business, STELAR creates ’must-have’ accessories that minimise waste and positively impacts our people and planet.

STELAR is on a mission to reimagine the relationships between consumer and product, craftsmanship and culture, community and the environment.

We want to be the spark that inspires a new way of thinking, a new way of connecting people and a more responsible way to do business.

We bring our customer on a journey into the world of Balinese culture and craftsmanship. We make gorgeous bags and accessories by co-creating with Balinese artisan communities, whose grace and ease are reflected in our brand.

More than merely a creator of beautiful objects, STELAR is an advocate for craftsmanship and a conduit for genuine human connection. Over the next 5 -10 years we aim to build a successful global business that builds an enduring relationship with our customers from around the world who share our passion for gorgeous accessories and the desire to be a force for good. We believe that every great design begins with an even better story.

We celebrate the art of weaving with iconic, trans-seasonal, multi-functional styles that stand the test of time. We capture the Balinese spirit of joyfulness in everything we make for our customers to experience every time they use their STELAR product.

Every item is handmade, delightfully tactile and refined - combining effortless charm and beauty with sustainable credentials. Our range is imbued with grace and ease as well as being practical, versatile, collectable and fun. Encapsulating the spirit of Bali with the laidback lifestyle of Southern California and 70’s French Riviera, STELAR’s world is one of emotive connection and discovery.

Tell us about your new collection.

We have two new vegan collections launching this season that combine a number of different techniques and materials, such as natural atta or bamboo grass with vibrant woven jacquard straps or raffia trims.

Our atta grass bags are made from an indigenous vine that is organically grown in the foothills of East Bali, while our bamboo bags are made for organically grown bamboo in Lombok.

Each style is designed with optimum versatility in mind, with multi functional design details like interchangeable straps, and is imbued with a sense of grace and effortlessness that reflects our Balinese home and the spirit of our brand.

Talk to us about your commitment to sustainability and the impact you hope to have with your collections.

Firstly, we make in communities not in factories. By collaborating directly with the communities that create our products, we support our artisans to remain, and work, within the villages that have inspired their craft over many generations.

In addition to supporting the weaving skills, most of the natural grass that we use to create our atta and bamboo bags is organically grown on our artisan's land. This creates enormous social impact and supports long term cultural sustainability, which lies at the heart of our mission as a brand.

 By implementing conscious and regenerative business practices, we foster a working culture that is built on shared objectives and is mutually respectful and nurturing, providing long term livelihoods that support our existing artisans to thrive. In addition, by educating and upskilling within these communities, we are able to develop these skills, inspiring younger generations to inherit, and build upon them, ensuring that these centuries old traditions continue to be passed on.

Our business is built on a ‘take, make and replace’ philosophy, which means that we are committed to a long term circular model that gives back as much as it takes. For example, as part of our 5 year sustainability plan, we are committed to replanting all the natural grass that we consume to make our bags.

What are some of the challenges of starting and running a sustainable business?

Gosh, there are so many, it’s difficult to know where to start! While the fashion industry is undoubtedly changing and we have experienced a great deal more awareness around sustainability over the past 2 years, there are still considerable challenges around the perception of sustainable brands, what this actually means, and the perception of value around what we create and the price it costs. This is why we believe in bringing the people and skills behind what we make to the forefront of our business as this is where our focus on sustainability, and its true value lies.

How has the brand evolved since you started it?

We started off 3 years ago with one small community of 5 weavers in East Bali making atta basket bags, and are currently working with 5 different communities throughout Indonesia, across numerous materials and techniques, with a pool of around 75 trained artisans and 15 new apprentices that we are training up.

As a result, we have built a lot of confidence and trust within our artisan communities and there is a great deal of excitement, enthusiasm and creativity in the projects we are creating together.

We first launched the brand at a series of live pop-up events in London and are now delighted to be selling to customers worldwide across numerous sales channels.

What’s next for STELAR?

We have very exciting plans ahead this year, mainly around collaborations and events that bring STELAR’s world to our customer in a more personal and experiential way. During lockdown, we are bringing insights from our world in Bali to your own front room (and kitchen !) with inspirational workshops, playlists and delicious recipes that transport you to our tropical island home.

We are also continuing to grow our community of artisans, craftsmanship skills and materials, including a wonderful project we are working on with a community of weavers in Sumba, a beautiful island in the Indonesian archipelago, southeast of Bali.