Vendula London is a gorgeous, modern handbag brand with designs you won’t find anywhere else. They are colourful, whimsical and feminine. From shop fronts on bags, to boats and hot air balloon coin purses, you will find something for everyone on your Christmas list!
Recently, I interviewed the team behind Vendula London. Let me know in the comments if you have ever seen this brand and which is your favourite of their styles.
According to your website, Vendula London launched in 2003. Who is behind the brand?
The label was established in 2003 by two friends – Vendula Zemanova, a corporate lawyer and Raymond Lam, an accountant. They decided to venture into the world of fashion. The only experience they had was Vendula’s passion for handbags and Raymond’s auditing experience in the fashion industry. They saw an opportunity in the market for a fun and quirky fashion accessories with a difference at affordable prices. Vendula means “Wendy” in English but sounds unusual so it fit the bill.
I first discovered your bags via a sponsored ad on Instagram which appeared in my news feed. How do you feel social media has affected your brand’s reach?
Regarding our communication strategy, far from following a classic fashion brand path our goal is to get close to our core retail customer through social media, mainly Facebook and Instagram. We use strategically chosen keywords on Instagram and we advertise on Facebook for brand awareness. And of course we have a network of bloggers to help us spread the love!
How do most of your customers find out about your brand?
Through social media mainly and through shops.
Before launching in 2003, what were your founders/creators doing?
Vendula Zemanova was a corporate lawyer and Raymond Lam an accountant. Vendula left the company in 2005 to pursue her carrier in law.
Did they attend a Fashion design school?
No, but our main designer Kelly-Anne did.
Did you do tradeshows/showrooms? If so, which ones and what was your experience of them?
We are doing tradeshows in:
Paris – Who’s next
Offenbach – Germany
Milan – Italy
When I first spotted your bags in that Instagram sponsored post I was blown away by the uniqueness of the shopfronts. Where do you find your inspiration?
We started our shop front range 5 years ago and the inspiration for our shop front bags comes from the whole team and from our fans’ feedback.
For example, our Book Shop range came from an online survey. For SS18 we will have a coffee truck range that I had the idea about when I saw a similar truck on my way to the office.
Your bags are all made of faux leather and as such are animal friendly. Was this a conscious decision to be a vegan brand or did it just happen that way because of the cost factor in faux vs real leather?
High-quality PU leather are quite expensive so being vegan doesn’t help us to save money to be honest.
Not being conscious of animal cruelty nowadays is criminal especially when PU leather and faux furs are as good as real ones. And vegan ladies deserve to have funky bags and accessories in their life too.
What challenges did you face when you started out and how did you overcome them?
It was a slow and difficult start. Vendula and Raymond could only afford to work on Vendula London on a part-time basis mostly in evenings and weekends while holding down day jobs to pay the bills. Vendula eventually left the company to take up a partnership in a law firm in 2005. Vendula London has continued to grow over the years under Raymond’s directorship supported by a network of UK and international agents and distributors and to a strong online presence.
Do you manufacture offshore? If so, how did you find a manufacturer who worked best to your needs?
The company currently employs 12 full time staff in the UK and 150 workers at its wholly owned factory in China.
How many collections/pieces do you design and put into production each year?
A collection has an average of 7 new styles with 4 bags, 2 wallets and 2 coin purses. We have 2 new collection a year.
How do you keep motivated and inspired?
Because we are not following fashion codes we take our inspiration from everything, art, lifestyle, our agents or customers suggestions.
What are your plans for the brand in the future?
We are about to open a flagship store in Covent Garden in a few weeks, which is a milestone for us. We carry on developing our website with a new feature: D.A.Y – Do your Accessory Yourself – where our fans can create and order their very own Vendula London shop front bag.
What themes will we see in the next collection?
Prosecco Bar, Tiki Bar and English Garden will come next season and I am confident they will be very popular!
Recently, I sat down to interview the lovely Russian born, Adelaide, Australia based Katya Komarova to talk about her designs and her background. We spoke about that birdcage skirt, waste in fashion and her fashion dreams.
You can view and purchase her amazing designs at her website
The interview is set out below.
At the time that I first approached you, a few years ago, you were predominantly making handbags. Since then you’ve extended into corsetry, belts and the birdcage skirt that we saw during the Adelaide Fashion Festival – that’s got a lot of social media. What’s your next expansion?
I get the clothing is just the complementary to the main fashion which was leather goods always. I am working on an exciting project involving the concept of creating your own handbag – a new customer experience. I have been trying with a vague idea but it hasn’t been officially launched but that will be the idea – creating more and more options for my customer around having your perfect handbag.
So customizing with colours or fabrics or shapes?
Yes and I do a lot of accessories and with my minimal approach to a wardrobe, I think it’s accessories that make it easy for everyone to look different everyday so I think that’s my way of delivering that message of buying less but still being different every day. I continue around new styles for corsets because this has actually been the best-seller. The Birdcage skirt has become an iconic piece.
I was going to say it’s become your signature piece!
Yeah I actually launched a corset with the same sort of cage approach and it has received a lot of positive feedback so hopefully it will get some place in my online store and people will start buying it. They have been preferring my classic corset.
Okay, so you’re hoping that one will take off as much as the skirt did…
And I actually had a question about the skirt. Is it one piece of leather or is it several and then sewn? It must be structurally so difficult to make.
Yes, several and then sewn. It is difficult to make and I think it must be the most expensive item in my store and it’s just because of the amount of time that is spent in creating it.
It’s up to one week – a few days because I also hand dye most of the leathers so first it has to be hand-dyed and then all the straps have to be the same length and width etc. The rivets have to be put in a particular order.
So you make it yourself?
So how many hours go into it?
Some days I have to take breaks because of the pain in my fingers because some time if I dye. It takes time for the leather to dry and then I put another coat that keeps the colour and I have to wait again.
How did you get into design?
It was a very long interesting story. Funnily enough, when I was 8 years old I felt like doing something creative and I thought “maybe I should be a designer” and my grandmother bought me a book and it was “how to make your dress” or something like that. I started reading the book and I was like “oh this is so boring, I don’t want to do this!” So I put that book aside and by the age of 18 I got into modelling. It was always my dream. I expressed myself in that field.
Yes and also internationally. And I had a bit of time off from my contract and so I went to Thailand and I was living on an island and one day I randomly met this Thai guy who had his small leather shop and he invited me to look around and to spend some time in the place and see what he was doing and he gave me a piece of leather and was like “you want to make a bracelet for yourself or something” and I was like “ok, whatever”. So I got into it and I was really excited. So by the time I got back to Russia, I cut my mother’s boots and I made a clutch for my girlfriend. She loved it and I was like “ohhh ok” so I got some more leather and decided to make bags.
So how old were you when you decided to do this?
It was in 2010. So by 2011, I had quite a few bags and belts sitting in my place. I started taking pictures and putting it on Facebook and people loved it and started buying it and since I was still working as a model, by the Fashion Week time in 2011 I went to a fitting for one of the show’s I had to do. The designer was actually my friend and asked me “how are you doing? What’s new?” and I was like “I’m actually making bags now!” and he was like “show them to me!” I showed him the pictures and he loved them and was like “why don’t we put them in my runway?” I think he picked 2 or 3 bags. I wasn’t wearing any of those but I was in the runway and I saw girls on the runway on the camera backstage wearing my bags and when I saw it on the screen I was like “oh my God”.
Amazing! Who was the designer?
Bessarion. He’s actually Georgian but he was showcasing in Moscow back then. He’s now back in Georgia and showcasing in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Georgia. He actually had a runway a few days ago. When I saw my bags on the runway I was like “I want to do it. Professionally”. So I went to Italy and studied handbag design and making in Florence in 2012. I already had my profile as a designer by then and when I was doing my studies I presented my very first full handbag collection at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia but it wasn’t a runway it was a presentation so I had a one-day booth. Straight after that I went on a holiday to Australia and met my future husband randomly a few days before I had to go back. It took us like half a year to decide do we want to do it because I had to give up a lot of things. So back then I had a label named “By Mosquito” and so I took sort of that brand here and was trying to understand if it fits the Australian fashion industry and the market. I still had to maintain my Russian clients. It was mostly made to order bags and very unique. So I would usually produce a few and people would buy them. Some people would say “could I have something for work in this colour” and I would sort of suggest some styles and they would be “ok”. So it’s not like I have a store. I actually do still have some customers like that in Russia.
When I hand dye I can do almost any colour so I just listen to what they want.
So I decided to wrap up the brand while still having a few clients because I wanted to have something more suitable for Australia. In 2014, I launched the Katya Komorova label. So that’s pretty much my career as a designer. What it started as and what it is now.
I think I finally got to the point where I am satisfied with the look of my brand but it took me some time to evolve and get to the final image of who I am as a designer. I’m still learning but I guess what my label represents now is what direction
How old are you?
Wow. So you’ve accomplished a lot! By 27 you had your booth at Fashion Week.
I think because I wasn’t jumping from a completely different industry. I was almost 10 years in the fashion industry by then and I knew everybody in the fashion world of Russia.
Do you think that helped you launch?
Absolutely. Yes. And it helped me there and it helps me here and it’s always about… there are so many talented people like even if you go to Etsy there are so many talented people but not everybody gets to push their brand to the next level coming from a hand-craft to something more commercial and I think a big part of it is knowing where to go next, who talk to. You need to spread the word around quickly and to the right people. I don’t necessarily know all the right people. I know their names and I know where to push the door. I have been in the industry. I know these names. I know who is the best [person] for me to contact and discuss with.
Do you find being in Australia is difficult for the international market?
I sell mostly in Australia but I have customers in the Emirates, America, Canada, UK.
And how did they find you?
By surname I can see most of them are Russian. In Australia, some of them are Russian, some of them are Australian. I can see that there are quite different audiences. Worldwide, the Russian customer is very loyal to me. This number is growing. They are not necessarily in Russia but Russians living anywhere in the world. It’s nice for me.
How did you end up with the birdcage skirt in the Adelaide Fashion Festival – by application or did they find you?
