Ania Mróz- Pacula is a Sustainability & Waste Reduction Advocate with a passion for ethical fashion and working with people. Having worked with a couple of IT companies, Ania has been recognised with several awards during her successful career. Fast forward several months, Ania has recently set up her own company FERRON, which she believes enables her to be creative and talk openly about things she deeply values- sustainability, cruelty-free lifestyle and empowerment of female entrepreneurs.
When not working or researching ways to lower her own negative impact on the planet, Ania spends time with her 4 years old rescue Beagle- Harrier Oscar, volunteering at Launchpad Reading (homelessness prevention charity), organising and attending meetups within the Reading and London area and travelling.
Welcome Ania, thank you for taking the time to share your story with us, can you introduce yourself to us as the founder of FERRON?
I’m Ania and I’m a (smiley) face and a proud owner of a one-man-brand, FERRON, vegan and cruelty-free designer handbag company. FERRON breaches the gap between fast fashion cruelty- free products that are of very questionable quality, and labels that are beyond the budget of most people.
My brand is not only to provide an elegant ethical handbag, an affordable luxury item but also to be a voice for the voiceless. She’s an animal rights activist, supports the work of Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and is always on the lookout on how to help others.
What incentivised the launch of FERRON?
I spent several years working in HR for big IT companies. I did enjoy it, to a certain extent, but I’ve always known that I’m the too creative and “buzzy” person to work in a 9-5 environment. At the same time, I guess I wasn’t sure on what I want to be doing and was too scared to pursue my passion! But I couldn’t help but think about it all the time.
It was the beginning of this year that I realised that career in HR, basically, in the corporate environment is not what I want to do for the rest of my life. I believed that starting my own company would give me the possibility to work on a product that adds value to this world, is aligned with my values and comes with a strong mission! That was the main reason why I opted in for a vegan handbag brand.
FERRON is the outlet that enables me to be creative, enables me to talk about things that are the most important for me- animal cruelty-free lifestyle, sustainability, AND supporting emerging female entrepreneurs!
FERRON is a part of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust supporter family. For every FERRON bag sold, £10 is donated to SWT in aid of their conservation efforts. The elephant logo is not only an expression of my love for animals and our support of wildlife protection projects such as SWT’s elephant orphanage in Kenya but also a statement against cruelty in fashion.
What is a typical day like for you?
In our age of instant gratification, Internet fame and “accidental” billion-dollar start-ups so many people seem to believe in this false version of what being an entrepreneur look like! They’re bombarded with social media of people working from the beach, travelling and visiting places!
Having said that, being your own boss is also incredibly liberating and unbelievably rewarding. And it’s because I need to juggle so many different jobs at the same time, and often all on the same day, I learn everything extremely fast! And I love it! As a one-man-brand I look after everything- social media, PR, booking events, dealing with manufacturers, finance.
Now, I do have some structure to my day and this is predominantly dictated by… Oscar! He wakes us up at 6am, demanding cuddles and food, obviously! It’s time for little stretches and my favourite warm lemon water and then we’re off to the nearest park for a run.
A quick shower, coffee and I’m ready to work! I’m a to-do-lister and always make lists of things that I need to work on the following day. That way I always know what my priorities for the day are and feel more productive.
I attend my to-do list, then I respond to emails. Once, and if, I’m done with those, I move onto my monthly goals and project list. That’s right, another list! This is a list of low priority, though important tasks that require my attention. Those are normally more time consuming too, so that’s why I park them in the goal section.
I switch off around 6pm. I try to stay away from my laptop at 6pm onwards, post on social media and engage with the followers. Around 8pm it’s time to write a to-do’s for the following day.
Obviously, my routine looks a bit different when I’m attending meetings and/ or events. I try to schedule as many of those as possible in one day so my daily flow is less disrupted as possible.
Which is the most influential luxury brand that you admire and why?
I obviously have a lot of admiration and respect for Stella McCartney and her brand. She always believed in cruelty- free fashion and has definitely been an inspiration for the other sustainable brands, including FERRON! Stella McCartney has been different for the past few decades. When she established the brand in 2001, there were lots of doubts in the industry that it would be impossible to create a luxury fashion brand without using leather or fur. She proved them wrong and going strong with beautiful designs that are known worldwide. A luxury cruelty- free fashion is possible indeed.
I’m also very excited to see the shift of very successful designers making a moral stand and going fur-free, i.e. Prada, Versace, Gucci and Michael Kors are proclaiming their brands to be fur-free! The future of luxury is not leather!
We love what FERRON stands for beautiful and high-quality handbags that are cruelty-free and support real craftsmanship. Can tell us why the sustainability factor is so important for you throughout the brand building?
I think the term sustainability is a little bit feeble and definitely abused by some brands. For some people, there isn’t necessarily an ethical component to the definition of sustainability whereas, for me and my brand, ethical reasons are at the core!
