Polo Lifestyles recently sat down with Alex Jiaravanont, the designer behind the brand ESemblē based in Hong Kong.
OTV: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a luxury bag designer? AJ: I always wanted to go into fashion when I was younger, but in the end my conservative family wins and ended up becoming an architect, and then switched occupation again by working for my family’s corporation. While I enjoy my work immensely, I started ESemblē as a creative outlet—a labor of love if you will. As to why a man would design women’s handbag instead of men’s bag, the answer is simple: women’s handbags are more fun!
OTV: What was your biggest challenge when starting your own line? AJ: The market is so saturated already, and with the accessibility of the Internet we often find all the cool ideas we dream up has already been done. Nonetheless, we feel it is a challenge worth taking, and as long we stay true to ourselves and add our own spin, there will be someone out there that can connect with us.
OTV: How do you come up with such classic and original designs? AJ: When people heard I am going into bag design, they all expected an architect to come up with really wacky, space-age forms. In actuality, we are more interested in the human emotional aspect of a handbag. When our head designer came up with the idea to recreate the bags in her mother’s closet during her childhood, our team all jumped on that concept. This is what led to our design which are vintage inspired bags with a modern dash of color.
OTV: What role do you think social media plays in the fashion industry? AJ: Social media is absolutely crucial. Now that people can create their own voice with a smaller budget, we see a lot more creativity. With increased homegrown exposure, consumers are inspired by more aesthetic subcultures that previously would not be visible in mainstream media. The consumer wins, because they have more choice available to piece together their own expression.
OTV: How do you want people to feel when buying your handbags? AJ: We want people to feel happiness derived from a sense of discovery. Many people have expressed to us that our bag’s quality and functionality exceeded their expectation due to our accessible price, and we take pride in that. When conceiving the brand, we set out to be inclusive—a quality bag does not have to cost someone’s monthly salary. The word “luxury” for us is about the ability for everyone to spoil themselves, not a false sense of exclusivity derived from keeping things out of people’s reach.
OTV: Where can I buy your bags? AJ: We complement our online store with some brick and mortar retailers (Harvey Nichols, Lab Concept/Lane Crawford, Kapok, Waow in Hong Kong to name a few). We believe it is important for customers to engage the bag physically in these stores in order to generate interest and build enough trust for them to buy online in the future. It is also worth noting that the stores in Hong Kong are very supportive of home grown brands, and we are very grateful to them for believing in us.
OTV: What is your design inspiration? AJ: Having spent a good part of my life working in the creative field in New York City, I have naturally acquired an appreciation for the vintage aesthetic. The quality seen in vintage pieces often surpass their price. Moreover, vintage hunting is an act of discovery that a person can retread some memory every time they re-engage with those pieces. This love ties well into what I have previously stated with our reinterpretation of nostalgic designs.
OTV: What it tough getting started in business? AJ: Very tough. What I learned from this experience is a like-minded and diverse team is extremely important. One of my partners, Marco, is an experienced retailer, while Amy is an accomplished lawyer. Each member contributes in different ways, and we challenge and push each other.
OTV: What materials do you use? AJ: We mainly use vegetable-tanned and nappa leather, though recently we began to incorporate canvas. We are also looking into different leather treatments, such as this hand folded Japanese cow leather that we will be using for our line in the near future.
OTV: What is your favorite design? AJ: The bell bag. It is a shape that not many people have in their personal collection, and possesses a delicate quality that we represents our vintage aesthetic well.
OTV: Any regrets? AJ: I wish I would’ve done this sooner in my life. But then again, my thought process is more methodical now, so not a major regret.
OTV: What fans can expect from The Esemblē in the near future? AJ: We kick off this season with two brand new shapes: the “Demi Moon” and “Deli Basket.” They are a continuation on our exploration on simple shapes that differ from what people have already owned. Also look for the launch of our sister brand called A. Jiara, which has some unisex pieces so the boys don’t feel so left out.