I did work in runways at the Adelaide Fashion Festival as a model and I was like this is probably the best event for me to showcase my designs so I started doing some research and understanding if I could get into it. I didn’t know if there were applications or you get invited but I have a close contact who is working in PR and I asked her if she knows anybody to whom she could introduce me so I could discuss and she said “Are you sure you’re ready?” and she said “hmmm… let’s discuss this further and we’ll see”. I was like “I do feel like I’m ready!”. So I was introduced to Adelaide Fashion Festival and I had my meeting with Managing Director, Robin Ingerson and she liked my accessories and she was like “hmmm will I put you into the accessories section… we’ll see”.
It was well before, like half a year before in the beginning of 2016. Then Chris Kontos was announced as the Creative Director and then about a month after that announcement I randomly met him at some event where I was working as a model. I think I also showcased one of my pieces in the Black Dress Runway by Filip with an f, a very famous local DJ and producer who produced the Black Dress Runway show where I showcased one of my looks so it was a black suede dress and there was a handbag. Chris Kontos was there and I went up to him and I said “what do you think of my outfit?” and he said “I think it’s great. Do you think you could do a full collection?”. I said “yes, of course, absolutely!”
So he was like “okay let’s have another meeting with Robyn and discuss if you could be included in the Adelaide Fashion Festival.” So that was it. We had another meeting and then I started preparing for the runway. I finalised all of my sketches including the birdcage skirt and I showed them again and they loved it and that was it. I didn’t know until the last minute that my label would actually be opening the contemporary fashion runway and my cage skirt would be opening that entire section. It was an honour. I was nervous backstage, I was crying. It was unforgettable.
Adelaide is isolated from everywhere so it can be difficult to make it in Adelaide and to get the recognition so it’s really positive. I saw that you had some coverage in the Russian magazines, Marie Claire and Vogue. Did that come about through your contacts from the modelling world – do you send them images and say hey what do you think? Or are stylists finding you on Instagram and asking for your pieces?
So the Russian magazines was more through me being a part of the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, I didn’t do anything. But when I was featured by Vogue and Elle that was actually one of the bloggers, Marina Ingvarsson, who is also a stylist. She used to be a model and we were modelling together in Bangkok and I sent her one of my corsets and she styled it so well that she was photographed everywhere during New York Fashion Week last January and I think we got into every single magazine around the world and it was such a huge push for the corset. The way she styled it and it appeared in Marie Claire and Vogue and some online resources in America and it just became viral and was everywhere on pinterest.
That must be really surreal.
It was great.
So that was a friend you used to model with in Thailand?
Yep, we were in the same agency and her husband is a photographer. They moved to New York. She is a stylist now and they worked together and she gets invited to all the Fashion Weeks.
To actually get photographed and stand out during Fashion Week is impressive!
Yeah, because there are so many. I think she was attending a Michael Kors show in that look that was picked up. I feel very proud.
Did you get goosebumps when you first saw it?
I think I was screaming!
Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere. I think my main inspiration comes from women. I like watching pictures from street style from bloggers, women on streets and see if women are struggling with something to achieve the look that they want or if there is some very interesting idea of styling something and that can evolve and become a new design for me – either a struggle or a nice interesting way of wearing something and that becomes a starting point for me.
However, when I work on the entire collection I like to find a theme. For example for my last collection, I knew I was going to Russia and I said “ok. I need to find a theme related to Russia” and I was looking at facts of my year of birth which was 1984 and I found the fact that the game Tetris was actually launched in Russian in 1984. I was like well that’s an interesting fact to begin with and since the older shapes that fall in the game remind me about my bags. I came with that idea to one of my buyers in Sydney and I said “I’m working on a new collection and I’m starting with Tetris. What do you think about it?” He was like “I don’t know it will be very difficult to take this idea further. I always looked at your bags and thought they make me think of the Mindcraft game.”
I had never played the Mindcraft game but I looked at some screen shots and I loved the colours and I was like “oh maybe this will work” so I started creating a moodboard and it was taking shape nicely. This has become a theme for my new collection and even I did this Mindcraft faces and it’s getting very popular. I’ve sold all of my runway pieces and I am working on new stock at the moment. It was well received and I am very thankful to my buyer in Sydney who pushed me to do so. For example they have some pink characters in the game, some green ones; so I brought these colours into accessories. It’s not like a completely made it so toyish, so kids’ stuff. I just took the bits that inspired me most from that topic and worked around it. So this is how it usually happens when I search for what would inspire me. When it’s a separate item, I see a picture but when it’s a whole collection everything has to be united under the one umbrella.
The Mindcraft inspired bags in the latest runway show at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Russia S/S 2018
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – OCTOBER 24: A model walks the runway at the Katya Komarova (Australia) fashion show during day four of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Russia S/S 2018 at Manege on October 24, 2017 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Artefact)
Proof that you don’t need 100 different pieces to put together a collection for Fashion Week. This outfit on the runway at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Russia S/S 2018 – Day Four
Do you work to a season?
I try not to but I do have to put a label on it if it’s Summer or if it’s Winter. It’s very distracting because as I said the brand is sold internationally. I’d rather not but since I am presenting every second collection at Fashion Weeks, I am putting a label on Spring/Summer and then I release some items later as a Winter collection. But I’d really rather not. I’ve been discussing this with one of the showrooms in Milan “can I do it without seasons?” There is actually a label in Sydney, Kit X, she just puts numbers – so she’s now up to collection number 9. So this brand has collections 8, 9 on their website. So I was like “ah this might work but it’s probably confusing for buyers.” For the end consumer, it’s fine – they just see the new releases.
I guess if sometimes it’s more colourful – people think of Summer. Personally I think we should have more colour in Winter when it’s grey and boring and you need more colour in your life. However, that seems to be Winter everyone thinks of Black, Brown, Grey….
I think it becomes more complicated when I include clothing in my collection. But for the last 2 seasons, it’s been mostly very basic items that you should have in Winter and Summer – t-shirts, bodysuits, blouses, pants – and you’ll have classic colours like Navy Blue or Black and it suits anything.
What keeps you motivated?
There is a very famous phrase by Coco Chanel “I don’t do fashion. I am fashion”. So it’s a very big part of me. No matter what mood, I am in, what happens in my life, if I’m not doing my thing, I don’t feel happy. There are some days when I feel – straight after Adelaide Fashion Festival runway this season, I had a feeling that it was all very bad and it was a complete disaster. I wish I could have done better. And then the next day, I received images and a lot of positive feedback and I realised it was good.
Sometimes there are days when I feel like I am not doing well enough but I get over it the next day and I’m good.
There are days that you don’t have inspiration and you know you have to do something and you can’t. I tried to boost myself with maybe some beautiful magazines or I meet a girlfriend for a cup of coffee and we discuss things that inspire me. I try to boost my emotions to get me back into it. It all happens but I have learned how to get back on the track.
You mentioned having a showroom in Milan earlier. It’s difficult to also find the right one given the financial investment involved in showing…
I think it is better when they express an interest as it means they have buyers they can bring to you. I am just getting into that part of business. I was mostly maintaining all of the relationships with the buyers on my own but working with showrooms you have to jump ahead to the next collection. So I’ve just finished my work on the Summer collection. Showrooms already want to see your next year’s Winter. Forgetting that everyone just showed their Spring/Summer, the showroom wants to see your next collection by the end of this year that will be showcased at the end of March.
I am still learning. I didn’t know that and usually nobody teaches you that. So I am trying to understand is it the right direction for my brand and should I be focusing on producing – I don’t want to overstock – I should maintain all the sales myself and not go into wholesale that way I don’t overproduce – I don’t like wastage so I am still trying to understand if I can grow on my own or do I need the wholesale part of my business. That will require me focusing on speeding up my resources on creating the next collection. I am still trying to make that decision.
If everyone suddenly wants the birdcage skirt and it takes several days to make…
Obviously I am not… I do have some interns that I work with who are already ready to jump on board when I can’t do it myself. I have written procedures in place for when I can’t produce everything on my own so I can bring someone in. I am not producing clothing, this is done by my team. The leather goods are mostly done by me and I am now discussing the possibilities with the laser company here in Adelaide.
There is a laser company here in Adelaide?!
Quite a few actually but I work with one of them. They help me cutting leather with laser. That reduces my time as I used to cut everything myself with a knife and sometimes that results in some mistakes and you destroy the piece of leather. These mistakes almost never happen using laser. This is part of the innovation that I have been introducing to my business and it really helps with reducing time and costs.
Sometimes you need to outsource some of the tasks.
I try to outsource still here in Adelaide. It’s been a great challenge because the manufacturing in Australia is not strong. It’s possible but it takes more time and more money and I am trying to understand if these things are valued by my customers as much as by me. It seems like a lot of people do care about it and they want high quality leather, they want locally produced stuff but a lot of people want quantity over quality.
The biggest problem with suppliers not having a wide range is because there is no manufacturing, no one needs the material as there are so few of us. If there were more manufacturing here, there would be more suppliers.
Do you source your leathers from here or from overseas?
Mostly here. I have a supplier in Sydney and in Adelaide. Some of the hardware, the rivets I order from Europe. These (pointing to the metal loops in the handles) are from Taiwan. Everything is achievable if you want. It takes you time and therefore increases the price. You have to understand if it is worth it and do people care.
For me it’s not always about the best quality – the hardware is pretty much all fine – it’s the style. The aesthetics I need – “I don’t want that, I want that. Don’t you have that?”
You posted recently on instagram about waste being a design flaw and you spoke about reusing leftover material or trying not to have any left-over material. You also said you’re producing stitch-free bags. How do you do that?
The rivets are screwed in and it just becomes a piece of leather than can be reused.
So it’s one piece of leather?
Yeah and this… my mother used to make us leather insoles for our shoes because we appreciate high-quality leather in my home and I think I always had problems wearing synthetic shoes so my Mum would make sure she cut it from some old leather jacket and make me good leather insoles. This has always been sitting in my mind… If this is not working, how can I reshape this piece of leather to be wearable? On the other note of less waste and producing waste, while producing something that is still fashionable, I was actually going to write but still haven’t, I was going to write a blog about how I made a full runway with only 7 styles. I had 25 looks. There were different colours but there were only 7 styles of clothing and a few styles of bags, belts and corsets. You don’t have to produce a thousand items to launch a collection, to fill up your wardrobe. It can be just a few good items.
