Skin in the game
Cervo Volante’s sustainable deer leather and traditional tanning methods are a natural joy
Every year, around 15,000 wild red deer are culled in Switzerland. The operation is entirely legal and necessary, highly regulated, and undertaken to manage deer populations and protect the Swiss countryside.
But for years, little was made of the natural by-products this process yielded. Four years ago, two entrepreneurs took it upon themselves to do something about this.
In 2017, friends Kadri Vunder Fontana, a biotechnology engineer and experienced businesswoman, and Conny Thiel-Egenter, a biologist specialising in nature protection and wildlife and habitat management, founded Cervo Volante. Their vision was to take the waste, specifically deer skins, and transform them into beautiful, hard-wearing and ultimately sustainable footwear and accessories. Their business has grown quickly. A year ago and on learning of Oris’s Change for the Better campaign, they approached us and asked if we’d like to collaborate on a sustainable deer leather strap project. We jumped at the opportunity.
Cervo Volante’s hand-crafted products, low-impact methods and huge vision have brought us a great deal of joy. Not only are their leather shoes and accessories beautiful, they also tell stories in a way typical mass-produced equivalents never could.
For example, they keep imperfections that occur during the life of a deer in their skins, where many companies would discard them. Their skins are never the product of farming, and they never require chemicals or fertilizers. And if the skins weren’t used in this way, they’d simply be burned. Cervo Volante has also employed Switzerland’s last two remaining tanneries, both of which use 100 per cent vegetable tanning processes.
The Oris x Cervo Volante collaboration begins with three Big Crown Pointer Date watches. Each has a gradient dial inspired by Alpine hues and a strap made of sustainable deer leather. They come with a pouch and a cardholder made of the same material. But they’re not limited, and nor is this is a one-time deal. We’ll be working more with Cervo Volante, bringing Change for the Better together.
From every angle, the story is a natural, sustainable joy. And that makes us smile.
Kadri, Conny, tell us about yourselves…
Kadri (KVF): I’m originally a biotechnology engineer, and then over the years I’ve studied management and economics. I have two young daughters, and we live on the south coast of Estonia, having moved here a year ago from Zürich. I’m passionate about nature, sustainability and creating a legacy for our kids. In my free time, I love reading with my kids, climbing and sailing.
Conny (CTE): I’m a biologist, specialising in the fields of nature protection, wildlife and habitat management. My flair for leather and shoemaking comes from my father, a fourth generation shoemaker. Like Kadri, I’m passionate about nature and driven by a desire to make eco-friendly, sustainable shoes from wild leather. At Cervo Volante, I work as a sustainability specialist and product developer. I live in the Swiss countryside with my husband and daughter.
And tell us about Cervo Volante…
KVF: Cervo Volante refines hunting waste from red deer and transforms it into beautiful, long-lasting and ecological shoes and accessories. Our vision is inspired by our love of nature and wanting our children to be able to experience nature as we do. We want to inspire our customers to approach luxury with an appetite for sustainability, and to become role models for the fashion industry, encouraging them to see waste from other industries as raw material, and to take responsibility for the value chain from beginning to end, as if it were their own backyard. We also take great pride in showing the signs of life in our products, such as scars and scratches in leather, and want others to do the same.
What’s the story behind the Cervo Volante name – and that beetle logo?
CTE: Our logo is the iconic stag beetle, or cervo volante in Latin. Just like red deer, the beetle has imposing antlers it uses to fight its competitors – a reflection of the philosophy behind our products! There is also a nice link between the beetle’s long putation and the timeless traditional tanning process we use.
What motivated you to go this way?
CTE: Looking back, Cervo Volante was born in the climbing hall in Zürich where Kadri and I became friends. We used to talk about our love of nature, and how concerned we both were by how much valuable raw material, such as skins, was being wasted. That led to conversations about “natural luxury” products, and then to Cervo Volante…
What makes your raw material special?
CTE: Leather from wild red deer is not a mass product, and every leather is unique and tells its own story. Scratches, scrapes, stitches and bumps in the leather give our products this exciting imperfection. It’s also one of the most sustainable leathers on the market: there’s no animal breeding, no factory farming, no climate impact, and no over-fertilisation of meadows. All our leather is 100 per cent vegetable tanned by the two last remaining tanneries in Switzerland, without chrome and without synthetic pretanning agents. And if we didn’t use these skins, they’d be burned – a terrible waste.
Your skins come from a deer cull, which could sound bad. How do you explain it?
CTE: I would call it population regulation instead of culling, which sounds like pest control. It’s about wildlife management.
Red deer can damage forests that protect human settlements from natural hazards, for example. The process is strictly regulated and controlled, and we only use skins from animals that are hunted sustainably.
So how does Cervo Volante’s work help bring Change for the Better?
KVF: We’re paving the way to make natural imperfections in products mainstream. We want fashion and furniture industries to use more raw materials and create less waste. We’re also minimising the use of chemicals and other harmful substances.
Tell us about your partnership with Oris…
KVF: Right from the start, it was such a natural fit. Together, we’ve developed the Big Crown X Cervo Volante collection, three watches with straps made of Cervo Volante deer leather. We’ve also developed some complementary accessories, with more to come. And this is the beginning of a longterm partnership, not a one-off.
What can wearers expect from a Cervo Volante deer-leather strap?
KVF: In short, these straps are allergy free, sustainable and unique. And they can be worn with a good conscience.
And what do you think of the watch?
CTE: It’s a symbol of the urgent action we need to take to protect our environment. We love the design, the colours and Oris’s vision of sustainability that sits behind it.