When Johnson Tan first started Tracey, his main intention was to help his wife, Aiping, create a bag that fitted her lifestyle.
Speaking to Vulcan Post in 2021, he shared that Aiping is not a messy person, but her bag didn’t reflect the same. She would spend a lot of time rummaging through her bag looking for parking tickets, keys, and her phone.
After experiencing for himself how frustrating this was, Johnson put his 19 years of experience in the fashion industry to good use. He began sketching ideas to make her handbag more practical, adding more compartments where necessary.
As part of his process, he even created prototypes using grocery bags, cutting and stitching the fabric together. With Aiping’s help and honest feedback, his prototypes improved over time.
This eventually led to the start of Tracey in 2015.
Turning to Mother Nature for innovation
Eight years into the business, the local brand has come quite a ways. Back then, all of Tracey’s bags were made using polyurethane (PU) leather. This was due to its cost-effectiveness and cruelty-free nature.
But as Tracey grew bigger, the brand figured that they needed to be more responsible towards the environment.
“This is where we tried to be innovative, to source and design with more sustainable materials,” Johnson explained.
As a result of that, the brand began its foray into the space of environmentally friendly fashion. This led to the creation of its Conscious Edit collection, where all the products are made from recycled materials.
Specifically, the brand uses apple leather, coffee leather, and recycled nylon to craft its bags. For context, coffee leather is derived from coffee pulp mixed with other natural ingredients such as plant matter.
On the other hand, Tracey’s website states that its apple leather bags begin with juiced apples. The apple waste is treated and combined with recycled materials like polyester and cotton. Thereafter, it turns into a bio-based leather.
How sustainable are these materials though?
That said, I was initially quite sceptical about the use of such sustainable materials. Particularly because some of them still contain a significant amount of plastic.
According to Johnson, Tracey’s coffee leather is made from about 15% to 20% of coffee grounds, while the remainder is a blend of polyurethane and polyester. And generally, nylon is a high-performance plastic material made from a synthetic polymer.
So in my opinion, it does little to reduce the microplastic pollution crisis we’re facing worldwide when these items reach the end of their lifespan and get discarded.
Not-so-fun fact: Researchers estimate that 10 million metric tonnes of plastic waste and microplastics enter the oceans each year.Source: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
However, Johnson explained that their goal is to give these materials a second life instead of having them go to waste completely.
And by doing so, he said, “We hope to also start a small movement to educate and help locals be aware that through small efforts of making a more conscious choice, it will make a difference in the long run. Hence, it is worth doing it.”
He acknowledged that it’s not a perfect approach, but this does bring Tracey one step closer to its mission. “Recycled materials are still new in the market, but we will grow together with technology one step at a time.”
A bigger price tag for a better cause
Johnson disclosed that their procurement of these sustainable materials is actually outsourced to professional manufacturers. But he assured that the process and materials are approved by the Global Recycle Standards (SCS).
For context, SCS is a universally recognised standard for tracking and verifying the content of recycled materials in products. Part of its requirements is that all products have to be made with a minimum of 20% recycled material.
In terms of manufacturing costs, Johnson expressed that it’s definitely higher compared to its PU counterparts. This is because such sustainable materials are created in smaller batches.
So it’s not surprising that items from the Conscious Edit collection also have a heftier price tag. Bags made from apple leather are RM299, while those made from coffee leather start from RM229.
To put things into perspective, a regular City Lite Tote by Tracey is priced at RM269, whereas the coffee edition (made of coffee leather) costs RM329. But the brand believes that by creating more value, customers will still accept the price differences.
At the same time, Tracey has no plans of abandoning its core goal—making functional bags so that customers can have a fuss-free lifestyle. Which explains its use of recycled nylon as it’s more lightweight in comparison to vegan leather.
Broadening their horizons one step at a time
Since we last interviewed Johnson, the brand has grown, and not just in terms of sustainability. Now, you can also find shoes for women being offered alongside their bags.
To this, the founder stated the brand believes that bags and shoes are always “best friends”. Similar to how bags are used for long periods of time, Tracey finds that shoes are also a daily statement piece.
“There was a good amount of requests regarding the shoes from our customers as well. That’s why we just started trying out to add shoes as a category into the product line.”
Aside from that, the ecommerce brand opened its first physical store in MyTOWN Shopping Centre, Cheras. There, you can find its vending machine dispensing selected Tracey bags too.
The brand also continues to display its catalogue in about 30 Parksons outlets across the country. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Johnson’s plans.
Speaking candidly, he shared that lately, he’s been looking for a greater purpose in their company. “One day, I tried looking back at my journal that I wrote six years ago,” he said.
In it, he had written the exact same thing, and he realised that his dreams had not changed. “It is a simple mission—we want to make Malaysians proud of a homegrown brand on an international level.”
So opening up more Tracey boutique stores around Malaysia is definitely in the pipeline. Beyond that, he aims to push the brand even more by finally bringing it to the world stage.
Featured Image Credit: Tracey / Vulcan Post