“Always listen to your mother” isn’t exactly the kind of central tenet they teach you at Harvard Business School. But for Emily Sugihara, the California-raised, Brooklyn-based designer behind the reusable bag line Baggu, it’s a piece of advice that’s been invaluable to the brand’s runaway success since its founding in 2007. Back then Sugihara was a Parsons grad working as an assistant designer at J. Crew and just coming to realize that a corporate job wasn’t her calling. “As a kid, I was very entrepreneurial, and I always knew I wanted to have my own company,” she says. At home over Christmas break one year, Sugihara and her mother began talking about making a line of reusable shopping bags. Her mom was “sort of a treehugger” and an artist in her own right — an expert seamstress who learned to sew making her own clothes as a kid in rural Michigan — and Sugihara was a die-hard New Yorker-in-training, sporting fingers turned purple each week as she lugged home bags full of groceries.
Together they came up with a bag that’s almost exactly like the original ripstop nylon Baggu that still sells today: long handles that fit comfortably over the shoulder, gussets along the bottom that allow things like milk and eggs to stack, and a single, double-reinforced seam that’s the result, Sugihara says, of her mother’s “sewing genius.” (Her mom, once a therapist, now works almost full-time on Baggu.) Since then, Sugihara has taken her mother’s advice on everything from the brand’s color palette to its potential collaborators. “My mom saw Shabd Alexander on Martha Stewart one day and sent me this email saying, ‘I just saw a girl on TV who looks like you guys could be friends. She lives in your neighborhood and does tie-dye!’” Baggu and Shabd just released their second collaboration this spring.
The mom factor is particularly amusing considering that though Baggu began in a more utilitarian vein, it’s since become a must-have fashion accessory, sold at hip emporiums like Need Supply and Colette. “We thought it was a natural fit for grocery stores,” says Sugihara. “But we ended up finding our home in fashion, in a design or apparel setting. An $8 bag in a grocery store seems expensive, but an $8 bag in J. Crew seems like a steal.” Though the original Baggu is perfect for groceries, the Baggu team finds it’s being used for so much more: “You can buy a pair of shoes at Prada and put them in your Baggu and feel okay about it, whereas you might feel weird whipping out a Whole Foods bag,” says Sugihara.
Baggu’s fashion cred can be attributed in part to its crisp graphic identity and its amazingly varied color palette, both of which are heavily influenced by Baggu’s creative director Ellen Van Der Laan, a RISD grad and childhood friend of Sugihara’s who came on board soon after Baggu’s launch. Sight Unseen recently sat down with Sugihara and Van Der Laan in Baggu’s sunny Williamsburg storefront studio to find out more.
Christian Wijnants attended the fashion program at Antwerp’s prestigious Royal Academy, and upon graduating, won the Hyéres prize, the Dries Van Noten prize, and a coveted assistant spot in Van Noten’s atelier. Then, two years after starting his own line in 2003, he banked 100,000 euros as the winner of the Swiss Textile Award, beating out Giles Deacon and Charles Anastase. “I never thought I would even be nominated,” Wijnants told i-D magazine at the time, before proceeding to watch his collection trickle into all of the world’s most respected boutiques and department stores. He was just being modest, of course — the man has unmistakable talent, especially when it comes to his imaginative textiles and knits — but there is something surprising about his success, when you think about it: In a country whose fashion scene skews towards all things experimental, nonconformist, androgynous, and/or dark, the cherub-faced designer is known for both his colorful, feminine aesthetic and his charming geniality. He’s almost too perfect to be cool.
If style is a sore subject for the up-and-coming interior designer Rafael de Cardenas, who bristles at the suggestion that he might have one, a therapist would likely lay the blame on his mother. A Polish-Swiss former fashion PR agent — who with his Cuban father moved the family to New York City when de Cardenas was six — she was constantly redecorating, stripping the house bare every time her tastes changed. “She’s into one thing carried throughout, she can’t mix and match,” says de Cardenas. “So once it’s something new, everything’s gotta go. There was an Armani Casa phase, and now it’s all Native American, with blankets and sand-covered vases from Taos. It scared me away from design to a degree.” After spending most of his childhood wanting to be a doctor, he eventually went to RISD to study fashion and painting, and ended up heading the menswear department at Calvin Klein for three years. But although he admits that interiors were something he never put any thought into back then, design began exerting its slow pull.
When Hamburg-based artist and textile designer Katharina Trudzinski decided to take a second residence in Berlin this spring, she found an inexpensive live-work space on the fringes of the up-and-coming Neuköln neighborhood — the city’s equivalent of Bushwick, Brooklyn — and saved two months’ rent by promising the landlord she’d renovate. But it was imagination, not thrift, that inspired her next move: After stripping the wood paneling from the walls and ceilings and tearing down a few ill-conceived door frames, she began painting the detritus and incorporating it into her sculptural installations and high-relief paintings. Made from constellations of scraps, street finds, and everyday junk cloaked in perfectly calibrated hues, her work — some of which becomes inspiration for the pieces in her clothing line — is meant to dialogue with its surroundings. “It’s not my intent that the materials should be cheap, I just like to use things that are around me,” she says. “I like to start with what I’ve got.”