Regeneration

Regeneration
Jessie Wong
Supply Chain
Wellington Studio
Deer Farm
Bolton Laptop Folio
Suki Clutch
Art of packing
Yu Mei Team

A letter from the founder

Yu Mei is a leather goods label devoted to regenerative utility. Each bag design is born from the ethos that simplicity is complexity resolved, built for purpose to carry with ease, inspired by the people closest to me in life — family, friends and inspirational people in our community.

Our bags are made from buttery soft, premium New Zealand farmed deer nappa and other luxury leathers, with integrity at the core of our supply chain.

Prized for its suppleness and strength, the deer nappa we use is a byproduct of the venison industry that would otherwise be waste. We’re thrilled to be utilising this regenerative material from our land that has a low ecological footprint. Deer nappa is regarded as a regenerative material, as supply can be renewed faster than it is being drawn down.

We’re proud of what we have achieved in the past 18 months — the highlights of which you will read about in the pages that follow.

We partnered with the Wellington City Mission to raise $51,590 for the charity that helps people of Wellington — our hometown — from all walks of life. We recently partnered with Aotearoa Art Fair to support the visual arts in Aotearoa New Zealand, amplifying the voices of emerging indigenous female artists.

 

In its second year, we have rehomed 75 bags through our Buyback Initiative, more than double the amount achieved in the first year of the programme that encourages circularity. In spite of what we have achieved through the support of our community, we have lofty goals for the future: The Yu Mei team and I have a quiet ambition to create a truly regenerative, circular product
offering.

Instead of simply extracting and diverting resources, we aim to return resources to their natural course at the end of each product’s useful life. We plan to achieve this through innovation in the tanning space and the development of fully compostable leather. We are at the very beginning of a journey that will not be achieved overnight but will be an important way forward.

The future is regenerative.

Definitions

REGENERATIVE
re·gen·er·a·tive

Definition of regenerative

noun

  1. formed or created again
  2. spiritually reborn or converted
  3. restored to a better, higher, or more worthy state
  4. sth that has undergone regeneration - the process of renewal, restoration, and regrowth that makes ecosystems resilient to natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage
 

UTILITY
u·ti·l·ty

Definition of utility

noun

  1. the state of being useful, profitable, practical, or beneficial.
  2. functional rather than attractive. “utility clothing” adjective
  3. useful, especially through being able to perform several functions. “a utility knife”

Values

Regeneration

We take responsibility for every product we contribute to the world, from concept to end-of-life. It is our duty to leave a positive net impact through the use of regenerative materials, exemplary product stewardship and a commitment to reducing our carbon footprint. To realise our vision, we have commenced a research project to develop and source regenerative materials, with the end goal that our products can be composted at end-of-life.

Utility

We are committed to creating functional systems of utilitarian leather handbags and accessories that are luxurious and understated, making the everyday lives of our customers easier.

 

Community

Yu Mei is a community-focused brand. Club Yu Mei is a framework to engage with our customers, collaborators and team members. Our Yu Mei Lounges act as venues to host community-focused events — product launches, customer breakfasts, private styling, evening drinks. We aim to inspire our community with our collaborative approach to doing business.

Stewardship and Supply

Our supply chain was built with integrity at its core. We pride ourselves on cultivating relationships with like-minded partners that share our values of integrity, modesty, innovation and collaboration.

Over time, our partners have become like family to us. We ensure that each element in our supply chain is traceable and we are fully involved every step of the way. Assurance is given through third-party audits and close daily communication with our partners throughout the production process.

Supplier Certifications

Two-thirds of our leather suppliers are certified by the LeatherWorking Group, with the remaining third currently undergoing LWG auditing. The Leather Working Group accreditation is a full audit of the leather supply chain, examining factors including but not limited to: water and energy usage, solid waste and effluent management, air and noise emissions, traceability, health and safety, chemical management, restricted substances, and compliance and chromium VI (CrVI) management. This audit is rigorous, requiring two days on site to complete. LWG members are audited every 24 months.

One third of our leather suppliers are Green Energy Certified meaning they are audited to use 100% fully renewable energy certified by a Guarantee of Origin. A further half of our leather suppliers are currently using 83% renewable energy sources. Two-thirds of our leather suppliers are REACH compliant, meaning they do not use harmful or hazardous banned substances in their processing. To be REACH compliant, businesses must have stringent processes to recover and reuse any chemicals which are used, so these are not released into waterways or the environment.

The tannery that produces our premium Croc embossed cowhide leather from Italy is certified by the I.CE.C - Institute of Quality Certification for the Leather Sector and holds the ICEC_TS_SC410 accreditation for traceability back to the farm level across its full offering with a score of 79/100.

