There's two parts to Freja. There's the bag, and then there's the journey. I love seeing the story of how and why something is made, and wanted to share the creative process behind Freja as much as possible - from our design choices to the intentionality behind every decision. So, here it is! A play by play of our first bag, ever.
Another week, another interview. This one was important. I had turned my closet inside out trying to find a sleek tote I could use, one that would also fit a change of clothes for a networking event afterwards. Do I go with my mom's old hand-me-down shoulder bag that barely fit my laptop? Or the one that falls over if I don’t balance the contents just so? How about the oversized black hole of a bag where pens and business cards disappear forever?
I started dreaming about how it would feel to create something of my own. Something small and meaningful. I start my research that night.
I take the 5 hour bus ride from my school down to New York City that weekend to research materials and visit sample makers. I'm on a mission to make a better tote - the cornerstone of any handbag collection. I thought about all the details I wanted to change, and how I could create a beautiful tote that you can be excited to wear.
I started looking for vegan leather. Not the usual suspects, PVC or PU. I wanted something special, something breathable, something innovative, something made to last. I reach out to Alexis, my previous roommate who's studying material science in London. I know her family works in textiles. Alexis says her family makes a variety of vegan leathers, but specializes in water-based ultrafiber leather and microsuede. I ask lots of questions, and ask her to send a few samples of the material.
I receive a package from DHL. Inside are swatches of 1.2mm-1.4mm ultrafiber leather and 0.6mm soft microsuede. Very different, but both absolutely beautiful. I choose my top three and order 5 meters to make our first sample. Meanwhile, I start translating my ideas into the first iteration of the design.
I finalize a sample maker based in Brooklyn, and send Anna my sketches. She sends me a list of things she needs to complete the sample. I venture to the garment district and spend a few hours blindly picking out trimming, hardware, and edge paint.
The semester ends and I move to New York City for the summer. No more bus rides for the next three months!
I pick up the first sample. Not what I wanted at all. This might be harder than I thought. My endless amount of optimism will definitely come in handy.
I'm headed back to China to visit my parents in two days. Why not check out some factories while I'm there? I ask Alexis to introduce me to some factories they trust and work with. She puts me in touch with a mutual friend Vivian who is a sourcing agent specializing in innovative fabrics.
I fly home. It's been over a year since I've seen my parents, and it's so nice to sleep in my own bed. I recharge and fill up on family time, evening walks, catching up on my mom's favorite game show, my dad's favorite movies, and filling up on my favorite homecooked meals. Exactly what I need before the busy summer ahead.
Vivian delivers list of 10 factories that met our requirements. I quickly reach out to each of them and set up a meeting and factory tour.
Off to visit the factories ✈️ We head out to the airport at 4am to catch our 6am flight. My dad naps on the plane. I'm far too excited to sleep. We spend the next three days visiting factories and learning.
Last day of our visit. We only toured 3 of the 4 factories we were scheduled to see, because my dad fell asleep in the waiting room of the third one. He's been SUCH a trooper and we take the rest of the day off.
We arrive at the airport at 8pm, beyond ready to get home, only to find our flight has been cancelled. We rebook a mid-morning flight for the next day, reserve a room in the nearest hotel, eat some delicious fried rice, and pass out.
I look over my notes on the flight home, and choose my top four factories. I ask them to make samples and coordinate ultrafiber samples to be shipped.
Back to New York! I start my summer internship - my original summer plan before Freja came along. My manager Ivan is the sweetest and says I can go early in the afternoons if I need to.
We receive our first round of samples from three factories. They look a little better than our first sample. But why so saggy?
The fourth factory's bag arrives. Upon first glance, it's quite lovely. I'm working from a WeWork today and ask a few volunteers there to model the bag and provide their feedback. I decide to work with this factory moving forward.
It's immediately apparent that this bag is way, way too heavy to be a daily bag. The tote itself probably weighs 3~ pounds before I even put anything in it! I have discussions with the factory on how we can make the bag lighter.
The second sample arrives. We played with the proportions a little bit this time, and it's a little lighter. I cancel the laptop sleeve - it's a feature I really had my heart set on but would make the bag too heavy. On the bright side, we're able to add pockets on both sides! I want to see how it would look in a lighter color, and arrange for another sample ultrafiber to be used for our next sample.
The third sample is here! Still too wrinkly and our first attempt at the pockets are a little strange. The factory suggests removing the piping along the bottom of the bag in order to create a more structured base. I also ask the factory to add a thin strip of leather to cover the side seams. I'm hopeful that the next sample might be the one. I do love this lighter beige shade.
Also can you see the golden serial number at the top right of the bag? I wanted to add something extra to the bag but ultimately decided against it.
YES. Much better. My favorite one by far. I wear it everyday for a month, and noticed some cracking in the edge paint. We were able to troubleshoot, and reformulate the paint to be more elastic and springy. Whew. The shoulder straps also aren’t the most comfortable when worn for long periods of time.
I rent out a gorgeous studio on peerspace and enlist my friend to be photographer for the day. I pay him with copious amounts of coffee and Thai food, and we have a fun trial photoshoot for the website.
And just like that - summer is over. I pack up all the samples I've collected over the summer and move back to my school apartment.
Fifth sample. It's lovely. The size, the structure, the pockets are all perfect, and the flat straps make such a difference. I also added a key leash to the interior, at my friend’s suggestion.
It's time to finalize colors. A classic black, and a perfect nude. I name it latte, after my newfound coffee habit. And a deep merlot for the interior.
I place the order for the materials, and pay in full. Enough for 300 bags, half in latte and half in black, plus a little extra for future samples. Eeep! It's a big moment for us. This is really happening!
A little delayed, but the materials are finally finished and shipped to the factory. We pay for half up front, and the rest when the bags are complete.
Photoshoot time at Denizen Co studio! This time with the real final product. I roll up to the studio with my moodboard and a huge suitcase full of outfit changes and props, and Sam behind the lens.
Our hangtags and cards arrive ❤️
They're done! My incredible dad flies down to inspect and perform quality checks on each and every bag before they're packed up and loaded onto a cargo ship. It takes him 2 days to get through all of them, and he sends me videos throughout the day. I am so grateful. I wish I could be there, but school has already started.
After a lot of refreshing tracking numbers and delays (due to covid-19 in Asia), they're FINALLY HERE!!! I unload 25 40-pound boxes into the storage unit I rented across the street from my apartment.
Unpacked. Hangtags attached. Ready to go to their new homes.