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Behind The Scenes

Get Inside the Baggu Design Process

A peek inside the Williamsburg office. Ever since its inception, Baggu has been a bi-coastal effort: Joan Sugihara lives in San Diego while her daughter, Emily, is a New York transplant. Today, Baggu—which makes bags that suit left coasters, right coasters, and everyone in between—houses its ten-person team in a clean-and-cool Brooklyn studio, with Joan chiming in from sunny Cali. Here, Emily and creative director Ellen van der Laan tell us how all those colorful Baggu creations—including the first suede pouches exclusive to Of a Kind!—come about. —jiayi ying The stylin’ mother-and-daughter duo circa 1985. On developing new bag shapesEmily: “We usually start with some kind of need—like, ‘Oh, I’ve been trying to find a laptop case, but they’re all hideous. I think we should start making this.’ Then we kick around with an idea for a few months—so it’s all really organic.”Ellen: “There’s a mix between us thinking about a product that we’d like to make and then us talking to Joan about it. She’ll send something that she’s worked on—or, like with our canvas backpack, she just showed up on a visit with one she’d sewn. If something seems useful, we’ll make it.”  A rainbow wall of Baggu creations on display. On their smorgasbord of colorsEmily: “Our color preferences change. We started out with jewel tones—a fuchsia, a deep turquoise peacock, and an olive green. For the last couple years, we’ve been really into neons and clear colors.”Ellen: “And eighties California surf stuff, with all the teal and washed-out pinks.” A bag from Baggu’s second go-around with No.6. On those silly-good collaborationsEmily: “No.6 just called our 800 number—they wanted to order bags for their store. I didn’t know who they were and was just like, ‘Uh, I don’t know. You have to meet our minimums.’ Everyone who knew was like, ‘They’re so cool—just be nice to them!!!’”Ellen: “Shabd was actually someone Emily’s dad saw on Martha Stewart, and told Joan about. Joan thought we might be friends with her. We ended up getting in touch with Shabd, and she dyed the bags with colors within our palette.” Shopping for suede for their first Of a Kind edition. On their move to leatherEmily: “For a while, I was carrying the nylon Baggus like a purse—I loved carrying my own stuff, but I also liked having a nicer purse. So we thought, ‘This shopping bag would look so cool made out of leather.’ We hadn’t worked with leather before—it’s extremely variable. It’s not like canvas where you weave it to a set width, and every bag’s the same. The pouches come from the scrap piece you get from cutting out the neck of the bigger bag—we design all our patterns in a way that minimizes material use.” Get ready to die for Baggu’s latest leather edition, a rad color-blocked bucket bag!
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A Very Baggu Friendship

It started with two: Emily Sugihara and her mom, Joan, hatched the idea behind Baggu in 2007, made a prototype, and put off worrying about the overall look and feel of their line-to-be. When it came to doing all that branding stuff, they enlisted the help of Emily’s childhood friend, Ellen van der Laan, who, armed with a graphic-design degree from RISD, became the third musketeer and has been shaping the line’s aesthetic ever since. Here, Emily and Ellen take us back to the first day they met and the American Girl doll-loving crafts club they ran—all with the kind of humor that comes with knowing someone since before she can tie her shoes. —jiayi ying Seven-year-old Ellen (left) with Emily and her pet bunny Velveteen. Ellen: “We’ve known each other since we were three. We are both from San Diego and met at this cooperative nursery school at UCSD where half the students were kids of international visiting faculty, and the other half were kids from the community.”Emily: “My parents and I just moved back from Japan at that time. I’m a quarter Japanese and born in Tennessee, so I’m not international by any means. But I have a Japanese last name—so my parents didn’t really say what was going on, and I got in with the international group.”Ellen: “That picture is from around second grade. I got a bunny for my seventh birthday and named him Velveteen.” Sewing away at their American Girl extravaganza. Emily: “In third grade, one of our moms organized a sewing-based crafts club. I remember really being into tiny, OCD stitches—my mom would be watching me and going, ‘Smaller! Smaller!’”Ellen: “I think half of mine were half-finished. I was into getting distracted. For our holiday craft, we made clothes for our American Girl dolls—”Emily: “—while wearing matching clothes.”Ellen: “We were very into dressing like fancy period activists.”Emily: “And we had relatives weird enough to buy us matching outfits with our dolls. But my mom was really gung-ho about helping me make stuff—she taught me how to sew in kindergarten. We sewed this quilt that I designed for nap time—it had pastel flower pebbles everywhere. I think Ellen and I were both raised to value making things as a great thing to do, and a great way to spend your time.” In their Brooklyn-based office today. Emily: “After college I got a job designing for J.Crew.”Ellen: “I worked at Laird+Partners—this ad agency that had mostly fashion clients. When Baggu started, I was at MAC Cosmetics, designing windows and in-store graphics and doing lookbook and product photography. I designed the Baggu logo for Emily in trade for this coat she had that I wanted. Still have the coat.”Emily: “It’s a good coat. I still have the logo. The first creative disagreement we had was on whether the logo should be uppercase or lowercase. Ellen thought it looked more expensive in uppercase. She was right.” This dynamic duo did it again with a leather bucket bag you NEED for fall!
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