In Switzerland, around 12,000 deer are killed every year. Generally speaking, only the meat is consumed. ‘That’s absurd,’ believes Kadri Vunder-Fontana. The chemist is the co-founder of shoe brand Cervo Volante, which uses the hides of these wild animals after they have been killed.
Even as a child, Kadri Vunder-Fontana was no stranger to sustainable living. At the time, though, it was a necessity rather than a choice: ‘I grew up in the former Soviet Union. Things were so scarce, we had to stand in line to get toilet paper.’ As an adult, the chemist was initially keen to redress the balance, and developed a habit of constantly buying new clothes. One day, however, she realised she had simply too much of everything – her wardrobe was stuffed with trousers, skirts and shirts she didn’t really need.
‘Especially since the birth of my two children, I’ve become much more attuned to how our world is increasingly affected by our consumer behaviour,’ states the 41-year-old. This is why, for example, she only consumes meat that has been hunted – chamois, elk, deer – and makes sure to use absolutely everything: ‘I’ve become rather skilled at preparing offal dishes and making bone broth.’ And she has co-founded the sustainable shoe label Cervo Volante, which means ‘flying deer’ or stag beetle in Italian.
‘Especially since the birth of my two children, I’ve become much more attuned to how our world is increasingly affected by our consumer behaviour.’
Conny Thiel Egenter and Kadri Vunder Fontana
Kadri developed the idea of using the unused parts of deer to make clothing and shoes two years ago with a friend of hers, hunter and biologist Conny Thiel-Egenter. During a weekly meet-up at a climbing centre in Zurich, the pair decided to start producing long-lasting items of clothing that consumers can wear in good conscience.
During the following hunting season, Kadri and Conny purchased 1,400 raw deerskins from hunters and butchers. These hides often show traces of a life in the wild, including scars, wrinkles and minor injuries sustained during clashes with other animals. ‘This is nature in all its beauty, and this is what we want to show people,’ says Kadri. To reduce the amount of salt that enters the surrounding rivers and soil, they froze the hides to preserve them, rather than salting them.
During the hunting season, Kadri and Conny purchased 1,400 raw deerskins from hunters and butchers.
Getting shoe maestro Silvano Sassetti on board with their project required very little persuasion from Kadri and Conny. Before the precious hides ended up on Silvano’s cutting table, they were tanned – without the use of chromium, which is toxic. ‘We attended various leather goods fairs and realised that 99 percent of leather is tanned using toxic chemicals,’ explains Kadri. The reason for this is that ecological leather processing is much more expensive and time-consuming. Furthermore, the spectrum of tones and hues is restricted with natural tanning solutions. It is not possible, for example, to turn a hide deep black via natural means. However, this may soon change thanks to a plant-based blackening agent currently being tested.
Ecological leather processing is much more expensive and time-consuming.
The Cervo Volante team
As well as a shoe label, Cervo Volante is a laboratory that develops new, eco-friendly products. Kadri and her team try out different options and encounter setbacks on their way to achieving the desired result – but they remain dedicated throughout. Kadri tells the story of how her business partner Conny, who was pregnant at the time, used a forklift truck to transport frozen animal hides to a warehouse, and explains the range of tests the first prototype shoe had to undergo – from being showered with petrol to being taken on a hike through slush and snow.
In addition to the two founders, the Cervo Volante team now includes designer Piret Puppart, business planning manager Margit Vunder and creative director Marc Fischer. By the year 2025, the team wants to reduce by 25% the number of hides from hunted animals that are incinerated in disposal facilities around Switzerland. The shoe collection, which has been on sale at the company’s new store in Neumarkt since the beginning of May, is the jump-off point for achieving this goal. The team is working on creating insoles from leather offcuts, padding from recycled corks, and buttons from deer hooves.
By the year 2025, the team wants to reduce by 25% the number of hides from hunted animals that are incinerated in disposal facilities around Switzerland.
Kadri hopes that consumers will increasingly turn to long-lasting products once more. For her and her team, it’s not really about ‘returning to nature’; what they want is to provide a realistic solution rather than imposing restrictions. ‘And it should be a solution that allows us to sleep at night.’