Interview with Jacqueline Cruz, Le Qara

 Header image introducing the interview with Jacqueline Cruz of Le Qara

Can you tell us a little bit about your background that has led you to this point?

In Peru, where we live, we witnessed the pollution of our rivers generated by tanneries and realized that this was not the only place this was occurring around the world. We also noticed that there is not currently an eco-friendly alternative in the market that is vegan, low cost, and has the same properties as leather. When I saw the first prototype made by Isemar [a co-founder], I realized the potential of this product to change the leather industry and scale globally. She and I then called our friend [and third co-founder] María Pía and the three of us started working to improve the first prototype. After many iterations, the one we have now is able to mimic the properties of animal leather.

Tell us about your product and the inspiration behind it?

"Le Qara" means leather in Quechua [Inca’s language] and it was born as a harmonious union between biotechnology and fashion. Our company’s mission was to create a new vegan, eco-friendly alternative to leather.

We picked this idea in order to solve the problems that the leather industry presents in the current world, such as animal slaughter- 1 billion animals are slaughtered every year for leather production. We were also concerned about toxicity and pollution, because the leather industry is the fourth worst polluting industry globally.

Therefore, our inspiration was to create a leather alternative that didn’t harm animals or the environment. With this, we believe we can change the fashion industry.

How does sustainability play a role in your brand/product development? How important has this been to consumers?

Our bioleather is 100% biodegradable, which makes it part of a circular economy. Additionally, the residues generated in the process can be used as a liquid compost, making it a process with no waste at all.

Nowadays, there are more and more people that are taking environmental action, which is supporting an increased demand for eco-friendly products. And 55% percent of people across 60 different countries are willing to pay more for them. In addition, some big brands in the fashion industry have announced that they won't be using animal skin anymore and they are looking for eco-friendly and animal free products. Everyday, we are seeing and hearing from more consumers about how they are choosing to shift to more sustainable brands that care about all of their processes and how they impact the environment.

Image of the three founders of Le Qara walking down the street on a sunny day

What are your thoughts on the future role sustainability plays both professionally in business and in our everyday lifestyle choices, in regards to the future health of our planet?

Sustainability has a vital role for the future of human life, especially if we consider how pollution and human consumption are affecting our world and having a substantial negative impact on the environment. Sadly, there are some industries that only care about profits. Some of them claim to be environmentally responsible just to sell more, but they may not have a sustainable process.

So, for us, it is important to create a precedent of a balanced brand and company: one that has really sustainable and eco-friendly production, and at the same time, can also be profitable while doing so.

The same goes for our everyday actions. If we contribute a little bit just by doing simple tasks such as recycling, using the proper amount of water, or just by choosing the right brands, then we can do a lot for the environment in the long-term. We think that this has an even bigger impact if the ones that promote and share that type of change are the big companies themselves, who have been around for a while and therefore play a huge role in the ecological system. So, we also want to serve as an example that there are alternatives to harmful production by using biotechnology.

How does technology and innovation play a role in your business?

Biotechnology is the core of our business. Being able to bioengineer our product to industry specifications is a game changer for us. It allows us to provide all of the expected luxury and none of the guilt to the fashion industry.

What does wilderness mean to you?

For us, loss of wild land is a consequence of unbalanced natural resources exploitation. It is sad to see how far human beings are able to go in order to produce more or gain more. That the search for profit can turn a region, which was totally fruitful and rich in fauna, into an uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable one. For us, it is killing nature and therefore life. We want to do something to reverse this loss of wildlife spreading all over the world, which is creating a huge threat for future generations.

Image of one of the co-founders creating the bioleather and another image of the vials involved in biochemical production of leather

Do you have a favorite item, it may be an heirloom handed down from a grandparent, friend or relative of some kind, that has great meaning to you?

More than an object, what I appreciate the most are the values that my parents taught me, such as the importance of taking care of nature and respecting the lives of every being. I think that this is what I want my message to be for the world: that is really important to respect and take care of every resource that we have right now, so future generations can also enjoy them.

If you had to choose one place to live with only the basics available to you where would it be and what would you take with you apart from the obvious survival gear?

The Dominican Republic, because is where my dad was born and is one of my favorite places in the world. It is also a place where you are constantly surrounded by nature. And I would take my family.

Imagine that 25 years from now you are looking back on your life, what would be the legacy that you would hope for your brand to leave behind?

We want to set a huge precedent for the companies involved in the fashion industry and around the world. We want to make it possible for not only the leather market, but other markets around the world, to be a part of that change and part of a movement bigger than ourselves, which is to save the planet and to help heal the environment. It is going to be really difficult to repair the damage that has been done to nature already, but companies can modify their behaviours. Of course, it is not easy to change, changes are always risky and scary, but they are also an opportunity to improve- improve for better options for the future. And the future for us will be green.

Photo of beautiful and colorful, bioleather earrings with a sprig of plants as a backdrop

What message do you have for those starting their own business in regards to sustainability and innovation?

That if they have an innovative idea that can help the world, then it doesn't matter where you come from or who you are, if you are persistent and persevere, then you can make a change. And more importantly, if you can find the right platform to get wherever you want to be and if your message is strong enough, then we can assure that you can succeed. You just have to never give up. It is indeed a cliche when saying that success comes with effort and not giving up, but we believe it is really important to not be discouraged in the process and to not stop believing in your idea because if you don’t do it, then no one else is going to.

Do you have a quote, saying or poem you find inspirational and what is it?

"Miracles happen for you every single day."

What brands do you admire?

There are a lot of brands that we admire that are starting to change or make a difference in the industry. For example, H&M Conscious because they just launched a sustainable collection. The H&M Group also releases a full, in-depth sustainability report each year, providing a clear example of a company that cares about their processes and that is starting to make annual changes. Salvatore Ferragamo and Stella McCartney are other brands that are always thinking about sustainability and working with new materials, so it would be an honor to work with them in the future.

Finally, I so admire the other Global Change Award alumni. It has been amazing to get to know them and learn more about all of the work they are doing to disrupt the fashion industry and generate change. They are a clear example of persistence and innovation.

Collage of images that display the various stylistic uses of the bioleather (bracelet, clutch, wallet and boots), as well as a central image of one of the co-founders doing chemistry

How important do you think transparency and authenticity in brands is to consumers?

I believe it is a right that every consumer has to be well-informed and aware of the product they are acquiring. By this I mean the tangible effect that the company has on society and the environment. That being said, I think that it is vital for every company, small or big, to be transparent and honest with society, to have ethical procedures and to truly adopt an eco-friendly organizational culture.

Can you tell us something about your product/brand/personal journey that might surprise us to know?

It might surprise some people to know that until one month ago, only three people made up our company [the co-founders] and we were able to develop this idea by being 100% committed to Le Qara and its mission. We had to leave our jobs and studies at the time to focus on making Le Qara a reality.

What is your favorite animal and why?

I love all animals, but my favorite has to be dogs, because they are loyal and love you unconditionally.

One of the co-founders in lab gear bent down looking at a row of test tubes as a part of the bioleather process

What is one thing you would be willing to or have already given up with the health of the planet in mind?

Apart from recycling, using metal straws, always taking a shopping bag with me, mostly using no plastic, the thing that has made a big difference is that I have changed my consumer behaviour. There were brands that I really used to love- from clothes to cosmetics- and their products were really good, but they were damaging the environment. Even though in Peru there are not a lot of choices, more and more are being introduced into the market everyday that are focused on being environmentally-conscious.