Today I’d like to introduce you to someone who has infused her Italian family tailoring tradition with 21st century sustainability to create fine leather bags. Australian-born Berlin-based Gabriella Ferrante fell in love with her father’s old Singer sewing machine all over again (having used it many times as a child) and was inspired to create her own line of handbags under the label GcmF. Embracing the ethos of ‘slow fashion’ and the craftsmanship of the handmade, she eschews outsourcing and mass-production is as important to her as is sustainable work practices.
Come and meet Gabriella and learn how her nomadic and creative life has brought her to where she is today …
Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background and how you’ve ended up where you are today.
I grew up in Melbourne as a first generation Italo-Australian. We travelled a lot as a family, and I guess that gave me the travel-bug. Therefore as soon as I could, I left Australia on a one-way ticket to Paris. I was 19. It was 1993. I eventually ended up in Florence, where I lived and worked, and then travelled around Italy with my sisters. I then relocated to London, where I lived for approximately four years. This was an interesting time – I lived in squats and became more politically active (Europe is, as a whole, much more politically aware than Australia). I then moved to Sydney for three years, and then on to Berlin in 2000.
Although I loved Berlin, I felt the urge to move again after four years (plus the winters were just a little too long for me), and went back to Australia. I settled in Byron Bay for four years and then decided it was time to study one of my lifelong passions, fashion (I had already been selling some of my wares in Berlin and Byron). After graduating, I worked in the industry for a while, but the fast-fashion thing is not me. At all. So, I decided to start my own thing, and that is how GcmF came about. Then, true to form, I got itchy feet again and decided to move back to Berlin. One of my sisters still lives here, as do a lot of wonderful friends. So now I’ve been in Berlin for almost a year. It has changed a lot since I left in 2004 but is still wonderful and I love being in Europe. I only re-launched my brand in December and am working on getting it going.
You say on your website that you were born into a family of tailors and dressmakers from Rome. Tell us more about this and how your heritage has inspired what you do today.
My father trained as a tailor in the 1950s in Rome. My zia (aunt on my mother side) was also a dressmaker in Rome at the same time. Dad always had an atelier set-up at home even though he no longer worked full-time as a tailor. He said that the standard in Australia wasn’t good enough and he no longer enjoyed it. I spent a lot of after-school hours in there. He didn’t teach me how to sew; I just jumped onto the old Singer machine and that was it. I was about eight. When I started GcmF in Australia, I used my father’s old Singer machine. It’s beautiful and also filled with memories. I love that machine. It’s super-fast so you have to know how to control it, but I grew up using it so we work well together.
I guess that has influenced my desire for ‘Slow Fashion’. I like to be connected to my work. I love to actually make things myself, as I saw my dad and aunty do. They took their time making things and it was more personal and a higher quality of workmanship.
Tell us about the ethical and sustainable nature of the leather you work with and your work processes.
My biggest thing is that everything is made by me or by someone at my atelier. I don’t outsource and I would never do offshore. I don’t shop at fast-fashion stores. I try to show by example that you can still look fabulous without needing a million pieces of crap produced under awful conditions.
My leather is mostly offcuts or pieces that were excess from someone else’s production line. I source everything from Europe, never Asia. I am always on the hunt for ways to make my sourcing even more precise. It’s a constant search …
As far as my own work goes, I don’t use any chemical adhesives – the sort that are ‘standard’ in the industry as they are very toxic. Water-based adhesives are not in big supply but I have found a couple of brands I can use. I also make my own paste from water, glycerine, vinegar and gelatine that I use to paint on the inside of my bags so they don’t shed. All of my bags are unlined. The A bag is designed to stretch and ‘grow’ with its owner, i.e. the owner may carry heavy things and the straps get a bit of a pull in them. I guess it’s a bit like wrinkles on our face – they show your history. And I like that.
Who or what inspires you?
This is a tough question. I guess firstly I design for myself: What would I want to wear? I like simple design, and, as mentioned, I also like to let the leather move as it should. I am inspired by my surroundings, especially people – no one in particular but I love observing the way people move and interact and go about their daily lives.
As far as things like colours are concerned, I try not to be too fixed. This is part of using offcuts where you only have a limited choice. But limitations are good for the creative process. I was using gold from the beginning (long before this metallic craze started) because I happened to find four beautiful gold hides. And then, when they were gone, never to be repeated. I like that.
What does the future hold for GcmF?
Who knows what the future holds? Hopefully bigger and better! I am trying to establish an online presence here in Europe. I am also trying to have some vegan options. I’m playing with cork leather at the moment. It’s quite different to real leather, but that’s fun too.
You have lived in many places around the world but have now settled in Berlin. Tell us why Berlin is such a great city to live and work in and be creative in.
Berlin is great because it’s affordable and that means a lot of artists and creative types are here, as they have always been. Australia is too expensive when trying to establish a business. I had to work full-time on another job, then worked evenings and weekends on GcmF. I don’t have to do that here. There are still people making things here whereas in Australia so much is offshore which is depressing. And it makes trying to source things very difficult.
I know so many creative people here in Berlin which inspires me a lot. I know there are plenty of creative people in Melbourne too, but many, like me, they have to work other jobs to make ends meet, and so some of the creative vibe is lost.
Berlin has gone through a lot, and you feel that, and I like that. But even though it has seen hard times, or because of it, there is still a great social vibe here. There’s always something happening.
I’m currently working on …
Vegan options. And trying to get more of an online presence.
It’s not very cool, but I really like …
Hmmm, I’m not sure what is cool and uncool but I nearly always listen to classical music when I am working. I love ABC Classic FM. Does that count? I know people are usually surprised when they visit me at work, and often comment on it, but it is perfect for me.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment? Explain
Well, funnily, yes, my whole business is a bit of a ‘who’d of thought’ thing. I was vegan for 11 years, so to have a very non-vegan based business is sort of weird. Somehow, however, I always knew that if I ever stopped being vegan then I would start sewing leather. And I did.
Thanks so much for your time, Gabriella and best of luck with your venture!
You can find Gabriella at GcmF.