1. would you like to give us a little insight into your life biography? Who is Christina Stahl and how did she go from successful consultant to founder of an innovative bag label?
Thank you for the opportunity to do the interview – I’m so pleased. What now seems like a common thread in hindsight was always driven primarily by my interest in fashion, the urge to learn new things, as well as being very analytical. I studied Fashion Management before my time in consulting and also did my internships in both consulting and fashion. As a consultant, I had the typical “consultant’s life” as you would imagine it: On the plane on Monday, then quickly to the hotel and then to the customer until Thursday. It has always annoyed me extremely that there were no decent laptop bags for women. The clunky unisex laptop bags weren’t really an option for me either. In 2019, I received a scholarship for my PhD and started my PhD in Würzburg on the topic of Big Data Analytics in Fashion Supply Chains. During a bout of writer’s block, my friend said to me, “Why don’t you just run with your handbag idea and see what happens.” My parents are self-employed and I never wanted that for myself, but then it just kept picking up speed. With AMELI, I have the opportunity to pursue my interests and that is a huge drive for me to do my best every day.
2. i think it’s fantastic that you bring the topic of female empowerment to life with your label, because “Break the bias” is not only printed on your bags, you yourselves also created the interview series “Strong Voices” and are involved in educational work for girls. Could you give us an insight into what female empowerment means to you personally and how the above-mentioned projects came about?
Consulting is an extremely male-dominated field and I had few female role models. I was strongly moved by Melinda Gates’ book “The power of lift” and I am sure that we women can achieve so much more with mutual support. With our “Strong Voices” series, we want to make the experiences of role models visible and inspire other women. With our donations to NGOs that support women, we want to give more women the opportunities to have equal opportunities regardless of their background or gender. I am extremely motivated when we can add value with what we do that goes beyond handbags.
3) Where do you see a need for action with regard to female empowerment and where do opportunities open up for each and every one of us?
I’m honestly in quite a bubble when it comes to women empowerment. In my environment, there are almost only supportive, inspiring women, and I also know more about the gender pay gap from statistics. For me, it’s still important that each and every one of us has a mindset that just because you help other women doesn’t make your own success any smaller. Anyone can positively impact the lives of other women with small actions like a compliment, a mentoring, a recommendation.
4. your bags are handmade in a small family business in Varese, Italy. Why was Italy chosen of all countries?
We actually requested prototypes in different countries at the time and the quality in Italy was the best. Apart from that, close cooperation and fair working conditions as well as transparency in the supply chain are extremely important to us. Our producer is only 3 hours away from Zurich and therefore we can travel to Italy 5-6 times a year and discuss product development and quality together with our producer on site.
5 We at the magazine are naturally also very concerned about the issue of sustainability. Unfortunately, however, the fashion industry is not exactly the poster child when it comes to this issue. Instead, in recent years we have seen increasing intransparency, greenwashing in advertising, illegal sweatshops or offshore sourcing. How do you intend to positively counter this movement with AMELI?
I can extremely agree with you on the issues and unfortunately we even faced these issues in reality. Our first prototype was made in Italy by another producer and when we visited them (on the website: “small Italian family business”) we were told that only the prototypes would be made by them and everything else would be outsourced to Chinese submanufacturers in Italy. We are not allowed to watch this production.
I also find the term sustainability difficult in the current situation because there are so many interpretations of the term. We try to focus on the following key areas at AMELI:
- Transparency: We know every single supplier of our materials. All our materials are carefully selected and sourced from Italy. Our leather is certified by the Leather Working Group and we are also very transparent in our pricing.
- Integrity: we avoid waste as much as possible by using leather scraps for small accessories, not destroying products and ordering only in small quantities. Furthermore, fair working conditions are extremely important to us.
- Longevity of products: For me, this is the biggest lever to a more sustainable world – and that is when we need a new bag every 5-10 years instead of several in a year. That is why we pay great attention to high quality and timeless design. In addition, we do not hold sales and continuously improve our existing products.
What do you think labels can do better here and how can customers recognize a high-quality and sustainable brand?
Difficult. For me, what counts here is simply the question: Can I sell the products that I sell, incl. sell the marketing measures and my communication with a clear conscience? I hate it when I read slogans like “Italian Leather” only to discover a “Made in Bangladesh” under Country of Origin. Such slogans are simply extremely misleading. As a consumer, I find it super super difficult to make a proper decision in the forest of labels and incomplete information. My Guiding Principle is:
Buy Less, Choose Well, Make it Last.
Maybe one or two readers in our community are also flirting with the idea of founding their own company: In retrospect, what was the hardest lesson you had to learn as a founder?
That it will not be less and will never be (good) enough. You can always do more and especially as a perfectionist and impatient person who is used to working long hours through consulting, I really had to learn the importance of taking breaks in between and saying no once in a while. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
8. is there a specific tip you would like to share with young (aspiring) female founders?
Stop dreaming, start doing. I think it never has to be black and white, you don’t have to quit your job and go all in, you can also start with small steps and see how it develops. The important thing is simply to get started and actually do it.
9. I also started my two companies together with my partner and am of course very curious how that has developed with you and how the collaboration is working out for you. Would you say it’s an added value to be in business as a couple?
I am incredibly grateful that my husband is my Co-Founder, especially because we have very complementary work styles and skills. While I just go for it and bring speed into it, he is the one who reads through the fine print again.
10 Okay, hand on heart: Which of you is an idea generator and which of you regularly rolls your eyes?
I’m in charge of design and communication for us, so it’s definitely me with the crazy ideas and Charly the (rightly) critical questioner.
11. you are now over 10 people in the company. Did the topic of female leadership challenge you again in a special way here?
Leadership continues to be one of the biggest challenges for me. How closely do my female employees need to be managed? What is the best way to motivate and encourage? How do I give sensible feedback and demand performance? I make a lot of mistakes, learn even more, and just try to be transparent with my insecurities and also learn from my co-workers’ feedback.
12. Recently you made public on LinkedIn the cooperation between AMELI and Annahita Esmailzadeh. How did this collaboration come about?
I have always had a huge respect for Annahita and admired her from afar. At some point, a mutual acquaintance said I should just write to her… And Annahita answered, we spoke on the phone and were immediately on fire. I guess it was just meant to be, it was a wonderful collaboration.
13. I am also happy to take a request question from our FemalExperts community: The main fabric of your bags so far is different types of leather. I know you had a vegan alternative on the market here for a short time, but I don’t think it was as well received by the clientele. Will there be another vegan handbag in the future, for all those who have already fallen in shock love with your design?
We are continuously evaluating existing vegan leather options. Currently, we haven’t found a material again that meets our expectations for durability and feel, but I definitely wouldn’t rule it out in the long run.
Finally, I would be happy if you could give our community a little outlook: Where will AMELI ZURICH as a whole, but also with you dear Christina in particular, go in the next few years? What can we already look forward to?
We have our growth targets, of course, and new models are in the pipeline – we also want to eventually discover just as many AMELIs as RIMOWAs in airports, but apart from that, I want to work on our processes, bring in more stability, and even though it may be unrealistic, feel a little less like I’m stuck on a roller coaster ride in a continuous loop.
About the author
Kinga Bartczak advises, coaches and writes on female empowerment, new work culture, organizational development, systemic coaching and personal branding. She is also the managing director of UnternehmerRebellen GmbH and publisher of the FemalExperts magazine .