BUBA LONDON

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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

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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?

2000

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.

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CREATIVE PROCESS

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.

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PRODUCTION

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.

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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.

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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.

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FUTURE

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. 


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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.

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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.

REFLECTIONS

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

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What are your best-selling pieces?

All our clutches, purses and large travel bags. Our cuffs and bracelets are the best-selling jewellery pieces.

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CUFFS

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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.

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That was the interview. Check out the beautiful artisinal pieces at http://www.bubalondon.com

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OCTA BAG

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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.

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CREATIVE PROCESS

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.

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PRODUCTION

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?

  • Sourcing materials
  • Producing the prototype
  • Design proof

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.

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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 .

REFLECTIONS

Do you have a favourite piece of all time?

The Asscher, it is the signature and it is the first design for OCTA

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How about from this collection?

Mini Davia in Tangerine

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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!

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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.

FUTURE

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!