For anyone in dire need of a handbag refresh this season — especially as everyone attempts to dress up again — consider making your next purchase from a small business. Not only have they been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but this is also an opportunity to discover non-mainstream fashion goods. If you’re wondering where to start, you can peruse through some Asian-owned handbag brands, below. (According to NBC News, 90 percent of small Asian American businesses lost revenue last year.) The month of May, too, marks the start of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (a period that celebrates and acknowledges the history, culture, and achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans in the United States).
For those who like to show support to the AAPI community through fashion, art, and design, buy from one of the Asian-owned labels ahead. Your monetary contribution can lift up the AAPI community, and your purchase can broaden the reach of that small brand to a larger audience. The list of 14 brands to know encompasses emerging names like EMOTIONAL WORLD and XO GOGO to street style favorites like JW Pei and Senreve. You’ll find bags crafted not only in New York City, but also abroad in cities like Seoul and Copenhagen. There are designers like Jenny Lei of FREJA NEW YORK who offers classic, minimalist handbags (think Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s aesthetic) and, on the other end of the spectrum, there’s Sandy Ley of XO GOGO whose nostalgic baguette bags cater towards a more playful and carefree attitude of dressing up.
Before more spoilers are given out, simply scroll down to find, and buy, your next favorite handbag.
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Asian-Owned Handbag Brands To Shop: Apede mod
Apede Mod was founded by Jaquelyn Wang and Claudia Lin in 2016. The label offers handbags in minimalist silhouettes with maximum utility. You can liven up your weekend outfit with its teal Froggy shoulder bag or walk into the office, post-pandemic, with a polished croc-embossed option. Each bag is designed in New York City with prices starting around $245. The founders’ inspirations for their accessories, according to the brand’s website, comes from nature, vintage pieces, architecture, and modern culture. (You can thus find handbag collections aptly titled Monet or Sakura.) For those wondering about the label’s nomenclature — ‘apede’ was derived from an ancient Egyptian god named Apedemak, meaning courage and independence, while mod stands for modern.
Asian-Owned Handbag Brands To Shop: BOYY
You can spot a BOYY handbag anywhere thanks to the big buckle detail on the front of every style. Early on, the anti-It bag, as it was called by Business of Fashion, attracted a popular following that included both fashion editors and celebrities alike. (Sarah Jessica Parker, Bella Hadid, and Jennifer Lopez are all fans of BOYY bags.) The luxurious accessories are designed by Wannasiri Kongman, who also co-founded the brand with husband Jesse Dorsey in 2006. You can expect to find super structured pieces with minimalist finishings. Save for the color and sometimes cool silhouettes, the bags carry a timeless quality to them versus that of-the-moment feel. Your BOYY piece will become a classic staple in your handbag collection.
Asian-Owned Handbag Brands To Shop: advene
For anyone not familiar with the label advene, it is the brainchild of Zi Xuan and Yijia Wang. Xuan is a fashion industry veteran, having worked at Marc Jacobs and Coach, while Wang has a marketing background on consumer behavior. The two joined forces over their love of design to launch their luxury accessories label in November 2020. Currently they only offer one bag dubbed Age in two colors: black or cream. The tightly edited selection is part of the brand’s messaging to embrace timeless investment pieces. The leather is made from 100 percent traceable cow leather while the dust bag it comes in is crafted from deadstock hemp fabric. Look for the tiny details that make the bag unique like the comma in the advene logo, which is illustrated with Chinese calligraphy that pay homage to the founders’ roots.
Asian-Owned Handbag Brands To Shop: Senreve
Coral Chung and Wendy Wen founded Senreve in 2016 (the name combines the words ‘sense’ and ‘dream’ in French) with the mission to provide quality, and cute, laptop bags for professional women. The bag that initially launched them into fame was the Maestra style — a convertible leather bag that can be worn as a satchel, tote, crossbody, or backpack. The Maestra, which comes in a mini size too, is still one of the best sellers on Senreve’s website to this day. The label has a celebrity following as you’ve likely seen Senreve bags pop on the likes of Priyanka Chopra, Kristen Bell, Jenna Dewan, and Sophia Bush. The popularity of the accessories is due to the smart, polished designs and the bags’ functionality. Selections include a belt bag — your more stylish fanny pack — a tote, a bucket bag, and a bracelet pouch for occasions where less is more.
Asian-Owned Handbag Brands To Shop: Aesther Ekme
Fans of The Row and Celine will immediately love all the leather bags from Aesther Ekme as they embody similar streamlined designs. Stephane Park is the founder and creative director of the brand, which is based between Copenhagen and Paris. “Living in Copenhagen, I found that I really connected to the design culture here. And design is part of everything, which I appreciate,” said Park to the Scandinavia Standard. “We’re popular in Japan, and the [United States] is a growing segment for us, but Scandinavia is currently where we’re doing best. It makes a lot of sense, because Scandinavians are invested in functional beauty.” (This also speaks to why Scandi style has been trenching across the fashion and home space over the past few years.) Except for a barely-there three dot logo, Park’s bags come across as clean, casual, and perfectly structured. Though the bags are priced competitively, you can rest assured they’ll be in your wardrobe for years to come.
Asian-Owned Handbag Brands To Shop: DELAROQ
After stints at fashion houses like Louis Vuitton, Prada, and 3.1 Phillip Lim, designer Jennifer Lyu launched her own handbag label, DELAROQ, in 2018. The pieces are grounded in an eco-conscious mindset as they’re made from excess materials found in the fashion industry. “Delaroq — a playful linguistic take on ‘de la roche’ (translated ‘from the promontory’) — was born out of a rude awakening. While visiting luxury leather suppliers in Asia, I encountered warehouses full of offcut leathers. These leftovers were going to waste, literally rotting away,” said Lyu to Flaunt. “This stark reality gave me pause. It incited me to really reflect on my own role in the design process ... forming Delaroq gave me the ground to reframe how I thought about all of the resources and ecosystems that were being impacted by production and consumption. My first instinct was to try to find a way to get more use out of the leftover material. My next instinct was to try to design timeless pieces that people would use often, repair if needed, and want to keep.” You can find contemporary crossbody bags, large totes, shoulder designs, and more on Delaroq’s website.