Deer Nappa

100% of our Deer Nappa is sourced from local farms within the South Island of New Zealand, enabling traceability back to a farm level. Deer Nappa is reclaimed responsibly in New Zealand under the Five Freedoms, which has strictly monitored compliance by the Deer Association of New Zealand. The Five Freedoms ensure deer are free from hunger and thirst, discomfort, pain, injury and disease, free to express normal behaviour and free from fear and distress.

Farmed Deer have a low ecological footprint as they are free to roam larger geographical areas, meaning the impact they have on the land is significantly lesser than cattle or sheep. As the amount of deer hides produced in New Zealand as a result of the venison industry far surpasses the demand from the leather industry, Yu Mei recognises hides as a by-product of this industry which would otherwise be landfilled. With reference to the intrinsic value of an animal hide, the hide is sometimes referred to as a co-product. However, as supply is driven by the demand for deer meat (venison), Yu Mei uses the term by-product for its deer hides.

 

Other Materials

In 2021, Yu Mei launched a minimal range of Cashmere knits in collaboration with local artisans, Standard Issue. This range was created with Cashmere from the Cariaggi family, who run a Cashmere Mill based in Smirra, Italy. Cariaggi use Cashmere from the Capra Hircus Laniger goat from inner Mongolia, which is a Non-CITES species. Cariaggi holds the Responsible Wool Standard, ZQ wool standard, Organic Content Standard, as well as a Health and Textile standard, which is overseen by the Italian Government. These standards ensure correct use of chemicals and guarantee the eco-toxicological quality of the product throughout the supply chain. Cariaggi factories use 100% renewable energy, with ISO 14001 - ISO 45001 standards to address the eco-management of the company and health and safety within the workplace. An integral consideration of our partnership with Standard Issue was their zero waste production philosophy, in line with our own commitment to reducing waste.

Our Stance on Exotics

Yu Mei is committed to never use down, feathers, angora, exotic skins or furs in our ranges. Within New Zealand, the species of Red Deer we use holds a Non-CITES Declaration from New Zealand's Department of Conservation, Te Papa Atawhai.

Notions

We are proud to use YKK Zips in all Yu Mei pieces. These are a small part of what we produce, but it is important to Yu Mei that suppliers honour and share our values. As one of the largest manufacturers in the industry, YKK has extensive goals to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions through converting to 100% renewable energy, sustainable materials and reducing water and chemical use. As part of this commitment, YKK has formulated their Cycle of Goodness philosophy with ISO26000 guidelines. We are working to ensure traceability of every notion used in our products and look forward to updating our community as this information becomes available.

Leather Alternatives

The use of vegan leather alternatives has been a topical subject within the leather industry. Yu Mei keenly keeps abreast of developments in this space, but as yet, we have not found a viable vegan option that excludes petroleum-based plastics or recycled plastics. The current commercially available materials from our research are resource-intensive and take significantly longer to biodegrade than natural leather products. We are firm in our belief in the longevity and regenerative properties of natural leather as the best material currently available.

Labour and Living Wage

Part of our social responsibility is who we work with — celebrating who they are and providing fair and equitable employment opportunities. Yu Mei is proud to be Living Wage Aotearoa accredited meaning 100% of our staff and contractors are paid a living wage.

 

Yu Mei protects workers across the supply chain with our Supplier Code of Conduct which is in line with the International Labour Organization guidelines and addresses issues such as but not limited to: child labour, forced labour, freedom of association, collective bargaining, non-discrimination, gender equality, modern slavery, non-excessive hours, ban on sandblasting, and rights and capacities to make a complaint. We aim for 100% of our suppliers to sign and adhere to this code by July 2022. It is important to Yu Mei to ensure a living wage is paid through our supply chain, something we can assure through third-party audits of our factories, and the work done by the Global Living Wage coalition.

Circularity and Impact

Yu Mei is committed to the stewardship over the regenerative lifecycle of our products and we are researching ways to improve our products' natural degradation back into the land to be recognised by nature and improve soil health for generations to come. To encourage the repurposing and recycling of the leather used in Yu Mei bags, Yu Mei has a Buyback Initiative which works to extend a product’s useful life through mending and refurbishing. These bags are resold at our annual Archive events, which are also a key mechanism for utilising scraps and offcuts that are sent back from offshore production; and we work closely with our factories on innovative ways to achieve efficient cutting yields to minimise production waste.

As leather is a natural product, the tanning process can create variation through hides. Traditionally, brands may only accept leather of a certain finish, however, we work with our manufacturers to find solutions, such as innovative cutting practices, that ensure the premium quality of Yu Mei products is upheld while limiting potential waste.

