Tumbao, a company created by four IE University students, designs organic, cruelty-free “leather” products.

High-quality “leather” pieces for young people, sold at affordable prices. The idea is very attractive. If the handbags, wallets and purses are made of vegan leather—a material made without any animal products—and produced with attention to sustainability, the environment and the development of indigenous communities, then we must be talking about Tumbao. This company, created by four IE University students, aims to change the modes of production that dominate the fashion world, which is currently the second most polluting industry on the planet.

IE University design students Federica Caso, Nicholas Saye and Mae White, along with law and international relations student Ecab Love, have combined their talents to create a company focused on producing leather goods that don’t use animal skin. Tumbao is informed by international perspectives: its founders speak five different languages and are from seven different countries (the United States, Venezuela, Italy, Mexico, Russia, the United Kingdom and Singapore).

The young designers aim to create a company that can break into the fashion market without making sacrifices: “Tumbao not only caters to consumer interests by providing a long-lasting, high-quality product, but also creates cruelty-free items that are environmentally friendly.”

How did they come up with the idea? Nicholas Saye found inspiration during one of his many backpacking trips around the world. In China, he felt drawn to the work of a leatherworker. He found his art fascinating. Nicholas realized leather’s great potential. It’s a material that can be used to create countless high quality, reasonably-priced pieces. He brought the idea to Segovia and told his university friends, all of whom shared his business vision and strong entrepreneurial spirit.

First Steps

Finding a leather manufacturer was relatively simple: they went to Ubrique, Cádiz, which is the leather capital of Europe. For years, domestic and international companies have trusted the artisanal knowledge of this region in southern Spain. In collaboration with these Andalusian manufacturers, the IE University students obtained their first prototypes: high quality leather wallets made according to the student’s designs and guidelines.

With these first products, the four young students had hoped to gather feedback from possible consumers and specialty stores, but noticed that something felt wrong. “We realized that we should apply our personal values to the company, and decided to abandon the idea of producing products made of non-vegan leather or, in other words, leather made of animal skin,” they said.

Tumbao wanted to be different. The philosophy of the company had to be consistent with the philosophies of its founders, who are guided by ethical values such as animal rights and environmental protection. They stumbled upon some information that made them think: the average consumer throws away 30 kilos of clothing per year and, of that amount, 85% could be recycled. However, these clothes which are not recycled, end up creating pollution instead. “The leather industry isn’t much different,” they emphasized, adding, “the choice to use vegan leather in our products is based, first of all, on our rejection of the abuse suffered by many animals whose skin is dedicated to the fashion world. Also, we want the items that we sell, whether they be wallets, purses or backpacks, to be sustainable and environmentally friendly.”

Currently, the four entrepreneurs are in contact with several companies that make organic, vegan leather in the Philippines, Italy, the Netherlands, and Mexico. “This type of leather can be made from the fiber of pineapples, grapes, other fruits or even mushrooms,” say Tumbao’s founders, who are now in the process of determining the best material to use to make their products.

The company also wants to contribute to the development of indigenous communities who live where the vegan leather is sourced. “We would like the local communities to benefit economically by working for us; we want to prioritize the development of the regions that supply our materials,” they explain.

Federica, Mae, Nicholas and Ecab, the founders of Tumbao, anticipate that their vegan leather products will launch within five months, both in a physical store (probably in collaboration with an existing business in Segovia) and online. Their intention is to open a shop, but they don’t want to limit themselves: they want to sell their products all over the world, always abiding by the guiding philosophies of vegan fashion. “Tumbao hopes to be more than a traditional leather brand; it wants to be a 21st century leather brand,” they conclude.