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The cork leather artist

The cork leather artist

The cork leather artist

Breathable, hypoallergenic, vegan, lightweight, supple, robust, tear-resistant, water-repellent, saltwater and stain-resistant, sound-absorbing and gentle on the joints. Clarissa Steurer is starting an international business from her home in Krumbach featuring cork leather.

Those envious of her success believe that “She only sells to her girlfriends.” This, however, is far from the truth. They have no idea that every two days the delivery agent in Krumbach rings Clarissa Steurer’s doorbell to deliver a van full of made-to-measure carpets, placemats, baby-changing mats, glass coasters and desk pads. Such deliveries are the foundation of Clarissa’s business, which serves hundreds of customers and eighteen specialist retailers – including fine interior boutiques and shops for children’s products.

Clarissa Steurer imagined a completely new product idea: embroidering cork leather. Today, her dream of one day providing for her family with her own company is within reach. Originally, her goal was to become a fashion designer. After graduating from the HTL Textile College in business administration, she was responsible for the production of functional clothing as an overseas technician. At the age of 19, she looked over the shoulders of seamstresses in Bulgaria, quickly rose to the position of product manager, looked after customers such as Intersport and Hervis, and managed the entire production process from design to completion almost entirely on her own. It was a tough job.

While pushing her three-month-old son in a pram through Krumbach in 2017, she feverishly searched her mind for an idea of how she could become self-employed. At a market for companies looking for successors, she discovered an Upper Austrian company embroidering table linen. Clarissa went to visit the company and a path forward started to form in her mind. Unfortunately, the offer was not very concrete and the designs were not to Clarissa’s liking. Nevertheless, Clarissa became convinced that she could do something similar, i.e. have self-designed linen sewn in Lithuania and Poland, commission a contract embroiderer in Vorarlberg, and sell the products herself.

And yet when visiting an embroiderer in his workshop, who was busy embroidering beautiful wallpaper, she received some negative feedback: “I hope you’re not planning on getting rich,” he said. “Come back if you have another idea.” Disillusioned, she returned home, turned on the TV and watched a news feature about vegan leather bags made from cork leather. Thinking of the embroidered wallpaper, she began to thoroughly research this exciting material. Cork leather is breathable, hypoallergenic, vegan, lightweight, supple, robust, tear-resistant, water-repellent, saltwater and stain-resistant, sound-absorbing and easy on the joints. Interestingly, it even stores heat and has a high abrasion resistance. All these properties inspired Clarissa, who immediately searched for suitable cork throughout Portugal in order to produce her own designs.

What started out rather harmlessly, soon proved to be difficult. Suddenly, she was defending herself from lawyers accusing her of idea theft, unreliable suppliers, flimsy producers and bad advisers. As a young businesswoman, hardly anyone apart from her husband took her seriously. Despite all the setbacks Clarissa refused to give up. She decided instead to produce herself. As next steps, she took out a loan, cleared out the cellar, had a machine built and paid two seamstresses. Overnight, her husband Edwin became a “textile worker,” cut carpets to size, and glued the different layers together. He even tried his hand at the sewing machine.

Her second child was born during this extremely stressful time. With the laptop on her knees and the baby in her arms, she organised her website and took orders while the machines rattled in the basement. Today, she takes heart in the fact that many entrepreneurs have started out in a cellar or garage. Together with her husband, she is determined to hold her own against cheap, poorly produced goods. By fusing nature, design, colour and texture, Clarissa ensures that each piece is unique. Considering her single-minded focus, it’s easy to believe that someday soon a textile factory called ‘clarissakork’ will open on the meadow next door.

Issue: Winter 2020-21 Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine
Author: Irmgard Kramer