Because a designer produces a huge collection, some of it is not well received and it is sitting somewhere and there is so much waste and then next season it is not trendy any more. So I am just bringing up the question “do we need that much to showcase your collection as a designer? To have this promotional exercise for your customer to see this wow collection without 100 pieces. Is it possible? Yes, it is. I just did it.
That was my sort of challenge as a designer – can I do a runway with less pieces and my message to the end consumer can you look very different having a few items? – yes, you can. I think it is a huge problem in the fashion industry. To begin with, the fashion industry is something we can live without. It’s not medicine or science but this is the way that we express ourselves, this is the way that makes us feel happier, sexier, beautiful – a lot of things and we want it to be in our lives. Unfortunately fashion is one of the biggest risks to the environment. I think it is our responsibility as designers to think about it.
That’s the other thing with the designers who get their pieces made in China with really large minimum orders – half of it ends up at the outlet, half of it ends up being destroyed because it never sells at the outlet.
Absolutely, yes. I think this is the complication with your relationship with a wholesaler as sometimes you over-produce something that will not necessarily sell. I am still trying to learn if it is possible to produce as you go and so far it has worked for me.
Produce based on orders?
Sort of. I get my initial orders from my stockists and they sometimes will reorder an item that is working well half way through “oh this is selling well can we have more of it?” If they don’t sell something, I do exchange. If it’s a leather item, I can reuse that piece. I have a very close relationship with the stockists that I work with. It’s a matter of having a quick reaction on seeing the demand and going with that, rather than trying to forecast what will happen. Fashion is such a weird it is very difficult to forecast.
You spoke about the joy you feel when you see people wearing your pieces. Is there a favourite person who has worn your pieces?
Actually I have a friend here in Adelaide, a well-known blogger, Dashbody, a fitness guru and she was brave enough to tell me “Katya, I am crazy about your birdcage skirt” and she was attending an event at the Art Gallery and she was like “can I get the skirt – I need it, I need it.” So I was like “okay”. So she received a black birdcage skirt and the way she put it together with a dress… The birdcage is such a difficult – for people who don’t attend high fashion events to understand how to put it together. I think I can just put it on top of jeans and it will look cool but not everybody thinks that way because I think I am a little bit crazy with fashion – haha!
I was not attending that event but when I saw some images from the event seeing her wearing it, it made my heart melt when I see how sexy she feels in it. How strong and powerful because of the look it gives and something different and very eye-catching. She was wearing high-heels. I felt like I was inside of her.
I put it on at home – usually when I create something, I try it on and because I am a model I look in the mirror and think “will it look good on the runway?”…. So when I saw her wearing it, it’s like I have a little camera sitting in her head, watching everyone’s reactions…. But that was just one, there are many of those. When my customers tag me in their pictures on Instagram, when they just open the parcel, I feel always like I am there with them; I am giving a little bit of myself. I don’t have every single style of the collections for myself – I would usually have like one bag and one t-shirt. Since I am not producing much, it is such a pleasure to see that someone wants what I created. I just feel so happy that somebody wants something that I produced and I am happy to see all of these people – I do want [the pieces] but I do feel happy when I see people wearing it.
Do you have a favourite piece?
Probably this bucket bag – I’ve been experimenting with the way of wearing it so much. If you take off this strap, you can put a handle on it or a full handle on it so it looks different every time you wear it.
The birdcage skirt is definitely my favourite and I have worn it quite a few times. Actually once I had a fashion shoot right on Rundle and it was in the middle of the day, a lot of people crossing this intersection and I was wearing the birdcage skirt, walking with everybody and the photographer was taking pictures. That skirt gives so much power to whoever wears it. I strongly believe that and I did receive that feedback from girls who are wearing it. It’s one of my favourite pieces.
What was your inspiration for it?
From when I was a young girl, I loved the crenoline skirts – that you put under your skirt and it’s like a cage thing and shapes. You put it under your dress for the shape. I always thought this item represents a woman of an era. I have a great love for this piece. I have never had one because I wasn’t born in the era when women were wearing it but I think it is such a women’s item. It screams woman – it gives the elegance, the power. I love that item. I was just trying to challenge myself – can I make something out of that to be these day’s item.
In terms of future projects, when do you think the design your own bag will launch?
A part of it is already available on the website. So when you go to Mix and Match section, you can pick the colour of the bucket bag for example and then the colour of the strap – I did black and black but you could pick a pink bag with a navy blue strap or without a strap, just with a handle. A part of it is already being introduced on the website under Mix and Match but I want to expand on that idea and create a more user-friendly experience for this. I want the customer to see how the bag changes when you pick the different colours. At the moment you see just a range of colours, some of these are suggested styles and you pick your own colour but you can’t actually see how it looks if you decide to mix and match pink with navy. So I need to invest a bit more time and money into creating this whole experience and hopefully one day to open up a corner in a department store having this – you can make this bag [the bucket bag] pretty quickly and that’s the idea of having the bag made in front of you in a reasonable time and hopefully it will be received well online so I can take it further to the brick and mortar.
So you’re thinking of having a department store concession… When do you hope to do that?
It depends. I need to understand if people want it.
I think it’s a great idea to see something being made. The whole reason I started the blog was because I always like to know the story about how something is made or why someone decided to make something. I like the idea of seeing something come to life in front of you, seeing the workmanship.
Since it is stitch free, there are pre-cut pieces and then to screw all the rivets in is very quick or if all the straps are ready at once – you pick the style, you pick the colour – it’s put together in a few minutes and then you pick the accessories on top, the strap, the handle, some keyring, personalisation with your name and there you have your dream bag. Some people say “I wish it was this colour or that colour” or “this combination, not that combination” and this is actually coming back to the question of wastage because sometimes we produce the things that people don’t want to buy. We think they’ll want to buy but they won’t. I’m asking the question “what do you want and I will do it in front of you.” This whole idea of doing fashion differently – making something that people actually want to buy.
They could then buy a different handle they could then change
Exactly. You don’t need another bag the next season. You have become crazy about this colour yellow – buy a yellow strap to go with the bag you bought last year and it’s freshly updated. Putting some new keyrings and it’s already a different bag – it’s still the same bag but you just style it differently. The quality of the leather – it will last you a very long time.
You use the vegan leathers?
No, it’s not vegan – I get asked this question all the time. It’s not vegan but it’s vegetable tanned. So in comparison to chrome tanning, which involves a lot of chemicals – to prepare the leather to be used in the final product, the piece of the leather has to go through a tanning process. Chrome tanning apart from having a lot of chemicals and if it is produced in developing countries like India, where they don’t have all the good processes in place, it all goes to water. I am not saying that this is not toxic – it’s less toxic.
So it’s cowhide leather? Which is better than fake leather for the environment anyway
Yes. I am coming from a very tough climate country and if you are buying plastic leather it is going to get destroyed in the first Winter. It will wrinkle and you will through it away in the first week of winter. So if you want to wear a bag for many, many years – you buy a good leather and this way you are actually supporting the environment, not destroying the environment.
I don’t eat meat. I am actually pescatarian. I understand that a lot of people do. The topic of not harming animals, we do harm a lot of animals by using plastic. Buying something cheaply doesn’t help the environment. If you’re ready to buy something, buy a good thing. My bags are not crazy expensive. I am trying to put the costs down as much as possible. One of the reasons I am able to keep my prices down is because I am not doing wholesale. When you are doing wholesale, you have to share your profits with them. I am just taking my profit and there are the production costs and my time. When you do wholesale, they take – when you work with department stores – they take 70% on top!
It definitely helps me to have a better relationship with the customer but we’ll see. It’s not necessarily good for growing the brand and the business quickly. I am still trying to understand… but I think if what I am doing is having a good reaction from the end consumer, I will be happy.
What have been your biggest challenges/obstacles?
One of the biggest challenges is having thoughts of thousands of women in my head. How I see some new style or design is not necessarily well received by everyone. Some women will find it difficult to wear it or style. It’s good and bad. If I see that I would wear it, I would wear it, it’s good but it’s also like if nobody else can, you can’t sell it. This can be a huge challenge for me because the starting point for me is could I wear it, would I wear it then after I finish the item and I show it to my close friends and ask them would you buy that and some of them say “I would find it difficult”. I think this is the biggest challenge for me to think for a thousand women.
So you don’t just have one kind of person in mind that you’re creating for?
I start for myself – would I wear it? Would I want to wear it? And then even with earrings that I was introducing last season – some girls would tell me “it won’t look good on me because of the length of my neck – it wouldn’t sit nice.” I am actually reducing the potential consumer interest by that. I should have introduced different sizes, lengths so that if people like it they could still be able to buy it. They are not buying it just because of the length of the item. I didn’t think of that until someone told me “I couldn’t wear that – it would look awful on me because of the length of my neck – it’s shorter than yours”. I think that’s the biggest challenge. Step out of Katya and think about being other women.
The biggest challenge is designing pieces you know other people would want to wear.
Yep or would be able to wear. Different figures.
For example, the birdcage skirt, I can only imagine on someone tall and skinny.
I actually completely disagree! One of my dream characters to wear the skirt is Kim Kardashian.
Yes. I think because it comes in different sizes, it’s just can you make it work for yourself. I think actually in Australia, women are so open-minded about how they dress in every shape. I adore it. I think it’s great. Everybody should wear everything.
But there are things that suit some people better than other people.
I think that the skirt is not a complicated item. There are some styles that make people look better or worse, but the birdcage skirt is not a complicated item depending on what you put underneath it. Because the length of the skirt is a very easy one. It all depends on how you style it, with what you style it. If you want to show your legs, you put something short underneath. If you want something long, it can be a very long dress and it just makes texture with the skirt on top of it.
What advice would you give to someone who is starting out?
I think it is important to understand you are not the only person who sees it. As soon as you start producing it and showing it around, and getting some feedback – the sooner you do it the better. You don’t want your item sitting around becoming a piece of art and be recognised as an artist after you die… You want fashion to be wearable, you want people to buy it. You won’t understand until you put it up on the market and see the interest.
