Meet Maja Cornelius—the Designer Making the Fur Industry More Transparent, One Vibrant Handbag at a Time

We caught up with the Danish entrepreneur about ethical production, fashion entrepreneurship and the love of fur.

As The New York Times wrote in 2015, fur is back in fashion and debate. As more and more top designers like Fendi and Chanel increasingly create collections peppered with liberal uses of fur, the number of fur outerwear products sold in stores has jumped by 75 percent since 2015. While animal rights campaigners are still citing fur in fashion as an excessive source of misery and cruelty towards animals, some claim that a new generation of designers and fur traders aim to ‘fix’ the industry. It has to do with being transparent about fur sourcing and emphasizing ethics and sustainability in their practices—which is precisely what designer Maja Cornelius is doing with her brand.

The Danish craftswoman got into fur in 2009, when she started tinkering with bum bags using rabbit fur. After earning a Design Bachelor in Fashion and apprenticing under a local fashion designer, she decided to launch her own brand. Today, she creates handmade bags combining luxury furs in bright, popping colors. Apart from creating rather unique items – honestly, it’s pretty hard to see someone boldly using color like Cornelius does in monochrome-loving Denmark – she also stands out due to her emphasis on ethical fur. Cornelius loves the material, but even more than that, she’s passionate about repositioning fur as a material that can be used for the future of sustainability.

Maja Cornelius just starting selling her bags at Heroines, the newly-opened accessories boutique in the heart of Copenhagen. They’re the first retailer to carry her brand, so in light of this, we caught up with her about her production process, her influences and why fur is the way for her.

GIRLS ARE AWESOME: Hi, Maja. How would you describe yourself?

Maja Cornelius: First of all, I’m a craftswoman. I have always executed on my ideas. I’m not much of an illustrator; I’m too impatient for that. And I love colors, especially pink; my eyes constantly get drawn towards that color. My mind never stops looking for new ideas and styles. On some level, I’m constantly seeking and being aware of new input. It might sound hard but not to me—it’s just who I am.

Why did you want to work with fur in the first place?

It wasn’t a conscious choice to work with fur: in the beginning, it came out of my own urge to wear a certain kind of bum bag. That first bum bag was made with rabbit fur but because of the poor quality, I looked for a better choice. As a result, I’m now working with mink, fox and lamb skin.

What are the technical pros and cons of working with fur?

Fur is so beautiful that even a plain idea becomes much prettier with fur—it adds its own beauty. But fur isn’t made in uniform measurement: the diversity of the hair lengths and the different sizes of skins will always be the first technical problem or solution to product development with fur.

How has your brand’s aesthetic changed from the moment you started until now?

My brand wasn’t born overnight; it’s more that its DNA slowly took shape. My aesthetic palette has always been very colorful, though it is even more important to me to have the right color combination.
In the beginning I chose bright colors for almost everything, but slowly customers would order natural-colored mink bum bugs and that impacted me. I gained more of a love for naturals, especially when they’re mixed with block colors to have a strong appearance.

What’s the production process like, from the moment you get an idea to the moment the product is on a store shelf?

My production process entirely happens in my small studio at Nørrebro, where I make everything myself.
An idea starts with a skin and a fascination with its exact color. I get my skins from Saga Furs: they have the best quality and through them and their skilled furriers, I generate new ideas and techniques. They help me with technical issues and from that point on, all the “bag” magic happens.
For now all my products are unique, and Heroines is the first store to carry my products, besides my own website. So putting my bags on a store shelf is so new to me, and I’m just enjoying that fact that my things are out there for the public to see.

What do you say to people who aren’t into you using fur?

Fur will always be a delicate matter, and if people aren’t into fur, I do respect that. But the fur industry has many facets. Farmed fur, fur from animals we eat and the leather industry, where the hair has just been removed. I use farmed mink and fox from Saga Furs, and as an auction house, they push the boundaries on industry animal welfare standards. They have started a certification on farmed fur to secure a certain standard at the farms and also to give consumers transparency so that the farmed fur industry takes responsibility and leads it in the right direction.

I believe all items made from animals should be transparently produced, including shoes, bacon, leather furnitures, bags, etc.

How is your brand sustainable?

My brand’s sustainability comes from embracing local production methods and small quantities, due to my own limited capacity and the possibility I give the customer to customize their own bag. I’m into slow fashion: I want my brand to be season-less and I want to sell quality that lasts.

Denmark is known as the country where everyone is super into black everything. What’s it like trying to market awesome, bright and eye-popping bags in a country where people are typically reluctant to embrace colors like that?

Danes are getting more and more into colors, I think: they’re increasingly daring to put themselves into something bright. Having said that, people are more into choosing a green bag than a green t-shirt and that is definitely my strength as a colorful accessory brand. However, I do believe my success will mostly take place abroad.

Do you look up to anyone, or have anybody you’ve learned from who particularly stands out as an influence on you?

My early years as a craftsman took place at an apprenticeship at a small, designer store in Charlottenlund. The owner and designer, Joan Rasmussen, could do everything. She could draw, make patterns and sew so fast you wouldn’t believe. She loves colors, is the most honest person in fashion I know and her production time from idea to finished garment still impresses me.

She is definitely my biggest influence.

What are the main lessons you’ve learned about surviving in the business as an emerging designer?

Learning by doing. No one’s path is the same. Sadly, there are no recipes for creating your own fashion brand and that is the toughest mountain to climb. To me, organic growth gives my brand the best and strongest foundation. But remember: you can always help others or help yourself by asking other entrepreneurs for advice.

Fave item you’ve made?

That’s a tough one! My favorite item would be bum bags with Mohawks, and then I have special love for my teddy backpack, Marley.

What’s coming up next for you and why?

I just went to the famous trade show Première Vision in Paris and I found the most perfect shearling supplier there. So the next thing will be making colorful shearling bum bags. I can’t wait to see the finished bags! Like my old boss, I have no patience when it comes to finishing new products.

Thanks, Maja.