In a former car repair shop, designer Cristina McDaniel sells handmade leather bags from Morocco. But you will also find lambskin bags from a saddlery in Graubünden, walnut wood bowls, and tiles from North Africa. For this former marketing specialist, Label17 is the fulfilment of a childhood dream.
At Reinhardstrasse 12 in Zurich Seefeld, the walls of Label17 are adorned with dozens of woven leather and lambskin bags. Simple wooden stools stand on the floor, while the table and shelves are brimming with colourful key rings, wooden bowls and leather wallets. The main focus of the shop is on North African craftsmanship, such as babouches – traditional Moroccan slippers. ‘The bags are certainly the attention-grabbers, but we consciously want to offer other products too,’ says co-founder and designer Cristina McDaniel.
‘Today, I’m lucky enough to do a job that comes from my heart and soul.’
Born in Basel, Cristina spent many years working in marketing. She liked it well enough – but she also knew it wasn’t her true passion. She has loved fashion and design ever since she was a little girl: ‘Today, I’m lucky enough to do a job that comes from my heart and soul,’ she says.
The name Label17 reflects the fact that the first products were created in November 2017: ‘I was staying with a friend in Morocco and we visited a leather tannery,’ Cristina remembers. On the spur of the moment, she bought some loose lambskins and had two weekenders made for her. ‘My friends in Switzerland loved the bags. That’s when I decided to try opening Label17.’
‘Our store used to be a car repair shop.’
In November 2019, Cristina opened her shop in Seefeld. With the help of her partner, David Pfrommer, Cristina transformed the old, dusty Alfa Romeo workshop into a bright boutique – the Label17 Studio. ‘Small is beautiful,’ she says with a smile.
David looks after distribution, while Cristina designs her bags and sells them to stores throughout Switzerland and Germany: ‘We would never have got this far if it weren’t for David and his knowledge of the fashion industry.’ Now Cristina designs a range of items, including handbags, clutches, shoulder bags and weekenders.
The thing that fascinates her most about the bags from Morocco is the ancient craftsmanship. ‘We were determined to preserve these traditional techniques, but with modern designs.’
‘It’s a way for women to make money.’
She explains how producing the bags in Morocco helps the women there: ‘The vegetable-tanned lambskin is distributed to a network of women who weave the bags in their own home. It’s a way for women to make money.’ Because, in Morocco’s male-dominated world, working women are still not totally accepted.
The leather comes from lambs that are slaughtered for meat: ‘Otherwise, their skin would end up on the rubbish heap,’ says Cristina. She travels to Morocco every couple of months to help out in the leather tannery and work on new designs. She has never had any problems with the production facility in Morocco. ‘Quite the opposite. The people there appreciate the fact that we are a reliable employer, and we appreciate the quality of their work,’ she says.
‘Now at least I can say I dared to give it a go.’
Along with the bags, the Label17 studio also sells other items designed by Cristina, such as handmade bowls made of walnut wood, woven baskets, and decorative zellij tiles. In Morocco, these tiles are traditionally used to decorate riads – beautiful houses with magnificent courtyards. Cristina sells them as coasters: ‘Just like our bags, the tiles are simple and come in earthy colours,’ she explains.
Now that she has her own label, Cristina feels she has finally made it. ‘Fashion has always been my hobby and design was always my dream. Now at least I can say I dared to give it a go.’
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