But how do you put something into the market?
I think it’s now so easy with social media. Start with your own friends on Facebook, create an album to share and ask for feedback. There is this term I heard recently “happy ears” – when people say “it’s so cool, amazing, I love it” but nobody actually buys it. So when you actually get something sold, you understand. If you don’t have much money but you have this one item you strongly believe in, start with that, take some good quality pictures – maybe ask a friend or a photographer on how to take a picture with a mobile – good quality pictures help always and show it to your friends on Facebook and Instagram. Start showing it to people that you know and usually friends are very supportive and somebody might buy it from you.
Starting with your presence on social media and having the response from friends will probably validate your idea if it is good or not. Even if that doesn’t work, I personally wouldn’t give up. See which picture got the most likes and go with that further. Try to create a Facebook page, and ask people to like it. Go to some markets and see if people are touching it. There are more expensive or cheaper markets – think of where your potential consumer would be more likely to go and how much money they will spend. I think pricing is one of the most difficult questions how to price. And putting it very, very cheap, you know that people won’t pay more than $100 but then are you actually getting paid for that. Do you make the item valuable for people? It’s not always about how much money you’re spending producing but putting it into the right mind the price. I would probably ask for advice from friends. I was sending pictures to my friends and saying “how much would you pay for this?” “Would you even buy it?” “Would you look at it in the shop?” “Oh I wish it was in this other colour or had a different…” Testing the market is the first thing to do, then once the product is suitable for the market and you are happy with the actual product, go to market.
I have a PR friend who helps me write media releases. “Katya Komarova launches new handbag”. I include a few pictures and send to all South Australian magazines for example. A couple of them like Clique magazine, The Advertiser, GlamAdelaide would usually support and post it in their media. And that’s it. So I have the product showcased to a wide audience and they have access to my online shop, they can click. The product is out there, a lot of people can see it and I can see who is actually buying and who is not. That’s the advice. That’s where I would start – start with my friends and get to the point with my friends where they say “yes, I would buy it – in fact I am buying it!” I would invest time, not necessarily money, because you can get around with low expense on photography even with mobile – nicely produced pictures and include it in media releases – send it to local magazines and don’t think that people don’t care that you’re not well-known. It’s their job to find new stories. If it comes at the right time – ah we need something fresh, something new for a feature. They do care because they need to write about something.
You’re giving them a story.
Yeah, it just has to be a nicely written story.
And lastly, what is your fashion dream? Is it what we spoke about earlier – making handbags to order in front of the customer?
This concept has a lot of things that I care about. Producing a dream handbag for the end consumer, reducing the waste by not over-producing something that people don’t need, having a versatile life in the new wardrobe – a bag with a different strap becomes a totally new accessory. I think this concept brings together a lot of things that I care about, that I am passionate about and if I could make it work, yes it is my dream.
Peter Lang has been designing jewellery in Australia for decades and when it comes to quality jewellery from an Australian designer, it is predominantly Peter Lang that I think of.
Recently, I had the pleasure to interview Peter. Please see the interview below.
So you started in the 80s?
I started in the very early 80s. I started off doing belts. It was through necessity. There was nothing available. Australia was a void of everything. A friend came back from London with a belt. I desperately wanted it and I hunted and hunted and couldn’t find anything similar. So I ended up making it myself. It was elaborate. It was stencilled animal print and embellished so I made it. Made it and others and then grew a demand. People saw it, so grew a demand. So then, I’m creative, it allowed me to express my creativity and also supply people with something that wasn’t available. It fitted two markets.
Self-taught. I then needed to go out and learn? So what do you do? Learn? Books, asking people – leather people and sourcing them – making mistakes and learning. Trial and error but I tend to think if you have a desire to do something, I tend to think you do it. You have a strong enough desire, you do it. I had the passion and I didn’t have any money. It was a passion of creating, a career in creating.
What were you doing at the time?
I was unemployed but I’d come from fashion so I knew that’s what I wanted to do. It wasn’t my formal training. I was trained as a surveyor so I did that and then needed to go from there.
When did you go into jewellery?
Jewellery I went into in the decline of belts. Belts were a big fashion thing in the 80s. People wearing 2 or 3 with studs. Heavy duty and fun. Then all of the sudden it became minimalistic as it crept in towards the 90s. Belts disappeared into a fine ribbon and then it turned into jewellery going crazy. I then followed the trends. I was travelling then as a part of business to have a look to see what was happening.
And there’s no leathers here. So I used to go and import the right kind of red. Go to Milan, go to the tanneries there buy it and send it back. There were only one or two tanneries in Australia., people who sold leather. One was New South Wales that still exists. They would go and buy the offcuts and say that you have that particular colour of red. I would say “but that’s pink” and they would say “no, that’s red. It’s in my eyes, it’s red”. You would either have to suffer with the crap they had and the expensive prices or you go and find it. You follow your passion.
So that’s what I did. That then ceased and I had a factory with 10 people in it. 15 people maybe. I could see belts were declining. I employed 15 people to just make belts. But then rather than dropping out, I saw in travelling that jewellery started happening. So I grabbed some products, put them on the table and pulled them apart. I had a creative gay guy working for me so I created a fun party scene.
Had some friends, threw them some pearls and things and came back an hour later they made spectacular jewellery. They also had no formal training, were creative. So I created a fun party scene. People who were creative who couldn’t get a job elsewhere. Maybe they couldn’t write or maybe they couldn’t…but they were creative.
No formal training for them either?
Formal training is a bit of bullshit. You teach yourself. I taught myself jewellery. I could see that there was a market for it. I could see that it was a viable proposition commercially.
Took a lot less time in jewellery than in belts. Belts are time consuming. You have to cut and then you have to shape and then colour because you couldn’t get. You could buy raw hides but then you’d have to use a colour. So we developed different colouring methods. I was lucky enough to then get Chinese workers who were skilled from China. They came over and brought the skills with them because Australians didn’t know anything.
So then I started doing jewellery. I saw the benefit of jewellery and then started doing it. For me it was the frustration of belts because you know — Being creative, I created what I liked and what I’d like people to wear. So in jewellery, it gave me a whole new sphere of creativity because jewellery is what you’re wearing today. You couldn’t do that with a belt. It could but it wouldn’t be bought. It wouldn’t be afforded. But in jewellery they’d do so it gave me another freedom so then took a blast.
Did you have to learn how to solder and weld?
How do you learn? How do you learn? You don’t have to go to school. You just do. Same as anyone here. As I’ve grown I’ve got a chap who’s been with me 20 odd years, John, and he came from a company who used to cast. And casting is how that jewellery that’s around your neck is made. You make the mould and then you pour metal. I mean it’s not done now. Australia had it for a while but now it’s lost it because most of the people have gone offshore.
Yeah and that’s sad that we keep losing it.
Yeah but it’s the Australian public that’s to fault.
Definitely because we’ve just had an interest in cheap
They won’t support it. They mouth off that they will and as soon as you do “it’s more expensive”. I know from running the shop or having the shop here that “well this is made out the back and I care to give an Australian a job” “well I just want it for $5 cheaper”. It’s I, I, I.
Yeah I know everyone is so selfish and I think almost everything is made in China now.
Most people. I know that when I tried to get into bags, I couldn’t find anyone to make a bag because they had all retired or retrained.
When was that?
Um… that was in early 2000.
Because Leo Monk does bags and started here?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Leo Monk started out working for me doing belts. He was doing bags for a little while. I had an Italian guy who couldn’t speak any English or chose to speak very little English. Leo is from an Italian background so Leo was a little bit of an interpreter for me. So he worked for me, doing bags, this Italian man, who came out of retirement and started then doing handbags.
So I then for a second had a run here of bags. It went well but prices started to go up. Because you know I started doing proper costumes and “ooops too dear”. You know. So anyway, now they’re done in China, what I do in bags and belts.
How do you go about finding a manufacturer in China that you’re going to be happy with quality?
Well it’s trial and error. I’ve got some Chinese production girls here whose job then is to supervise production in China.
So they go over there? Or they get progress pictures?
No, working through internet, working through samples when they arrive and then telephone. You know so it’s all of the above. Um, so far so good. I do all of Cue’s production.
That was something I was wondering about because Cue is still largely Australian made as well.
Yeah totally Australian made. They’re one of the few remaining. You know that are, that support Australians. And they’re very good in supporting Australians. They’ve been excellent in supporting me, supporting a lot of manufacturers. I think they’re the ones that help the industry survive in this country. You know it’s an easy job to go off-shore.
And that’s the thing. The prices that they are charging. They’re not charging any more than your Witchery or other similar level, but the others are getting it all done off shore so they’re just not being greedy with their profits.
Yeah. They’re a very good company. One thing that I’m very proud of is that I’ve been able to work with them for so long.
I saw the post that they put up last Winter, of the choker? Crushed velvet looking with stars
Yes, it was in a grosgrain or a crushed velvet. They’re wonderful to work with and they’re creative. They go not with the norm. They go beyond the norm. So it’s been a great pleasure for me to work with them. Again, it’s down to what makes money for them.
That’s the thing. You’ve gone towards the fine jewellery trend.
Because there’s a demand for it.
That’s where fashion is going
Yeah so you have got to follow the fashions. You can’t do. We used to do what you’re wearing.
I know! I miss this
It’s there. I have fights with sales all the time. Not everyone is pencil thin, 18 years old with perfect perky skin. I went through it in the early days of the later 90s and it all changed to very fine jewellery.
Fashion’s very cyclical
It is very cyclical. But it was then you know like yeah you had to try to do what the customer wanted.
Of course, what the current trend is
Bottom line, it lasted for a short time and this lasts for a short time. We used to do a lot of what you’re wearing – not what you’re wearing – it’s quite over the top. Or even down to what we have. In doing the fine, and fine is trendy, what does sell because Australian girls aren’t pencil thin. They’re healthy girls. They’ve got skin that’s damaged by the sun. Not everyone is lily white and can wear a fine gold chain.
It’s something that covers you. You know.
The problem I have with the fine is how does one designer stand out from another?
