Tesla’s Franz and Vicki von Holzhausen: design power couple

To get a glimpse of what a sustainable future would possibly appear like, you would possibly pull up a chair at Franz and Vicki von Holzhausen’s dinner desk.

The Malibu-based power couple met by their careers as automotive designers, however as of late, they’re each singularly targeted on  saving the planet by innovation. As chief designer at Tesla, Franz’s aim is to create electrical automobiles which are extra fascinating than their gas-guzzling counterparts. This technique has labored like a attraction: The model had its first worthwhile 12 months in 2020, with revenues of $31.5 billion. In the meantime, Vicki left her profession designing luxurious vehicles for Mercedes-Benz and Audi to launch von Holzhausen, a trend label that develops sustainable options to leather-based.

[Photo: courtesy von Holzhausen]

Leather-based is extensively utilized in each the style and the automotive industries, however producing the fabric has an infinite environmental footprint spanning the greenhouses gases emitted in cattle farming to the water and chemical compounds used within the tanning course of. The Global Fashion Agenda, a sustainability nonprofit, calls leather-based the “most unsustainable materials of all generally used trend supplies.” At von Holzhausen, Vicki works with labs to develop a cloth that appears and seems like leather-based, however is produced from recycled plastic, is biodegradable, and has a low carbon footprint. She makes use of this materials, which she calls Teknik-Leather-based, in her purses, which have developed a cult following amongst eco-minded celebrities, like Kate Bosworth. Now, Vicki is growing various leathers for different trend manufacturers and even different industries, together with the automotive sector.

[Photo: courtesy von Holzhausen]

Once they’re not chasing after their two sons, Vicki and Franz spend plenty of time exchanging concepts and influencing one another’s work. Living proof: Vicki has simply launched a set of males’s equipment for von Holzhausen that was straight impressed by her husband, who she additionally enlisted to check early prototypes.


I sat down with them to speak about why the style and automotive industries are each so stubbornly hooked on leather-based, what it takes to get customers to modify to extra eco-friendly merchandise, and why they’re hopeful in regards to the planet’s future.

Quick Firm: Franz, how did you affect Vicki’s newest assortment?

Franz von Holzhausen: I didn’t carry a lot to the venture moreover explaining to Vicki the varieties of merchandise I exploit on daily basis—like luggage and belts—and the sort of performance I’m searching for in them. She took all of these insights and introduced her design sensibility and supplies. I additionally examined the merchandise. I’ve been sporting a backpack for 2 years now. I don’t suppose a leather-based backpack would survive the way in which I throw it round.

Why do you suppose persons are so hooked up to leather-based although it has such a horrible environmental footprint?

FvH: The style and automotive industries are such staid industries. Manufacturers and customers are fixated on the concept there isn’t any extra premium or sturdy materials than leather-based. However in plenty of instances that sturdiness requires plenty of high coats and different doubtlessly poisonous options that make it long-lasting and scratch proof. Then there’s the feel. On a horse saddle, a patina is taken into account lovely, however in a automotive, it may be perceived as unhealthy high quality. So auto producers must discover a provider that may give you an ideal end that requires plenty of chemical compounds.

That is one thing that many individuals don’t take into consideration. They suppose that leather-based is that this pure materials that comes straight off the animal. They usually don’t understand that the yield on a cow conceal isn’t superb. The imperfect define of a cow conceal means there may be plenty of product that isn’t used. This creates an unimaginable quantity of post-industrial waste.

[Photo: courtesy von Holzhausen]

Does Tesla use leather-based in its interiors?


FvH: No, we stopped utilizing leather-based on our seats and our interiors for a number of years now. Our aim was to discover a materials that feels extra premium, appears higher, and performs for at the least 10 to twenty years. It’s received to deal with actually excessive environments: sub-zero temperatures as much as the triple-digits sitting in a car parking zone. We use supplies that have been much like the qualities of leather-based, together with little imperfections that you simply would possibly discover in a pure product. [Tesla does not use Vicki von Holzhausen’s Teknik-Leather.] It’s not one thing we promote or discuss; it’s simply an underlying factor that furthers the sustainability of the automotive.

I don’t suppose lots of people know you’re leather-free. Why don’t you promote that extra?

FvH: Tesla was making an attempt to make a product that individuals would really need, as an alternative of making an attempt to alter their mindset or worth system. For the longest time, there was this concept that an electrical automotive was for crunchy tree huggers. And within the early days of electrical automobiles, some vehicles have been simply sub-par and didn’t really feel aspirational. The buyer would suppose: Why am I making a swap? It’s simply making my life tougher.