Carbon Emissions

Climate change is an important issue that our industry needs to address. Central to the climate change issue are greenhouse gasses (GHG) that contribute to accelerated warming of the Earth’s atmosphere. Recognising carbon dioxide as the key GHG in this process, Yu Mei has completed a Toitū Carbon Zero Audit to quantify carbon emissions and GHG liabilities within our internal operations. We are currently in the final audit stage, and accreditation will be achieved at the end of 2021. Yu Mei has pledged to offset an additional 25% of carbon emissions to go beyond neutrality. Based on the findings from the Toitū Audit, we are working to actively manage and reduce our carbon footprint. This includes working with our manufacturers and suppliers on packing and freight aggregation options to ensure freight is efficiently delivered, utilising only sea freight; working with local suppliers where possible; and completing electricity and waste audits to highlight reduction opportunities.
We recognise that this is the start of our journey, and we welcome feedback from our community on how we can do better to address climate change and our impact.

Buyback Initiative

Born out of our commitment to circularity, the Buyback initiative works to extend a product’s useful life through mending and refurbishing. We invite customers to return their preloved Yu Mei bags for a credit towards their next purchase. Preloved bags will be refurbished in-house and given a second life, to be on-sold in Archive Events. Our Buyback Initiative has rehomed 75 second-life bags, and our Atelier has repaired countless bags, to keep them in circulation. We aim to build up our stock of second-life Buyback bags in order to offer this as a permanent product range that’s available for purchase year round by 2025. Our target is to rehome 100 Buyback bags each year from 2025.

Archive Event

Yu Mei does not participate in traditional industry discount cycles, because we believe the value of our leather goods doesn’t diminish over time — the range of quality, preloved bags sold through our Buyback Initiative is a testament to this. Instead, we host an annual Archive Event, where we reuse, re-cycle, repurpose and reinvent all that would be waste from the previous year of production.

 

This includes repurposing leather offcuts, hardware overruns and odds and ends into archival styles, crafted at our Wellington design studio. In 2021, our annual Archive Event was the most impactful yet, diverting 29kg of small leather scraps from landfill; utilising 216sqft of larger leather offcuts from mainline production; diverting 12.85kg of brass alloy hardware from landfill; and rehoming 42 second-hand bags, submitted as part of our Buyback Initiative.
To repurpose the existing and unavoidable leather offcut waste, we will continue to host annual Archive Events with archival styles made in house from scrap materials.

Material Regeneration

It is Yu Mei’s vision to cultivate responsible stewardship by creating products that can be returned to the land at end of life. This begins with our leathers, which account for the majority of the material makeup of our bags. Leather is a material composed of organic collagen and protein structures that can degrade to integrate back into soil. The process of tanning changes the chemical structure of these compounds so they are not easily recognised by nature and therefore don’t decompose, resulting in a lasting, quality bag. Some tanned leathers decompose within 12 years, while others found by archaeologists are said to be over 2500 years old.
Yu Mei is working to discover the biodegradable timeframe that it takes for our leathers to compost back into the soil, with the aim to innovate in tanning processes and speed up the degradation process to match the natural life cycle of the product. Our goal is that our leathers can be recognised by nature again, and that they improve the health of our soil for generations to come.
Our products come from the land and are crafted into luxury; we are now seeking to return luxury to the land at the end of each product’s life. Land to luxury, luxury to land.
We will expand on this topic in our Regeneration Roadmap, coming 2022.

Packaging

Yu Mei is proud to partner with a packaging manufacturer in Dongguan, China, that is a regularly audited SEDEX member. Our packaging has been FSC accredited under FSC-STD-40-004 ver 3.0. Recognising the importance of minimal packaging, we have built this into our design process to reduce the amount of packaging we use; and we provide a minimal packaging option for our customers, in store and online upon request. To minimise freight impacts, we forecast and order only according to inventory, while working with our packaging manufacturer to ensure shipments are sent flat packed, alongside our finished pieces.
Yu Mei is committed to responsible consumption and cultivating sustainable buying habits within our community. With timeless designs that transcend trends and seasons, it is our hope that each customer’s purchase decision mirrors that of our considered and intentional design.

Social Responsibility

Bags For All was an innovative fundraising initiative we designed to support the Wellington City Mission. As a blueprint for new ways businesses can partner with charities in meaningful ways, we rallied our networks to sponsor 165 bags that were donated to The Mission’s store and sold to raise funds. This sponsorship model meant that The Mission kept 100% of the proceeds, highlighting how we become more than the sum of our parts when we collaborate.

The Wellington City Mission is a charity that provides a range of support available to all Wellingtonians, including transitional housing, food parcels, aged care, financial mentoring, and advocacy. The Mission’s kaupapa (purpose) is to walk alongside the community to achieve empowerment, transformation and fullness of life.

