Serial Entrepreneur and designer Jessica Kruger moved from her barefooted upbringing in Sydney, Australia, to Europe in 2009 before settling in London where she created the award winning vegetarian restaurant, ETHOS, when she was subsequently named “35 under 35” top UK businesswomen by Management Today.
Now she has launched her next venture. LUXTRA, a sustainable fashion brand uses plant-based vegan leathers to make timeless accessories. Notably a ‘B Corporation’, the brand balances purpose with profit, making LUXTRA her most exciting venture yet. Real Business talks to Jessica on where her love for sustainability came from and how her previous life lessons have carved her brand values into what they are today.
Where did the idea of LUXTRA come from?
It all came about thanks to my mother, Sheila. Back in 2012 she was preparing to go and work on an animal farm sanctuary in California. I watched a documentary to understand what she was doing and basically became vegan from one hour to the next. I started a vegetarian restaurant (vegan was a bit too radical-sounding back in 2014) as a result, sold my share in the restaurant a few years later and moved on to start LUXTRA in 2017.
How did LUXTRA come to life? What elements of your brand is important to you which illustrates your brand values and culture?
Blood sweat and tears, basically. Lots of tears, lots of hours. I always keep in mind that an overnight success is 10 years in the making. I’m coming up to 5 years, so I’m about halfway.
LUXTRA as a brand and a culture? I’m big on transparency, not taking ourselves too seriously, striving for the most eco-friendly product and process possible. Oh, and striving to be seen as the leader in sustainable fashion!
What made you make the move from hospitality to fashion?
It wasn’t planned, let’s just say that! When I started my restaurant, ETHOS, it was my baby. I thought my career was set – I was in it for the long haul. With time however my business partner and I began to diverge in what we wanted, so at a certain point, one of us had to move on. I thought it would be him, but in the end, it was me. So, when it came to my next move, I wanted to do something on my own, I didn’t want to rely on anyone else. Some will say this is a disadvantage (to be all “alone”), which I get, but I feel good with where I’m at.
What was the wisdom behind entering the sustainable fashion market, and what is the value in sustainability?
Not sure if it’s wisdom, as it seems to be a lot harder to make money than some other industries. But of course, the reason that I went into sustainable fashion was a) it’s something I understand, and b) that I’m a sensitive person and I have do to something that I care deeply about. What drives me and therefore drives LUXTRA is improving animal welfare by showing people you don’t have to use animal products to make a beautiful item. I’m a simple aesthete, but one with a conscience. That’s basically what drove me to enter the world of sustainable fashion.
It’s a no brainer for me. There is no question of not being part of the sustainability movement. Yes, it’s harder (because the costs are higher and you have to do things the right way) but I strive to make it work. It’s just lucky and good timing that sustainability happens to be in Vogue [magazine]. It only has been in the past 2, maybe 3 years. Before that you were seen as very uncool.
What challenges have you had to overcome in bringing LUXTRA to market in a saturated fashion industry?
I often say that I am my own biggest obstacle, but apart from that I’d say keeping all the plates spinning without making too many mistakes, and limited resources, of course.
The way the system is built is a bit of a taboo. I’d say capitalism as an unhealthy system is also a taboo: how to make money “sustainably”? Yeah, not really possible, if you get down to the nitty gritty. Every business, takes resources in some shape or form… usually more than they tend to give back…
A big recent lesson has been really listening to my gut. It usually knows best.
2020 was a difficult year for many, what has been your secret to success for LUXTRA?
That’s kind of you to say that LUXTRA is a success, but I still feel we’re a long way from that marker. I’ve managed to stay afloat by putting the money I earn in my day-job into the business. If I were relying on organic sales then LUXTRA would have died an early death.
There’s no secret – it’s just slogging it out and keeping your chin up, even when your cards are down (which is often, in the beginning).
As a leader, what lessons have you learnt along the way?
Humility is a huge one. I am much better these days at stopping and putting myself in someone else’s shoes. Also making time for people, despite feeling like you have “a million things to do”. Usually, spending time with your team is far and away the best use of one’s time. Empowering and nurturing them will have a huge pay back, not to mention make them feel good.
How do you measure the success of LUXTRA?
I like tangible markers, so right now I measure success in monetary value. I’m striving to make the company profitable and it will feel like a huge moment of “success” when I arrive. Once I get there, then I guess I’ll have new goals. But I’m focused on that one right now.
Who do you look up to and admire as an entrepreneur, pioneer and leader within business and sustainability in fashion?
Sara Blakely (founder of Spanx) has been an inspiration for many years. She has built Spanx from the ground up and taken no outside investment (to the best of my knowledge). Despite not being the “sexy” way of running a start-up these days (which revolves around raising money), Sara has shown me that it’s possible to build a brand going down the slow and steady track. It’s my dream to build LUXTRA in a similar way.
What is the future of LUXTRA? What are you most excited about?
In general, I find each day pretty exciting. I really enjoy what I do and I can see progress each and every day, even if just baby steps. I’m burning to get to profitability and then I feel like the world is my oyster. New categories perhaps; cooler colours; making the brand even more eco-friendly; collaborations; better margins; maybe even a team member to print the packing labels for me… Bring it on!