Asian-Owned Handbag Brands To Shop: JW Pei
JW Pei is loved by Instagram influencers and street style stars like model Irina Shayk. This luxury vegan handbag label was founded by husband and wife duo Yang Pei and Stephanie Li in 2016. They were set on discovering a more eco-friendly alternative to PVC for accessories and landed on ultra-microfiber — a lightweight, non-woven fabric made from blended fibers of polyester and polyamide. (It’s 30 to 50 percent lighter than animal leather and is five to 20 times stronger than synthetic leather.) Materials aside, the label’s bags have mass design appeal as they come in fun shapes and colors. You can also swap out bag handles and tack on extra accessories for a more customized experience. The affordable price point doesn’t hurt either, as the bags are priced anywhere from $39 to 175 (for a drawstring backpack).
Asian-Owned Handbag Brands To Shop: Wicker Weaves
If you’re on the hunt for a bag that’s suited for your future vacations in Tulum or the French Riviera, you’ll want to check out Wicker Weaves. The Mumbai-based label was founded by Niyati Shah and Tanvi Shah and offers vegan accessories that feature rattan and faux leather. Beads, shells, and kardana embroidery (the act of sewing specially cut stones onto fabric) are some of the standout details you can find in the label’s handbag offerings.
Asian-Owned Handbag Brands To Shop: EMOTIONAL WORLD
For those who prefer bags that have a bit of rawness to them, look towards the newly launched brand EMOTIONAL WORLD for all your needs. The three-year-old label offers bags crafted through traditional Japanese techniques like SASHIKO embroidery — a form of needlework using small stitches to form a pattern. You’ll notice all the accessories have a deconstructed aesthetic, however, just because the shoulder bags and satchels resemble something you’ve taken apart and then put back together, it doesn’t mean the design wasn’t done without care. Each order, according to EMOTIONAL WORLD’s Instagram account, takes about a month to fulfill due to the precision and care it takes to make a bag. The pieces are crafted from different fabrics such as natural plant dyed material and vintage army clothing/suede.
Asian-Owned Handbag Brands To Shop: gu_de
Creative Director Ji Hye Koo launched gu_de (pronounced good) with a focus on ‘60s and ‘70s-inspired bags that have a timeless appeal — trends do not interest her. “The aesthetic of gu_de is timeless beauty. Expressing classic yet uniqueness with gu_de's style,” said Koo to Forbes. Although the brand is based in Seoul, South Korea, it’s making waves in the international market as you can find Koo’s top handle and cylindrical bags on e-retailers like Net-a-Porter and Farfetch. Her bags are embellished with thick chains and come in colors like tangy orange or soft yellow. If you prefer neutral shades, there’s plenty of that, too, as evidenced by the Lisa bag below.
Asian-Owned Handbag Brands To Shop: XO GOGO
The handbags from XO GOGO lives up to the brand’s ‘fun meets fashion’ mission statement. The few designs available right now range from a ‘90s nylon baby baguette shoulder bag ($140) to a mini leopard duffle bag ($110). Not only are the accessories affordable, but they’re also all designed in New York City by designer and founder Sandy Ley. Her playful accessories align well with the reemergence of nostalgic childhood fashion trends such as chunky maximalist resin rings, baby tees, and beaded phone charms. Don’t be surprised if you see Ley’s bags on the likes of Dua Lipa or Bella Hadid — the vibe is right up her alley.
Asian-Owned Handbag Brands To Shop: GOODS BY FAMILY
Should you have attempted and failed at knitting or crocheting your own bags, don’t worry. Simply turn to GOODS BY FAMILY for a custom-made piece. The enigmatic Instagram and website do not offer too much information about how the brand came to be or the ordering process but welcomes email inquiries and Instagram DMs. The simple bio “Made by Mom in California” should tell you all you need to know. Start crafting that DM now to place an order if you want a bag not many people in the world will have.
Asian-Owned Handbag Brands To Shop: FREJA NEW YORK
Should your style icons include Meghan Markle, Amal Clooney, or Angelina Jolie, you’ll want to check out FREJA NEW YORK (pronounced frei-ya). The slow fashion accessories label offers structured, minimalist shoulder bags, totes, and cardholders. Because the company works with a small factory in China (you can read more about the partnership on FREJA NEW YORK’s website), each of its bags is meticulously crafted with care and precision. The vegan offerings are made with ultrafiber — a material that uses less water and energy compared to bags made with polyurethane (PU) and is OEKO-TEX certified, meaning the product doesn’t contain harmful chemicals that could affect your health. If you’re passionate about investing in timeless pieces with a transparent supply chain process, pre-order a FREJA bag below.
Asian-Owned Handbag Brands To Shop: HAERFEST
When you need a new work tote or backpack, turn to Haerfest for these functional staples. The brand was launched in 2011 by brothers Tim and Dan Joo. Haerfest carries both men's and women’s styles, but the understated pieces will speak to all working professionals. Take the Apollo backpack, for example, which has a padded laptop pocket and a back panel that makes it easy to slip over the handles of your suitcase. The backpack also comes in black and navy hues. Other categories offered are tote bags, briefcases — they would make a great Father’s Day gift — and crossbody bags.