Before Nicole Kwon founded her multi-vendor boutique in Dallas‘ West Village, aptly named the Nicole Kwon Concept Store, she spent time working in fashion design between London and NYC. To meet a need she’s observed in the market, Kwon has now released her own line of luxury handbags, taking into consideration honest sustainability. Crafted in NYC from non-woven Japanese fabrics, KWONN bags are both PVC- and toxin-free and made from plant-based polymers. They’re also beautiful, lightweight and hand-washable.
“I always dreamed of designing an innovative product one day, but it didn’t come to me until about five years ago when I became much more aware of the seriousness of climate change and how it will affect humans, animals, and Mother Nature alike,” Kwon shares with us. “I did some research and realized that output from luxury leather goods accounts for 800,000 tons of toxic waste from chrome-tanning facilities. That waste ends up in our planet’s landfills and waterways every year.” When she’d go to markets to acquire products for her store, Kwon noticed a void in the authentic, sustainable handbag sector and sought to fill it.
“It was imperative to me that the bag I designed was ethically sourced, washable, and durable so people could wear them for life,” she continues, acknowledging many of the ways that handbags end up as waste. Then, sourcing material became a process of trial and error. “I started by going to textile shows in Paris and Italy and ordered sample yardage from many different vegan suede mills while simultaneously explaining my mission to them,” she says. “I carefully dissected how each material was made. I tested washing and wearing the samples for several years over and over again before finding the perfect material in Japan, which was finally up to standard.” As Kwon notes, the fabric is also very soft and luxuriant to the touch.
Kwon has found herself in the position of educator as well as designer. “It is challenging because many vegan leather handbag brands are promoting their brand as ethically made when they are actually not,” she says. “Most of those bags are made with PVC and phthalates which are harmful to humans and to the environment. I do feel the need to explicitly make clear that my collection is both toxin-free and PVC-free so the consumer can make the differentiation.”
With all of these ethical decisions guiding the brand, Kwon admits that the design process that follows is quite personal. “I sketch what I would want in a handbag from an aesthetic and functional standpoint and then I quickly jump into pattern-making and make the samples myself,” she explains. “I personally love a handbag that isn’t too structured and has a bit of a natural drape which I think works well, visually speaking, on a sustainable and Earth-conscious bag. I value the hand and silhouette when it comes to design, so it usually takes several samples before I get it right.”
The colors in KWONN’s debut collection—which range from camel, copper and peach to mint and blue—feel earthy and appropriate. “Last year, I went to Palm Springs and the towering canyons that you always seem to be driving into never cease to move me,” Kwon says. “I created a color palette for this collection inspired by that desert. I love to explore and find myself getting ideas by my surroundings in new places.” Beyond the development of her natural color palette, Kwon’s inspirations grow even more personal. “I have a baby boy and a golden retriever at home,” she says. “They are both a huge inspiration for me on the sustainability front. For me, childlike and animal innocence inspire a drive for environmental preservation.” This sentiment will undeniably resound with many.
Images courtesy of KWONN