 

We subscribe to the idea that leather goods never go ‘out of season.’ It’s our hope that customers will love their leathers for a lifetime, and will have the opportunity to build up their functional set of Yu Mei leather goods over time. A colour purchased today should fit well with a piece purchased in a future collection and work overtime as a seamless set.
Our considered approach to design has resulted in a collection of seasonless inventory that works together like chapters in a book, where the intrinsic value of each product never diminishes.

Impact Measurement

We have appointed a Sustainability Officer to document, audit and implement continuous improvement strategies to ensure we are progressing towards our vision to create products that can be returned to the land at end of life.

Measurability and accountability are important to us in order to formalise the sustainable, regenerative and circular practices that inherently exist in Yu Mei. To this end, we are working to achieve, and are proud to operate in line with the following certifications.

Accreditiations

TOITU CARBON ZERO
Toitū helps accurately measure greenhouse gas emissions and put in place strategies to manage, reduce and offset impacts. Toitū facilitates the offsetting of remaining emissions through verified carbon credits to achieve a neutral balance. Certification is in accordance with ISO 14064-1 or PAS 2050. Compliance with the programme is independently verified annually to maintain certification.

Progress Update:
Data has been submitted, and Yu Mei Ltd has been audited by Toitū Environmark. We have been commended for the accuracy of the methods behind our measurements.

Target:
Yu Mei will be accredited by December 2021/January 2022, once Toitū Environmark's audit of Yu Mei is audited by their governing body.

Next Steps:
Yu Mei will undertake an additional accreditation programme to become formally Carbon Positive (meaning we offset an additional 25% of emissions) in 2022. From 2021, we will be accredited with a Carbon Zero status while informally offsetting an additional 25% of emissions to go beyond neutrality.

BCORP CERTIFIED
B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

Progress Update:
We are in the process of completing B-Corp Assessment which includes a six-month timeframe for implementing changes to improve Yu Mei’s Impact Assessment score. We expect to submit our impact assessment for auditing in January 2022, after which it takes approximately six months to become accredited.

Target:
Accreditation will be achieved in 2022.

LIVING WAGE AOTEAROA
The Living Wage rate is voluntary and is paid by employers who want to make sure their workers earn enough money to live with dignity. The current 2021/22 Living Wage $22.75.

Progress Update:
Accreditation achieved as of August 2021.

 

Memberships

SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS NETWORK
SBN is New Zealand’s largest, longest-standing sustainable business organisation. It’s a network that enables system change in the areas of climate, waste and water. SBN is a social enterprise, a community and a movement, and their kaupapa is to transform leading ideas into action in Aotearoa.

Progress Update:
We are currently a member of the Sustainable Business Network. Yu Mei is a certified circular brand listed in SBN’s Product Stewardship Directory.

MINDFUL FASHION NEW ZEALAND
Mindful Fashion is a collective of leading New Zealand designers, textile and trim suppliers, and manufacturers who believe in a future for the New Zealand clothing and textile industry that is inclusive, sustainable and successful.

Progress Update:
We are a paid and participating member of Mindful Fashion NZ. Our participation helps to maintain and progress the work of the Mindful Fashion NZ Organisation. MFNZ supports long term sustainable success for members and the wider industry through advocacy, sustainable business resources and facilitating collaborative solutions.

WEPS EMPOWERMENT
WEPS Empowerment Principles and WEPs is about empowering women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors and throughout all levels of economic activity. The aim is to work for gender equity in all New Zealand workplaces.

Progress Update:
Currently awaiting confirmation of process to become Signatory. We are actively incorporating the WEP 7 Principles into our current business policies, many of which are already in practice.

RAINBOW TICK
Rainbow Tick is about accepting and valuing people in the workplace, embracing the diversity of sexual and gender identities, and ensuring a supportive work environment that is accepting of peoples’ differences.

Progress Update:
Yu Mei is currently on the waitlist to apply for this accreditation. We expect to complete our application in 2022.

Team Yu Mei

We consider our team — both immediate and at all stages of our supply chain — as family. We’re proud of the diverse workforce we have built, who live our values of integrity and modesty. At Yu Mei, thinking big and collaboratively is part of our DNA. We impart a positive and proactive approach, seeking to learn and grow as a collective. We believe that together we are more than the sum of our parts.

WHO WE ARE

At Yu Mei, we're proud of our team and the people who make us who we collectively are. It's important to us that the diverse opinions of our team are brought to the table. In our team over 90% identify as women, 1/3 identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community and 1/3 are from underrepresented racial or ethnic minorities, which is similarly reflected in our leadership team.

 

Summary

We are so grateful for the support of our community to help us get to where we are today. From Land to Luxury, Luxury to Land we look forward to the next steps of our Regeneration Journey together.