They all look exactly the same!
You compete with the others. And everyone is doing the same and you’re no different. And with the market that there is
All the other stuff you’ve done has been so different that no one else was doing
Yeah but then it goes against the fashion. Fashion is not about wearing something that is outstanding.
It should be!
Yeah it should be but I’m a sheep. We follow what the magazines – as we know within a year or so we’ll go back. So that’s what it’s about. That’s old fashion. That’s new fashion. Okay, get rid of it, buy new. So it’s all about consumerism. That’s what makes the world go round.
Before you launched in the belts, you said you had a fashion background but you were between projects?
No, I worked in retail. I worked with a chain of retail stores. So I knew what was happening with that. I had a passion then for fashion, left that, did something else and then got back in with the belts. It was a way of entering, a way of being creative, of expressing creativity.
Do you have an all-time favourite piece?
Yeah you do. There’s a lot of favourites.
You’ve made thousands by now.
There’s a lot of favourite pieces but you know the favourite is seeing someone looking good and happy. I do like seeing people. I quite often see people come in here wearing old pieces. I don’t know whether they bring it in to show – I don’t know – but then you go out and you see things that are 10, 15 years old and I go up and say to them “that’s a nice piece” and they’ll say “thank you. It’s my favourite piece”. So then I get round to say “I made that!”
It’s great to see that they do instead of buy the likes of whatever for that week and throw it in the bin, throw it wherever. You don’t see my pieces in second-hand stores. I see them occasionally in vintage stores. I don’t see them in second hand stores and I scour second hand stores looking for new components to use and that’s part of the creation.
Now I’ve got a team of designers that work, I’m busy running a business and I oversee what happens but as far as sitting down to the nitty gritty of putting the stones in and joining jump rings and chain you know, I’ve grown out of that.
Sick and tired of that?
Well, not sick and tired. It’s just that you do need a younger eye to come in. I don’t know the likes of, not that I am likening myself to, but say Karl Lagerfeld, how someone like that could. They offer, as I do, offer my experience of years of experience of knowing what looks good, or of being a style master and knowing what looks great and letting the young kids design and what they know as being fashionable and then twist to use your expertise to make it what you think, a little more saleable, more wearable.
So you were saying about seeing people in the street or out and about wearing your pieces and the older pieces. You’ve had a lot of celebrities wearing your pieces as well. Any particular highlight there?
Probably Kylie with the opening of the Olympics in 2000 but that was only because it was shown throughout the world. And I did the headdress for her that she closed the Olympics with. So that was in a way a highlight.
I think from what I remember there was a major wind and luckily it was open, it was fixed on her head. She had to hold it on her head a couple of times!
You exhibited at The Box in Paris
The Box, The Box, The Box… Yes, it was run through Swarovski I think. That was a while ago. To get a bit of standing, it’s nice to say you are in Europe, but when it comes to actually making money out of it. It’s cost but also the fact that you’re here, they’re there. It’s easier for them to deal with the locals. I had an agent working in London —
Do you ever think that you will do jewellery for men?
Um… well I started in doing it for men. The belts was about guys, but guys don’t spend. Some do.
The gay men in Sydney? They do!
The women do. I’m not going to do jewellery just for gay men. It’s easier to deal with women. They buy, daily. Guys do buy. I did a wonderful range of belts for men and you know the best seller? The plainest you could imagine!
Yes I’ve done in the past.
Men don’t buy. Well maybe they do but it’s easier to deal with women. Specialise. That’s the key. I’ve got a factory full of crystals and pearls and beads and things. Men don’t buy that. “Give me something in a nice sturdy masculine brown.”
Look I do a lot of leather for guys. They might want a leather cuff. Girls like to be embellished. So hey as a gay guy, it’s nice to be embellished. Gay guys totally like to be embellished but they’re only a small population, percentage-wise and you know I wanna eat. I want to eat! I don’t want to go to McDonalds!
How do you keep motivated and inspired?
I suppose it’s just part of it. You just are. You have the passion for fashion. So you get inspired by everything. Everything inspires you. I know when I was designing it was being creative by anything that.
I’ve got girls here. The design team here. They get inspired by things they see overseas. You see things and work with exactly the same. Clothing manufacturers do exactly the same. Australia is in a bad position because we are seasonally behind. It’s a very lazy position. I’ve had designers who have worked for me who have said “Peter, please send me overseas. I can’t believe you haven’t sent me overseas” and it’s like “it’s the end of you if you do, you become lazy. You then rely on them and you become lazy.
Run on your own creative juices. Work with what you’ve got, your creativity. I mean in my time when I started there was no internet but I know that then I was creating and doing and creative juices seemed to flow at the same time that I put out belts and then you’d see in magazines ones that are much the same. You go in a similar direction. You know or you might hear from someone who come back or in the days when I could afford to travel, you’d see what was happening. You’d bring back ideas of what it is and create from that. Go off and do your own tangents. But also working with what the retailer wants. You can design as much as you like but if it’s not what the customer wants, it’s not worth doing.
If they’re not going to buy it
So how much of the production is made here now.
Leather goods, all produced offshore. Jewellery, probably 30% produced here and the rest is produced offshore. Especially at the moment with the finer look, we can’t do it here. It’s too fine. It needs to be done in brass. It’s too costly to do. So for the retailer and the customer who want affordable pieces, it’s much easier to produce in China. They’re much better with what they do than what my people can do, they have the facilities, and they have the machinery. I get a great job. I deal with one company in China and yes, you can swap around and ask questions about how you source it.
I’ve always prided myself on quality. So you then try, I’ve gone through dozens of factories. My first lesson was learnt when you pick something up out the bag and it falls apart as you pick it up. You know?
Do they use Swarovski crystal? Do you supply crystal or do they source it and invoice you?
No. They supply it. I don’t do Swarovski stones as much as I used to because it’s too glitzy. It’s beautiful but it’s too sparkly and it’s not the look of today. Again, fashion goes through its cycles. There are times when they want to be blinged to death but myself now, I like to have the colour and I like to have the different stones. China do some good stones. They’re not as brilliant in their cut, they’re not as fine, but that’s what I like about it. I used to deal with Swarovski stones and strip the backing off it so it was more of a crystal rather than a brilliance. So it’s just working with what you can do.
Trial and error
Yes, trial and error for that modern line, China’s much better at it than Australians can be.
How many staff do you have in production here?
I’m probably down to very, very few. Probably got half a dozen where I used to have 3 dozen.
Was that when you started making it offshore?
Yeah, I was making it off-shore you know so bang.
When you were making it all here, how were you remaining competitive with everyone making it offshore price wise?
I wasn’t. Part of that was the reason that I needed to go off-shore because you weren’t competitive and I could get this for that price but bottom line, I’ve never been greedy with mark up. The greed came from retailers. I’d see things that sold to them for $50 and they were selling for $500 and that was “you know, I need to get my mark up.”
That’s quite a mark-up.
Yeah but if you sold it for $100 or $150 you might sell five of them whereas this is still sitting on your rack but out of my control.
Do you still do PL by Peter Lang
That was the start of making offshore. The PL was a diffusion range for price orientated and the fact of there’s a lot you can do with China that you can’t do here. But then it gets to minimums. You can’t just buy one piece. They’ve got minimums, they’re not huge but they’re not small. Unless you’ve got big retailers. I mean I can deal with Cue, because they’ve got a lot of retail outlets and they can buy certain quantity you know the minimums, MOQs – Minimum Order Quantity – You know they need to do it. I know here even just someone pulls out the stones, etc. to make one piece. I say “Don’t. Make five, make six of them. You’ve got it all out make six.” It take the same time to make one as it does for six by the time they get it out and have the momentum happening.
We spoke about Leo Monk earlier because he started out making the belts. Am I right in thinking that Ryan Storer is your nephew?
Yeah, he’s my nephew. He’s doing well. He came up from Melbourne and came up to Sydney. I knew he was creative and he was working in a café. I said “here’s an opportunity, come to Sydney”. I gave him an opportunity. I’m gay, I don’t have any children. I gave him an opportunity to you know build a craft, “see if you like it”. He’s very good.
You must be proud of him them. He’s made quite a name for himself with the ear cuffs.
Yeah and you know I think that could be what you’re talking about with the fashion parade. He’s done a lot for stars. I know he sells on net-a-porter. I don’t think he deals with the retailers here. I think it’s part of the website.
Everything is going online
We work with online. It’s your customer base. When we changed from what was known as Peter Lang to this minimalistic look about 2 years ago, we were a bit late in changing over.
Resistant to it?
Not really. No, I had stepped out of the arena of that. Most of what I did then was Cue and I got great turnover from that so Peter Lang was you know minor and I had a designer in and she went off on her own tangent and I didn’t really keep an eye on her. I suffered the consequences of sitting behind with design and it was only Greg, my sales person, who said “Peter, this is what the customer is after”. You know.
So then, bottom line, you’ve got to be on the ball, alert, your head spinning around for fashion. With that, we got this new range, we put it up, we launched this new range on the website, and nothing happened, which is a disappointment. But what we had as a customer base for that older look, someone who wanted something with a bit more coverage, something more substantial. And even now, yes, into the modern, it’s something of substance and Greg would say “you’ve got an older customer base”. And it wasn’t until we analysed it that “no your customer base is of all ages”. I’ve always stuck with – I dealt in America for a while and there you target you’re going to deal with – you’ve got 350 Million people, here you’ve got 25. I’m a bit of a money orientated person. Australia, we’ve got a smaller population. If I market towards the 20-25 year olds, it’s you know miniscule. So you deal with 20 to 60. Give them a little bit of your range that will cope with everyone. Deal with everyone in mind.
You see them coming if you have your head in the fashion cloud. You see on the internet coming through. My ideal is to travel. A bit of cleansing. You’re bogged down by doing, doing. By travelling you open your mind to cleansing and new things.
What will we see in the next collection?
