Linnea Tote Notes
Linnea Tote Notes
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 the Linnea tote in the making .
April 5th, 2019
I start taking the 5 hour bus ride from my school down to New York City every weekend (and occasionally stay a little longer) to visit sample makers and research materials in the city. My roommate jokes that she's now living in our 2-bed by herself. She's the absolutely best, and cooks me her famous spicy spaghetti when I get home at 1am.
I'm on a mission to make a better tote - the classic, versatile cornerstone of any handbag collection. I had a few on rotation in my wardrobe, but I didn't love any of them. They're uninspiring. A few have lost their shape, and look lumpy when filled. The lining has faded. And none have more than one inside pocket.
I thought about all the details I wanted to change, and how I could create a tote that sparked joy. I wanted to make it using vegan leather. And I really wanted to share each step of the process.
First, the vegan leather. It had to be soft, not too shiny, and feel substantial without being heavy. 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.
Time to translate my tote from idea into design. I watch youtube videos on how to draw patterns.
I receive a package from DHL. Inside are swatches of ultrafiber and microsuede from Alexis. They are absolutely divine. I pick my favorite three and order 5 meters to start sampling with.
I'm happy with the first iteration of the design. I compile my mess of scribbles and notes.
I finalize a sample maker based in Brooklyn, and send Anna a tech pack of what eventually would become the Linnea tote. She sends me a list of things she needs to complete the sample. I venture to the garment district and spend a few hours picking out trimming, hardware, and edge paint.
I choose the name Freja. A Scandinavian name that represented the Norse goddess of love. Given our mission of intentionality and transparency, it seemed perfect.
I drop off the materials for Anna. There's an adorable coffeeshop right next to her studio - I can't resist and stop in for a quick latte and cookie.
The semester ends and I move to New York City for the summer. Cheers to no more bus rides for the next three months!
I pick up the first sample. Hmm. Not quite...
Okay - new game plan. I'm headed back to China to visit my parents in two days...why not check out some factories while I'm there? Time to do some research. I also 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. We have a great chat and I cross my fingers. It really takes a village!
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.
Vivian pulls through! With a 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 arrive at the airport at 8pm to find our flight home is cancelled. We book a mid-morning flight for the next day, reserve a room in the nearest hotel, ate 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. A little better. But so saggy. This is going to be harder than I originally thought.
The fourth factory's bag arrives. Ooohhh. 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.
Now for the fun part - wear testing. I love the structure, but it's 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 decide we need to nix the laptop sleeve - it's a feature I really had my heart set on but the engineering is not working out. On the bright side, we're able to add pockets on both sides! I also arrange for a lighter colored, grained ultrafiber to be used for our next sample.
The third sample is here! Still too wrinkly and the pockets are a little strange. The factory suggests removing the piping along the bottom of the bag and creating a more structured base, and I say we give it a try. I also ask the factory to add a thin strip of leather to cover the side seams and to try a new handle attachment...I'm curious to see how it would look! 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 I'm not sure how I feel about it. I decide to sleep on it.
YES. Much better. My favorite one by far. Time for a month of *serious* wear testing.
Trial photoshoot 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. That gold number is really popping on the black bag.
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.
I swapped the rolled straps for flat ones, added a key leash, and decided against the serial number. The two pieces of gold hardware on the sides add such a subtle yet distinctive touch. While wear testing, I also noticed some cracking in the edge paint. We were able to troubleshoot, and reformulate the paint to be more elastic and springy. Whew.
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 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.
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.
Thank you for joining us ❤️
The next time we place an order with our factory, it will be because 100 of you have asked and trusted us to make a bag for you.