In the boundless sea of bag options out there, one unisex drawstring option—made from durable Italian wool and with shoulder-pads made from American vegetable tanned leather (and clocking in at less than a pound)—caught our eye. It first garnered attention because of its quality, but its all-too-reasonable price tag of $125 is what begged for further investigation. The No. 3 Cinch Bag led us to young Brooklyn-based brand Proper Assembly—founded by Becky Shim Paguia and Nate Poekert—which launched last September with a core collection of practical, good-looking bags.
“We both saw a void in the market place for products that were made of really high-quality materials, unique and modern design but at an accessible price point,” co-founder Shim Paguia tells CH. “We basically just wanted to create bags that our friends and contemporaries, and ourselves, would appreciate and could easily shop.”
Thus the main inspiration behind the bags’ refined designs, which strip the sportiness that is often associated with functionality, comes directly from friends. “We spent the year before launching asking a lot of questions and observing what types of bags they used and needed the most in their daily commutes to and from work and when hanging out on the weekends,” remembers Shim Paguia. “Then from there, it was about seeking out unique and special materials in Italy and in New York’s Garment District; trying to make sure our materials were functional but also reflected a more sophisticated aesthetic that works whether your style is high fashion or more laid-back.” They’ve nailed down this balance; backpacks have never looked classier.
Proper Assembly is able to offer direct-to-consumer pricing by partnering with a manufacturing facility in the Dominican Republic that’s been making bags and accessories for well-known luxury brands for decades. This means the factory becomes part owner of the brand, requiring a lot of trust on their end that this brand will succeed. “So while the profit they make up front during production is minimal or ‘enough to keep the lights on’ as we call it, it is their belief that as the company grows the dividends they receive in the future will more than make up for it. We were very, very fortunate that our factory believed in us enough to set aside the time and risk to take us on, even though we’re a young startup,” says Shim Paguia.
She continues, “The fact that our factory has been in the same family for three generations and produces bags for other great and inspiring brands just made the decision to work together really easy.” Thanks to this partnership, Proper Assembly is able to cut down on traditional manufacturing mark-up costs yet still produce smaller quanities—something that wouldn’t have been possible by working with them as contractors.
Instead of releasing a wave of new designs every fashion season like tradition dictates, what you can expect from Proper Assembly is a collection where every offering stands out on its own. “We really worked hard to design and develop our inaugural collection of styles—we see them as the foundation of our brand,” says Shim Paguia. “So while we won’t be introducing any new types of bags in the immediate future, we’ve been researching and sourcing other types of fabrics that we can incorporate into our current collection.”
And through a partnership with the non-profit The Adventure Project, with every product sold, Proper Assembly makes specific donations to medical entrepreneurs who are selling basic medicines at affordable prices; the money helps offset the costs of the medical supply bags they use. Overall, The Adventure Project is aiming to end extreme poverty especially in developing regions through creating jobs and building economic growth.
Images courtesy of Proper Assembly, Danny Owens, April Greer and Michael Chan