FERRON’s purpose is to unify love for animals with the artistry of luxury. I love animals and don’t agree with using them for food, entertainment and clothing and I’m passionate about animal cruelty-free lifestyle! I want to demonstrate how a luxury fashion brand can push the boundaries to make products that are beautiful, sustainable and cruelty-free. The leather alternatives do not just look good, they are also better for the environment! And yes, I wish I could say that synthetic alternatives are already perfect and come with no environmental concerns. While this is not the case yet, new technologies will soon provide plant-based leather alternatives that are 100% biodegradable. Until that is possible, I want to demystify the environmental impact of synthetic alternatives and compare it to leather made from animal skins. At this point in time, PU leather has less than half of the environmental impact than leather derived from animals. I published a summary of two major studies within the fashion industry on FERRON’s website, so please go ahead and have a bit of a read.
There’s also the common argument that leather is better for the environment because it is “natural,” while its synthetic alternatives are made with polyester or acrylic. What some forget to remember is that an animal leather decomposes when it’s natural, but after all of the chemical treatments applied to a leather product, it isn’t going to decompose in their wardrobe, or when they are done using it!
I’m very excited to see that consumers are changing the face of the industry by demanding that designers and retailers ditch animal-derived materials for cruelty-free alternatives that look great without causing suffering.
FERRON introduces its customers to the world where luxury handbag does not kill their budget nor the animals. Also, £10 of each bag is donated to SWT in aid of their conservation efforts. That’s what sustainability means to me.
What has been the most challenging yet rewarding barrier you faced and how did overcome it?
I experienced, and still do, a lot of struggles. (laughs) And these by no means are unique to me! If you talk to any entrepreneur, any small business owner, it’s nothing but struggle! And a lot of pressure to look and act as if it’s a piece of cake to run your own company. But in reality it’s absolutely terrifying, it’s scary, every day is a risk and every decision is a gamble!
There’s no day without me wondering if this is going to work, will I be able to make enough sales to sustain the business and help others, will the business actually be here in a year time!?
The biggest challenge to date was actually making the decision to leave my stable, well paid 9-5 job and venture into the unknown of being a one-man-brand! And this has been so liberating, so freeing and although very scary, it’s so rewarding! At last, I feel free and able to let my creativity and passion to speak out loud. I must say though, that I could not have done this without my husband’s support! He’s been an absolute rock and supported me from day one! He’s not only my best friend but my coach, mentor and a business advisor.
What platforms or outlets are you using to promote and increase sales for FERRON?
I rely completely on social media, predominantly Instagram and Facebook when it comes to advertising. Once in a while, I pay for an ad but it’s not really something I do My customers find FERRON through word of mouth and through social media.
I never used to be a social media savvy person and had a bit of reservation towards it. However, I have completely changed my mind since recently; it’s been nice to see how powerful social media can be, how many wonderful people I’ve met and become friends in “real life.” The downside is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to benefit from, space becomes more crowded and social media companies start to limit what we can do without paying for it.
I want to build my tribe- FERRON followers and established that space organically. I also attend local small business’ meetings as well as showcase my products at vegan events. I believe that customers crave this human contact and invest not only in the product itself but in the passionate person behind the brand’s logo.
How is FERRON funded and what is the company structure like?
I invested in FERRON all my savings and to date is solely funded by me. I’m currently investigating other funding options and happy to connect with potential investors. As I mentioned before, the company is owned and run by myself. No pressure, huh? I’ve recently outsourced a digital marketing company and very excited about our collaboration.
What does #BEYOUROWN mean to you?
I’ve struggled most of my life with trying to be who I wanted as I’ve always tried to please others or not do anything to be judged. I followed society’s expectations and lived life like everyone else, was trying to fit in. And it’s taken me three decades to finally realise it.
#BEYOUROWN does not mean I’m selfish and it doesn’t mean I don’t care about others. It means I like who I am, it means living life how I want to live it, regardless of other people’s opinions. And it means I respect myself. I no longer worry about what others think, it’s their prerogative, I can’t control it and also, what I’d think they think about me it’s just my projection!
My crazy hair, my non-zero size body, my sense of humour, being compassionate of the border of naivety, I love that about myself! And that is all that matters. #BEYOUROWN means not allowing others to change who I am. It means live life on my own terms, not someone else’s.
In which areas are you looking to grow and expand FERRON in the next 3-5 years?
I never wanted FERRON just to be an online store or one collection – I really want to be a part of the change in the fashion industry, and I hope that I am on the path to doing that.
I’m planning to expand the brand with more designs to really offer a scaled-up model where I can sell wholesale and distribute much larger quantities. I’d love to open my own boutique in London too!
The whole factory where FERRON bags are produced is vegan and it’s run with a fair labour and sustainability mission. I want to build on that and use that ethical model as I move forward.
I really want my brand to be a proof of concept that you really can have a sustainable and ethical brand that is luxurious and doesn’t break anyone’s budget.
Who knows, I might be offering not only a wider range of vegan accessories but also as gorgeous ethical apparel? I guess you’ll need to join my social media tribe and/ or sign up for FERRON’s newsletter to be in the loop and find out!
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