Along the same lines, it’s diversifying. We’re working with again what works. You utilise customer direction, where customers go. These days it’s gone away from being able to follow trends. It’s gone a little bit more with gut feeling. You don’t have the time now. Producing in China, we’re working with now Summer of next year. We’re half way into Summer for next year. It doesn’t go into stores in Europe until January of the next year. By then we’re busy working on the next season. So we’ve got to now work with interpretation. It’s wonderful. You get creative juices going. You then have to develop your own areas. You think a little bit of a progression from that. I think you can now work with a customer who is a little bit more savvy with what they buy. They’re not “oh it’s flowers”. It’s about yes, we do get a little bit of, “there’s a few things coming through for next season” but it’s a little bit more of a calculated guess and a progression of seeing and seeing what sells. Other types of looks work, I’ve seen that something more substantial works.
Especially dealing with the minimalistic which is a bit more foreign than what we’ve dealt in before, where we were doing embellishment and crystals, a bit more evening. People don’t go out as much or they don’t get dressed up to go out.
It’s a shame isn’t it? I like to get dressed up to go out.
It’s great to and it’s wonderful when you do see a group of people dressed up.
You go to the theatre, where people always used to dress up and now most people are in their jeans.
It’s true. In March, I was travelling and still made an effort to carry something good to wear. I was in London I went to see something at the theatre that was a opening night or second night and I was just surprised with what people were wearing and that was London. You know here in Australia, we’re casual and that’s part of the life you understand here. But as far as putting out jewellery, they don’t really go out to wear…. The great thing about having the shop open to the public is that you get to talk to people, see what they like and see behind the scenes of what they want to wear it for. The majority of our customers, it’s for weddings, you know for that traditional Peter Lang side was about bridal. Now that’s where it goes, it’s the tradition of weddings, you do dress up and you know especially the honour of dressing the bride and the bridesmaids. It’s a wonderful honour and to help them choose something that helps them mark that special moment in their life. You know makes you proud.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Do your passion, do your thing. Perseverance, and desire. It’s a desire to achieve, if you have a desire to achieve anything you get there. If you give up, where are you? At the bottom you know. So you go on until hopefully you find something that is for you.
Apologies for not having posted over the last few months, it has been a busy start to the year.
However, I have a post that was certainly worth waiting for. This post is about a man who truly is an artisan, using old techniques passed down to him from his Father and his Father’s employees, which he observed as a child and perfected as an adult.
I first came across Salvatore’s jewellery quite by accident via instagram, where he updates us with work in progress. At the time, he was working on a piece of jewellery to surprise his girlfriend with.
Have you had any formal jewellery making training or are you self-taught? If you trained, where did you train and in what? If you taught yourself, how did you go about it?
A mixture of all of the above. My father had a retail jewelry store and I was practically raised there. He had 2 full time jewellers on and even before I was old enough to comprehend what they actually did I was hooked. Constantly watching these two men, Sergio was from Argentina and Ezra from Yemen, and there was always a language barrier. I learned, at first, by watching. I became quite the observer and by age 11, I was sizing and soldering rings with ease.
The lessons became more advanced, and I would mimic what they demonstrated. That was 23 years ago. My training was concluded with several comprehensive courses on jewellery production and design. Including a 750 hour course at New York’s City’s Studio Jewelers. This was the final touch and with 9 hours a day, 5 days a week for the better part of a year virtually every facet of this industry was taught by the best instructors in the field.
Did you always intend on starting your own jewellery making business?
It always seemed inevitable that I would take up the family trade. I spent a few years in banking for a while, I became a licensed financial advisor. It simply wasn’t for me. I let my licenses expire and came back to jewellery. But I found buying, selling, trading and repairing various articles was no long enough. I wanted to create it as well. The rest is history
Do you have any words of wisdom to pass on to fellow designers hoping start their own label?
My advice to anyone aspiring to launch their line or label would be this: find that design you feel compelled to create and do it. It is your responsibility to bring the work to life, something you will not accomplish unless you truly have passion and love for the project you are launching.
When you are creating new pieces, how do you find inspiration?
The only thing that I have a passion to study as much as my craft is history. I would be equally happy being paid to poke around some ancient battlefield for a living as much as I do with my current occupation. My love of history, elements, and a study of natural and manmade beauty, not to mention jewellery, truly combine when I start getting in my construction phases.
Being from New York is wonderful in that sense…I can see turn of the century architecture, bridges of the industrial revolution, the deco styling of steel and shine surrounding the Empire State Building, then travel a few blocks and the art nouveau style facades of local buildings greet you.
New York is beautiful, yet fierce. It is a shining example of innovation and modern society with all its achievement coupled with a global mixture of endless traditions of the people who make this city great…..for me the inspiration I draw from my city is endless.
What is the process for creating a new piece? Do you simply draw it and then create it or do you start playing with the metals etc. to get ideas?
I hardly ever draw or sketch anything, and for no other reason than that I am horrible at it. Aside from my metal-smithing and carving ability for creating jewellery and metal sculpture, I have no artistic talent. I am unable to achieve symmetry, proportion, scale, depth or detail any other way than forging raw metal, but the process of the true design is exactly as we discussed. Sometimes, it is the stone that inspires me, other times it is when I find a suitable piece of silver or gold to work with….then I try to feel every surface of that stone and learn every grain of metal, after enough time I just seem to know exactly what I want to do….then I just do it
Are you influenced by current fashion trends during the creative process?
Fashion trends frighten and confuse me. Hard as this is to believe, I just found out what stacked rings are! It’s not that I don’t appreciate the world of fashion; I simply cannot keep up with it as it would pertain to making jewelry for a specific genre or trend that is going to be gone as soon as it arrived.
The thought of trying to figure out what the world wants gives me a nosebleed. I truly am lucky in a sense that I am able to do something I love, and thankfully enough of the public seems to really like it as well.
If a client hands me a detailed blue print to custom make, then my job is simple, If someone knows exactly what they want, I can make exactly what they want. Otherwise it will have to be exactly what I want, haha!
Do you work to a season when creating your pieces?
Working to a season really throws my rhythm off… I’m addicted to my job, I work constantly…every day something new catches my eye and I’ll incorporate a new texture or shape, a slight variance. I have no quotas to fill, and new pieces which can sometimes appear to be a mini-line in their own right, such as my Tudor roses, never get boring for me to make, as before that happens I’m inspired and compelled to switch.
When building a line, you must prepare endlessly meet production quotas and there’s constant pressure to produce a Better line than last time, while worrying about how you will improve the next one. That sounds an awful lot like work to me. My way has left a trail of one of a kind items, handmade and they are as much a pleasure for me to make as they are for others to own
How long does it take to make one piece?
The time it takes to make a piece varies on how much prep work I do. Sometimes the image I see as to my goal is so clear in my mind the entire process is mechanical, other times I simply find a gorgeous stone to set. Those pieces are usually the ones that have additions in the later stages that not even I saw coming. So in those cases a very complicated, unplanned “let’s wing it” piece can take up to two days. But if the projects at hand are solid in design before I ever started cutting then I work quite fast.
One of the things that really appeals to me about your designs, apart from their beauty, is that you are a part of the anti-mass-produced fashion movement and are unique. Do you have any others in your team that assist with the production process?
I don’t think I ever even thought about mass production in a pro or con sense. I truly am blessed to do what I do, it’s working out for me.
I would never design, produce or endorsed a piece of jewelry I simply didn’t like. And in that sense I would appalled at the idea of mass producing that jewelry.
I was fortunate to find success through my own designs. And to any jewellers out there reading this, if you landed a good position at a well-known retailer, who mass-produces the flavour of the week I say keep your head up, do your job well, and be proud of work well done….and the best part about most mass produced commercial jewelry is when held side by side against my designs, my pieces look that much better!
What are the challenges in keeping production on-shore in the USA when most fashion brands are opting to have their products made in China?
I stay competitive by doing as much as possible with as little as possible. I’m trained in traditional silver-smithing. To make a product like my signature roses for instance, you can order high quality refined and sanded metal sheet from one of the various online or walk in distributors. This milled polished silver in thicker gauge can be priced three times what it melts for. Most jewellers don’t have a choice in the matter. Yet, a Silversmith does.
For just about $1.00 above its melt value most pawn shops will sell you broken pieces of jewelry and bullion. If one is able to melt and rework that into a refined sheet then the cost basis is substantially lower, Rio Grande will sell you 100 pre-made stone settings for $50.00 plus shipping. And they will arrive next week. I can make those settings in under a few hours for about $12.00 of raw sterling reforged.
Then there’s the quality comparison, or rather, lack thereof. I actually wonder how those companies plan to compete with me haha. I exist without all the high-tech gadgets with as little expense and overheads as possible without compromising design or quality. Many of my pieces on instagram I refer to as “the Frankenstein collection”. I have become quite proficient using the table scraps of the jeweller’s world.
Competing with cheaper labour or going up against the likes of nations such as China or a major retailers is not even a concern in my thinking, I have no plans to go head to head with anyone.
So a lot of your pieces are made from broken pieces or quite recently and old spoon and an old fork. This gives your pieces a timeless quality and knowing that they have a story before they were crafted into something else just adds to this. Is it purely for economic and time reasons that you use old pieces and solder them or are you also attracted to the element of them having a past history and you are breathing new life into them?
I call them my Frankenstein pieces, LOL! It is true that there is a huge economic advantage in using pieces such as that. However, using basic bench scrapings, such as those does give me a sense of satisfaction. Knowing that I made something I consider gorgeous, using things others see as scrap metal, always makes me smile. ☺ Also, material can be quite expensive, and sometimes ideal metal is difficult to come by. There is much waste when it comes to workable metal in the design aspect. Working in broken or discarded silver, or even silverware such as my spoon items forces me to think creatively and will always give me a competitive advantage over my peers. And as you say, giving an old piece of silver a new life and a new appearance has an almost meditative effect on me, my glimpse into the sublime so to speak
How do your customers find you? Is it word of mouth and Instagram?
Mostly instagram, which has had a tremendous effect on my ability to reach a wider audience. I simply shoot my work as I see it, and hope those who view it see what I intended to show.
Your latest pieces are using the amazing Alexandrite stone, which changes from a purple to green depending on the light. Do you search out particular stones or are you guided by the stones when making your pieces?
