The toad that turned into a nice little earner

The toad that turned into a nice little earner

PARIS - Once upon a time a poisonous cane toad lived in the South Sea Islands, unloved and unwanted. Condemned as an ecological disaster, the Australian army was even deployed to get rid of it.

Then one day a Polish fairy waved her wand and the plain old cane toad turned into a precious fashion accessory.

That's the story of Polish designer Monika Jarosz's luxury Kobja brand inspired by the fairytale idea of the "toad that transforms itself into Prince Charming".

Introduced from South America decades ago to control the native cane beetle, the cane toad may have outstayed its welcome in the South Sea Islands, but today their skins have become a much-prized luxury fashion material.

A friend unknowingly set the wheels of innovation in motion by giving Jarosz a stuffed frog from New Zealand as a gift.

"(It) disgusted me but ended up by fascinating me," she said.

Three short years later, and her luxury accessory business is producing bags, belts and purses made from whole skins, set with semi-precious stones or Swarovski crystals in place of the eyes.

The high-end leather items, which come in an array of colours including vermilion red, emerald green, turquoise, fuchsia and black, are now sold in Asia, Europe and the US.

A purse can cost between between 220 (S$375) and 250 euros, depending on the country, while a large bag would be priced at around 1,200 euros.

Jarosz came to France from Poland 12 years ago to work as a model before developing an interest in design, in particular working with unusual materials.

Fascinated by the stuffed frog, she recalled that the more she stroked it the more the idea of creating something "really good like a jewel" from a similar material started to take shape.

But finding skins to work with presented a problem. In vain, Jarosz made inquiries with restaurants serving frogs legs.

Then she discovered the existence of the toads of the South Sea Islands where they had proliferated to such an extent they were in the process of destroying several local species.

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