We needed to overcome that stigma by making one thing that’s extra enjoyable to drive. On the finish of the day, the general possession expertise is excess of simply the interior combustion. What we have been making an attempt to say is that they’ll even have a greater product. You’ll be able to have a greater automotive that does every little thing higher; it’s extra enjoyable and technically superior, and it additionally strikes us in direction of a greater future the place we aren’t counting on gasoline and different finite assets.

[Photo: courtesy von Holzhausen]

Typically whenever you wish to change a notion, you could over-deliver. You must make one thing higher. And that’s what I feel Tesla is admittedly good at—to make a automotive that’s higher to assist folks understand that it’s a superior product. We created a sort of template that was achievable. It’s nice to see different automotive manufacturers approaching board as a result of this can be a big drawback, and it’s going to take many extra customers and producers to maneuver issues in the proper path.

I all the time thought that should you noticed one among our vehicles in a car parking zone and should you’d by no means heard of Tesla, would you be attracted sufficient to it to be taught extra? I feel the identical factor must be true with Vicki’s model. In case you noticed the bag from afar, is it fascinating sufficient that you simply’d be intrigued impartial of the way it’s manufactured? That’s a part of the attract of wanting and feeling good. In some methods, each vehicles and trend are emotional purchases: You purchase them to make you’re feeling good.

Very like with electrical automobiles, there’s now a stigma round various leathers. Shoppers affiliate them with the cheesy pleather that’s widespread within the trend business. How do you overcome that?

Vicki von Holzhausen: It’s one thing we take into consideration on daily basis. Pleather was not making an attempt to outperform leather-based or have a decrease carbon footprint. It was simply low-cost.

What units von Holzhausen aside is that we have now a mission and a function behind what we’re constructing. We’re making an attempt to create a cloth that feels as wealthy and supple as premium leather-based, however that really performs higher than leather-based. And importantly, it should dramatically enhance the carbon footprint. The plastic is recycled and from plant-based inputs that divert land waste.

We use van Holzhausen merchandise as a testing floor for our materials improvements. We all know the specs we have now to hit to make a product that that works for the style business. Now we create supplies for for the automotive business, which I do know effectively. I feel it’s essential to service that business, however I feel each business that makes use of leather-based wants to start out eager about extra sustainable options.

[Photo: courtesy von Holzhausen]

What’s the distinction between the supplies you create for trend manufacturers and for automotive manufacturers?


VvH: While you’re coping with a trend consumer, they need one thing that appears like a basic leather-based cowhide or a supple lambskin.

In the meantime, for the automotive business, there are very strict specs round issues like being flame retardant. And there may also be a sure heritage that they wish to spotlight; the leather-based has to look a sure manner, have a sure grain that their automotive inside is understood for. So we attempt to match these haptics: The way in which it appears and feels. In different phrases, the auto model desires to regulate the design, and what we will do is meet their specs, whereas additionally offering sustainable inputs. Inside these boundaries, we additionally attempt to push the boundaries. We would recommend transferring in direction of 50% extra recycled content material that also performs the way in which they need it to.

[Photo: courtesy von Holzhausen]

What does the market appear like now? Is there a rising curiosity in additional sustainable leathers?

VvH: I see the market shortly transferring in direction of sustainability. This is applicable to all features of our lives. Individuals are extra acutely aware about their carbon footprint. Have a look at the way in which persons are consuming immediately: Have a look at the success of firms like Past Meat or Unimaginable Meals. The client actually desires to know the place issues originate and what it means for them.

The prosperous buyer has the privilege of being an early adopter, and some are all for these new varieties of supplies or options. Within the automotive business, I’m seeing an amazing need to modify out of previous supplies and onto extra sustainable choices.

[Photo: courtesy von Holzhausen]

As designers and a married couple, do you form one another’s method to design?

VvH: Sure. The story of Tesla is immensely inspiring to me. It has been great to witness it for the final 13 years Franz has been working there.

However I’d say that it’s about greater than the 2 of us: It’s additionally in regards to the neighborhood we’ve created for ourselves. We’ve a tremendous group of buddies, a lot of whom are entrepreneurs. It’s additionally inspiring to be round people who find themselves innovating and making optimistic change on the planet.

Collectively, we attempt to dwell out our values. Our home is powered by photo voltaic panels and we drive solely electrical vehicles. I’m vegan. It’s essential—and highly effective—to observe what you preach.