When you picture Barcelona, you think beautiful food, beautiful architecture and beautiful people. As if those weren’t enough to sell you on this Mediterranean city, there’s also the shopping. Since global markets fell around 2008, Spain’s struggling economy has faced a volatile decade, spurring on a new wave of entrepreneurs. Luckily for us, one such entrepreneur happens to be a designer of luxury, sustainable handbags, one riding the wave of niche bags making it big on Instagram over the past couple of years.
Once discovering the Atelier BATAC feed, the up-and-coming brand helmed by founder and designer Cristina Gómez, I knew I was addicted. Her bags cover all of the essentials of a covetable accessory and combine all of my favourite characteristics: modern, feminine, and striking. Each style is handcrafted in Barcelona by using low-CO2-impact materials and processes, making this brand the definition of ethical luxury.
Read on to see how this breakout designer got into the handbag game, what inspires her line and how Spain is approaching the future of sustainable fashion.
Tell us about Atelier BATAC and why you decided to make a sustainable, accessible and super cool brand of handbags?
After falling in love with Colombian crafts while I was living in Bogotá, I decided to challenge myself and launch Atelier BATAC as a personal project. This way I could use my recently honed skills in leather-working, combined with my creative background and my mediterranean spirit.
My aim is to create a luxurious-looking, signature product where detail and high quality materials are at the core, along with handcrafted designs and sustainability. These are all values of slow fashion, which I believe is a mindful response to our consumer society. The idea is to produce locally but sell globally using new technologies, all while providing the most affordable price that an artisanal product can offer.
At the end of the day, my storytelling becomes part of each bag’s design.
Why did you make the switch from film to fashion, or is this a side passion?
I believe in the special poetry that moving images have, and that idea has always captivated me. But ultimately, you need a big crew to shoot a film and I tend to prefer the solitary creative process. So I decided to translate that poetry into bags.
At the same time this transition was happening, I discovered the historical importance of bags as a sign of the emancipation of women. Having that in mind, I wanted to offer a distinctive aesthetic for them, for us. Our physicality, our shape, our colours and movement, all of these elements inspired me to achieve that.
Is sustainability an important element for designers (and consumers) in Spain?
More and more everyday. The fact that we are the country who saw the birth of fashion’s low cost (which at first was positive due to its capacity to democratize fashion), and that we have lived for the last two decades with that production model along with other added socioeconomic difficulties, have stopped us until now from seeing the need to create and consume in a more sustainable way.
Nevertheless there are fantastic Spanish fashion brands who bet on new models of local production, both ethical and sustainable, because the focus is not on getting rich but on having a fulfilling life. Enjoying its ups and learning from its downs.
It’s a great time for us, small brands. We are more flexible and adaptable in terms of business structure than the mainstream fashion brands and we can respond better to the social changes, especially when we’re talking about big industries that tend to forget about the people and only focus on profit.
They’re now aware that our impact on the planet is huge and that sustainable fashion is required. I really believe that small steps and changes can make a big impact. For that reason, I want to create a lasting relationship between the bag and owner, which aims to be a meaningful approach against the mainstream fashion industry’s mass production and over-consumption.
BATAC engages with the slow fashion movement and its values which, from my point of view, are a creative alternative for a better world.
What types of tasks and activities are typical in a workday for you?
When I start a new collection, it’s always a joy to begin the new designs. First, I do some research about the colours and shapes I would like to work with. Then I make the drawings and patterns and the first prototypes. The whole design process can take me three to four weeks, easily. Once the corrections are done and the supplies have been ordered I can start the production which can last about a month. During any gap time, I have to answer emails, make budgets, plan marketing strategies, update the stocks on the website, organize the photo shoot for the collection… plus drink coffee and remember to breathe!
To build a business from the ground up requires time, readiness to take risks, a lot of perseverance and a high dose of passion. It can be exhausting but, at the end of the day, it’s cool to be a modern CEO!
Who or what is providing you with inspiration right now?
Art is an endless and very special place for inspiration, with its reflection on shape, colour, form and sense. But movies also. I’ve been obsessed with both Bergman’s and Tarkovski´s movies since my 20s and their use of emptiness as a container for form. In fashion, Phoebe Philo’s work for Céline has been a reference, with the way she understands modern femininity. It’s visionary, sharp and elegant at the same time.
*This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.