There have been many pieces where I go hunting for a particular gem, but more times than not, it is a gem which found me and I, in turn, was inspired. The alexandrite is the golden standard of that rule.
A jeweller could spend a lifetime attempting to secure a single stone of the type currently in my safe. They are the most stunning gems I’ve ever laid eyes on, and it is an absolute privilege to be able to create pieces using this rarest of gemstones.
You have made quite a few pieces featuring flowers. Do flowers hold a special place for you?
Flowers represent all that is beautiful in nature. They are delicate, fragrant, bold in colour and both intricate and simplistic in design. They also can be representative symbols of the most powerful things on Earth…clovers are the symbol of luck, roses represent love. The Tudors of England chose a Tudor Rose as the symbol of their royal bloodline. Anne Boleyn was insistent on having one prominently displayed in her State portrait.
Beauty, love, power, majesty….I was hooked. The only true flaw to natural flora is their fleeting existence. My flowers are eternal…
Do you have a favourite piece of all time? How about from this collection?
My favourite piece is my earliest flower, the first of its kind and I think one of my better pieces. I gave it to the most wonderful woman I have ever met, my girlfriend Courtney. They truly belong to each other. And both are beautiful on their own, but together, nothing will ever be as beautiful
How does it feel when you see people wearing your pieces?
It’s a really awesome feeling. No lavish explanations needed. Awesome.
Have you had any particularly notable moments when someone has worn one of your pieces?
Once in a theatre in Manhattan, there was a couple who I was certain I had never met. I overheard a few words and not even the voices were familiar. But one detail was unmistakable, the beautiful pendant she was wearing that caught the light was one that I made a year earlier. I don’t remember to whom or where that piece was sold. And I’m not sure how she came to be wearing it. But I know she looked beautiful, and happy, and knowing that at least a part of that was because of her pendant was a wonderful feeling.
How do you feel that your designs have evolved since you started out?
I keep surprising myself in the regard that I was never creative in the earlier parts of my life and the evolution of my creations is the most surprising aspect of all. Some people talk of creative blocks, yet I have been fortunate that as soon as I am finishing one design, several more are usually spinning in my thoughts.
What are your plans for the future?
I have quite a few plans, several collaboration projects. New designs, new stones, new ideas, the future is sure to see plenty of what I plan to display. In a word, the plan is to conquer!
This week’s feature is beaded cuff maker, Lakota Bijoux. A relative newcomer to the jewellery scene, this is certainly one to watch. Follow her on instagram and facebook.
Who is the person behind Lakota Bijoux?
29 year old Lakota Taylor, a crazy melange of Indian, Irish, Spanish, and English heritage
Where are you based?
The South of France
Where does the name Lakota Bijoux come from?
Lakota is my name and ‘bijoux’ means jewellery in French.
Do you have any formal jewellery training?
None at all. Everything I know, I have learnt along the way.
Do you have a background in fashion?
How did you start your brand?
I have always loved making things by hand and LOVE accessories. As a hobby, I started off making headbands and hairpieces with feathers, and then used the same concept for earrings and necklaces. These were very popular at music festivals, and a few shops ended up buying all my stock.
Then in 2009, I was in Israel and chanced upon an area full of craft shops, basically Lakota heaven. In one of these shops, I found a beautiful book full of the most amazing bead embroidery jewellery. I had never seen anything like it and became completely obsessed. I ended up visiting that area every day and bought so many beads, big beads, small beads, gemstones, crystals, but I had no real idea of what to do with any of them.
I started putting beads to fabric anyway, learning as I went along. If there was a technique that I wanted to learn, I would go to Youtube or buy a tutorial online and do it over and over until I mastered it. The first few pieces I made were just for me and I had no intention of selling at all. But every time I would wear one of my cuffs, friends, and complete strangers would ask me where they could buy it, often offering me money to take it on the spot. It was only this year that I started making pieces to sell.
When did you start your brand?
I have been in the planning/experimental stages for a few months and launched one month ago so it is still in its very early stages.
Where do you find your inspiration?
From the beads themselves. I just start working and ideas come to me. My best work happens when I have no outside distractions and am able to become completely immersed in what I am doing. I am also lucky enough to have an insanely talented group of family and friends whom I can bounce ideas off and whose opinions I trust implicitly.
I saw on facebook that you had purchased a green stone from a museum but didn’t know what to do with it and later turned it into the central detail on a beautiful cuff. Do you often purchase stones and beads without knowing what you will do with them at the time?
Yes. I don’t do it intentionally, but that is actually that is how all my pieces start. I just love using gemstones and minerals and find beautiful stones (or should I say they find me) everywhere: museums, craft stores, exhibitions, flea markets, even the Organic Store. I am a complete beadaholic and if something catches my eye, it will absolutely come home with me for use at a later date. Swarovski crystals are my weakness and the colours, shapes and sizes of their Elements range are forever dazzling me. I buy them by the hundreds with no particular piece in mind.
Do you make all of the pieces yourself? What is the process from idea to finished product?
Yes, everything from start to finish. I start off with the focal stone, and then I think about what smaller beads will go with it. I never design or draw anything in advance, I just let the beads tell me where to go and I am constantly learning and acquiring new bits of knowledge. I often work on 4-5 pieces at one time and my workspace is forever increasing.
Beads are stitched, one by one, on to a felt or suede like base. When the embroidery part is finished, this is then attached to a soft leather or suede backing. It can take up to 30 hours hours to complete one piece. Wearability and comfort is the most important thing to me and I want my pieces to fit the wearer as though it was made especially for them. For this reason, many pieces remain unfinished until they are bought, and then the clasps are added according to the measurements of the buyer. I like to post pictures on my Facebook page which show my progress with each piece as I go along.
With custom pieces, I work together with the customer, using both their ideas and mine, to design their perfect piece.
Where is your main client base?
Europe and America
How do you find your customers?
I don’t avidly search for customers. A lot of contact is by word of mouth and also through Facebook and Instagram.
What are the challenges in making your creations known?
I much prefer creating to advertising or making my work ‘known’ so I have not come across any real challenges in that respect so far.
I found you via an Instagram post. Do you find social media important?
Definitely. It really makes my day when I stumble across an amazing designer, outfit or piece of jewellery that I may never have discovered without social media. Pintrest is my favourite out of them all. For my own brand, I think it is just great that people in all parts of the world, who I have never met, can see my work and connect with me through Facebook or Instagram.
Do you create pieces other than your beautiful cuffs. For example, have you considered taking those skills and applying them to beautiful beaded handbags?
Oh absolutely. Actually, I have made bespoke pieces, including a bag, which I haven’t published pictures of. But yes, I would bead everything if I could. The amount of time each piece takes is the only thing that limits me. Cuffs are definitely my passion though, and I think you can completely change the look of an entire outfit with a perhaps “not so simple” piece on your wrist.
Where do you see the future of Lakota Bijoux?
Doing bigger, more daring pieces. My to do list includes large collar pieces and jackets.
Do you have any words of wisdom to pass on to other designers who want to launch their own business?
Focus on the product – it helps to be completely in love, possibly boarding on obsession, with what you do. Everything else will come naturally.
Buba London started out between two people who kept bumping into each other in acts of serendipity. They produce bags that are works of art and luckily for us have also expanded into sandals, jewellery and homewares with more to come.
I interviewed Lesley Silwood, one half of Buba London recently. Please read the interview below and find out more about the Buba story. Allow your eyes to be dazzled with their beautiful creations at http://www.bubalondon.com
BACKGROUND & BEGINNINGS
You both met wearing near identical outfits at London fashion week then bumped into each other at the India embassy and then arranged to meet on a beach in Goa.
Yes, we found each other as agreed, neither thinking that the other would show up.
Do you have a photo of yourselves in these matching outfits?!
No I wish we did. We didn’t know each other very well; we had met at a party once and my friend Elliot was taking photos of me for the independent newspaper. Euan tapped me on the shoulder laughing. As I turned around, we looked at each other; shocked that we were in matching clothes. My friend Elliot could not stop laughing saying “did you plan to be matching?’”. I didn’t even know Euan was in the country as he was living in India at the time.
Which year was that?
Were either of you travelling to India with the intention of starting a fashion label?
Euan was already living in India and designing with Jade Jagger on a label called Jade inc. Jade had just been signed to Garrard and the label was about to close, this is when we met. We had lots of friends in common from work and the travelling we had both been doing, we just hadn’t met each other yet.
Do either of you have a background in fashion?
Yes, at the time I was a fashion photographer working with Alice McCall when she was styling so I had been in fashion for a long time. I had just started my own brand of bikinis called Club Tropicana.
What is the process for creating a new piece? Do you simply draw it and then have it produced in India or do you start playing with the leathers and stones to get ideas?
Euan and our creative team start playing with materials, stones and leather and also looking at past embroidery swatches and colour pallets. We also create mood boards for inspiration. Euan draws everything by hand on special tracing paper for the embroiderers. The designs are then pinned to be transferred to the embroidery looms. He then will work hands on with the embroiders applying the various materials piece by piece.
How do you stay inspired?
Travelling to different countries helps us stay inspired. Looking at different cultures, traditional arts and handicrafts. Regular visits to London to see galleries, exhibitions and bookshops and perhaps above all constantly observing nature in all its wonder on and around our island home.
Do you create pieces around a theme for a collection?
Some parts of a collection have a strong theme and some just move on organically from the last collection.
You launch 2 seasonal collections each year. How many pieces do you create for each collection?
Over 100 pieces in each collection if you count the bags and jewellery together.
You’ve also launched into sandals and jewellery, as well as homewares. How did the expansion into these areas come about?
We have always wanted to expand into home furnishings. When you experiment with scale you realise that a lot of the detail of the embellishment for the bags and jewellery translates beautifully when enlarged onto a bigger canvas, just as some of the ideas for the jewellery and bags begin life as large designs. The same with the sandals, essentially the starting point was having a simple shaped sandal to embellish with a similar motif to that used on the jewellery; something elegant and beautiful.
Did you choose India as your production base solely because that’s how the two of you met or because it is home to artisans with particular skills?
The latter, it seemed natural to stay working in India as Euan had already set up a production unit in India which had carried on from Jade inc closing and we wanted to carry on working with the artisans.
Is it difficult to find people in India who will work with cowhide given their religious belief that the cow is sacred?
Most of our bags are made with sheep nappa so we do not have the issues above.
How do you go about sourcing an overseas production house?
It’s hard. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re not going to live in the country you’re working in.
How do you oversee quality when production occurs overseas?
The staff in india have been working on our brand for 12 years so they know what to look for.
Do your production team in India work only on your label or do they work for many labels?
Only ours, although we sometimes do some production for Swarovski. We produced all of the Christopher Kane collection for ATELIER SWAROVSKI.
How do you prevent overseas production houses from producing your designs and selling them off to other customers themselves?
It’s ours [production house] so it is usually ok.
What is involved in producing a BUBA London bag?
Too much to go into but there are 10 people who work on one piece at different stages.
Why was it so important to you to keep the traditional techniques of crochet and whipstitch as opposed to the use of a sewing machine?
Embroidery by hand is a dying trade which is usually only used for saris and for traditional Indian dress. We love our pieces looking unique; we do not mass produce so that they all have a little bit of love from all who make the pieces. Our staff are really proud of what they do.
Why does it take 3 weeks for a bag to be made – is that the actual hours involved in producing a bag or does it also factor in postage from India back to London?
No it does take 3 weeks to make. There are so many stages from the embroidery to pasting to finishing. There are 10 people overall that will do a stage on the bag. Then it takes a few days to come to London.
Does that mean that all bags are made to order rather than you keeping stock in London?
Yes, everything is made to order and we often do bespoke pieces for important clients.
Do you oversee the working conditions of the artisans in India?
Euan is there to oversee the sampling and some of the production. I don’t go so often these days as we have two children together but when I do it is great. I miss them. We are all a team.
How did BUBA LONDON enter the competitive fashion market?
With a bang! We had designed a few pieces that were being sold by the Cross shop. They suggested we enter our pieces for New Gen sponsorship at London fashion week. I didn’t think we would get it as it is so competitive but we did.
I was 9 months pregnant at the time with our first baby and when I arrived on the stand Neiman Marcus and Saks were arguing about who could have the brand. I shouted at them “I’m 9 months pregnant – who was really first?” Saks said they were so I started to write the order. We did not have the funds to produce all the orders so we had let some clients go. It was sad but we could not take on too much otherwise we would break the brand before we had started.
You showcase your jewellery lines at London Fashion Week and Premiere Classe in Paris each season. How much have these showings contributed to your brand being successful?
We get all our clients from the shows; all the most important department stores and boutiques come to Paris.
As I mentioned before, you’ve moved into sandals, jewellery and homewares as well as your original handbag line. Are there other avenues you’re going to expand into on the horizon?
Euan would like to do some scarf developments and a line in printed and embellished t-shirts. I would like to work on some more interior pieces.
Sandals are obviously a Spring/Summer collection item. Will you be expanding into Winter boots and the like too?
No. At the moment, it would be difficult for us to sell shoes alongside the bags and jewellery as it’s a totally different market with a whole new set of buyers; new shows, manufacturers, etc…. With the interiors it is easier to gradually introduce a few products at a time and utilize our current production base.
What else do you see in BUBA LONDON’s future?
We are building a new home so I see our interior collection growing. We are also looking to open a flagship store.
Do you have a favourite piece of all time?
Euan – Vb fairy and mine had to be the Travel bag as originally I designed it to be our baby bag.
How about from this collection?
Euan – freesia day bag and me the same
What are your best-selling pieces?
All our clutches, purses and large travel bags. Our cuffs and bracelets are the best-selling jewellery pieces.
How does it feel when you see people wearing your pieces?
It’s funny as we do not produce on mass so Euan often thinks he knows the people wearing our bags. There have been some funny episodes in Ibiza where we have met people at restaurants or boarding the plane wearing Buba.
Have you had any particularly notable moments when someone has worn one of your pieces?
Apart from the obvious reference to celebrity, I have about 5 different photos of babies being put and carried around in the Travel bags, which makes me smile. I also have some wonderful pictures from weddings with the bags.
How do you feel that your designs have evolved since you started out?
Naturally they have evolved: the stitching and pattern details have become more elaborate; the range and quality of the materials has broadened and increased but essentially the handmade, artisanal quality remains.
Do you have any words of wisdom to pass on to fellow designers hoping start their own label?
Design from the heart, do your own thing and don’t follow trends.
OCTA is a relatively new brand coming out of Thailand, which produces women’s bags in a variety of diamond shapes and gorgeous hues. The brand is currently only available online at its website at http://www.octabag.com and ships worldwide. Check out this brand, which is being coveted by celebrities and bloggers alike.
Recently, I interviewed the team behind OCTA bags. The interview is below.
BACKGROUND & BEGINNINGS
Who is behind OCTA bags?
The Founders of OCTA are two sisters from Thailand. The creative director of OCTA Sirikran Chaithavornsathien and her sister Thanya takes care of the operations side of the business.
What is the background of the people who are behind OCTA bags?
Our designer Sirikran is 27 years old. She didn’t graduate from fashion school, she studied Business Management but she loves fashion and is very creative. She mixed her knowledge of Marketing and her ability to design together and started doing what she loves.
Thanya is 31 years old and graduated from political school. She supported her sister in the creation of this brand.
How did OCTA bags come to be?
After she graduated, Sirikran wanted to build her own business and needed to decide between clothing and accessories. She discussed with her sister Thanya, who supported her to create womens bags.
A week later Sirikran drew an octagon bag, showed it to her sister and said “This is it”.
I assume that the name refers to the shape of many of your bags: octagonal. How did you come to this design?
OCTA means eight, which is Sirikran’s favourite number. Everything she creates, she put the symbol of eight behind it. She picked an emerald diamond to represent number eight and that became the concept of the brand.
On your website you’ve stated that “We want to create a mid high brand so, people can have a luxurious style in an affordable price”. For example, your clutches start at US$235 for the Candy, your cross-body at $210 in the Octavia, and finish with the Davia top handle bag at $650. You also have the Octavia wallet currently available in 6 gorgeous colours for $145. How do you keep the prices reasonable without sacrificing the quality?
In each price range, there’s a difference in the finishing of the leathers and the details. For example, the Octavia is a plain design, we don’t add much detail to it and the leather is of a good grade but does not have any texture. For Davia, we use premium leathers with nice textures and there are a lot of details including the design of the shape.
As for the quality, we have highly skilled craftsmen, so that we can control their fineness and quality.
What is the process for creating a new piece? Do you simply draw it and then have it produced or do you start playing with the leathers and stones to get ideas?
Mostly, our designer will draw it and she will seek the materials and hardware herself. She will discuss it with the pattern maker and create a prototype. After that she will let a team comment upon it. She really loves stones and she’s developing them now.
You said that the designer loves the stones and is developing them now. Do you mean that she is creating her own stones for use or she is developing a range of bags around particular stones?
She is developing a range of bags around particular stones.
How do you stay inspired?
She loves to create new things, so she always observes a trend and combine it with her imagination. Most of her works express herself, her favourites and her style a lot.
Do you make bags for different collections (seasonal or otherwise)?
We will start to do the seasonal bag next season.
Is there a theme for a collection?
Yes, we have a concept about the power of diamonds, which can control all women’s desire. We will present it in monotone.
For example, at the moment you have some beautiful pastel colours. Are these intended for a Spring/Summer theme?
Actually, we launch all bags in pastel colors because we would like to express the freshness of our brand to seem like the tenderness of youth.
Is Thailand your base because that’s also where your designers and founders are based?
Yes, it is.
The majority of your bags are made from leather. Is this locally sourced and tanned leather? Is it cowhide?
It is cowhide and most of the leathers are from Italy and finished in Thailand.
What is involved in producing an OCTA bag?
Producing the prototype
How long does it take for a single OCTA bag to be made? What are the processes involved?
It takes around a day for one single bag.
How did Sirikran go about sourcing people to make the bags?
The family has its own manufacturer.
Do you have people who work solely on OCTABAG such as your own production team?
Yes we do.
How did OCTA enter the competitive fashion market?
We start from social media (facebook and instagram) with the reasonable price and unique design. Customers then need to not be afraid to purchase even though they haven’t seen the products in real life. After that, it is word of mouth by customers, which helps us a lot for the message of reliability.
I found you via Instagram and to be honest it was that long ago that I don’t actually recall how, whether you liked one of my photos or I saw someone feature one of your bags. Do you find a lot of your website traffic and customers come from Instagram?
We would say all of our customers come from Instagram.
How important is social media for a brand such as yours?
Now it is so important, as this is a method which is really effective when you have a low marketing budget. It also allows us to create awareness all over the world without travelling.
How do you find customers on Instagram? Do you actively like photos with particular hashtags or like photos taken by followers of particular pages to attract them to your page to discover your bags?
We have many influential pages feature our designs on their page, which attracts customers and followers .
Do you have a favourite piece of all time?
The Asscher, it is the signature and it is the first design for OCTA
How about from this collection?
Mini Davia in Tangerine
What are your best-selling pieces?
Asscher in Mint.
How does it feel when you see people wearing your pieces?
I feel like I’m successful, my products cannot be found in stores and we are nobody. If they have it, that means they had high enough an incentive to visit the website and decide to buy it.
Have you had any particularly notable moments when someone has worn one of your pieces?
I remember, I sat alone at the airport and could not stop smiling when I knew that Bar Refaeli was wearing my bag . I could feel that the girl next to me noticed and laugh at me. It’s a bit embarrassing but I couldn’t help it!
How do you feel that your designs have evolved since you started out in 2012?
This is unbelievable! Within two years we have gone so far and faster than we’ve planned but we will make it better and better.
Do you have any words of wisdom to pass on to fellow designers hoping start their own label?
I want to tell them to start doing what they love. Sometimes passion can make you go further than knowledge. You can learn it while you do it. Imagination cannot be studied in class. You just need to know how to make it real.
What’s on the horizon for OCTA bag?
Within 5 years we aim to create OCTA SHOES, OCTA WATCHES and OCTA JEWELLERY. Watch this space!