INTERVIEW | Selina Cheong: Luxury Handbag Designer

14.11.12

Selina Cheong S/S 13 Collection
SELINA CHEONG greeted me at her door in a second-hand Gharani Strok Dress, which matched her personality to the T. It was bohemian, yet chic, and told of an easiness that one covets in a friend. I first met Selina Cheong at Ecoluxe's Showroom during London Fashion Week S/S'13, whilst perusing the plethora of ethical designers and their merchandise. They were luxurious, elegant, and fun all at the same time, with a serious craftsmanship to be reckoned with.
She offered me some green tea before taking a tour of her home, which was a juxtaposition between modern fixtures and vintage and repurposed accents. Her house, which she owns with her partner, is filled with repurposed items, from the old newspapers that once insulated the walls and floors which are now works of art, to the beautiful stain glass window which now reflects a spectrum of colourful rays into the house. Even her rug told a story of her consideration for the objects she surrounds herself with--a vegetable tanned Persian rug, which left me wanting one of my very own. After showing me the other repurposed and upcycled items in her home, we walked up another flight of stairs to her home studio for an initial look around and a chat about what led her into designing luxury bags.

Taken by Stacy H. [iPhone]
As we talked about her bags, she took me through her current and previous collections, which did not disappoint. She even took out a light metallic piece of leather, which she revealed was vintage Chanel that she found in a warehouse in France. I found myself drawn to all of them as her bags range from work suitable to party perfect. The range of leathers--ranging in the most striking colours and textures--did not hurt as well, which gave her consumers a variety as well as a chance to have a bespoke bag.
Now, I was in her studio drinking her tea and exchanging stories about our other halves. We found shared interests in many things, which momentarily made me forget why I was really there. The Interview. What follows is further insight into Selina Cheong's world as a luxury bag designer, her sustainable ethos, which makes her bags aesthetically and ethically pleasing, and what inspires this small business owner to keep on pushing towards a more sustainable way of approaching fashion and accessories.

Selina Making the Black Taylor Bag

TCC: How would you define Selina Cheong the brand?
SC: I would define my brand as luxurious, functional and of high quality. More importantly, my bags are meant to be timeless with a slight edge to them. 

TCC: What inspired you to get into accessories, and to engage in such a creative profession?
SC: When I did my work experience I was often sent out to factories, and that was when I was attuned to how textiles were made. I found it so interesting that I switched from pattern-making to accessories and textiles. I liked the physicality of the materials and as a result I was drawn towards my current career.
My mother has also been one of my biggest inspirations. In Malaysia, where she is from, she grew up reusing items and never throwing away. She took an old CD rack and placed it in the ground to grow plants and produce. She doesn't follow any particular guidelines, which inspires me to continue pushing myself to be creative and always seeing the possibilities in things [much like the old stain-glass Selina and her boyfriend found online and repurposed into an indoor fixture].

TCC: What materials do you use?
SC: For AW Season I use vegetable tanned sheep leather and for SS Season I used calf leather, which is a by product material. 

TCC: Do you use eco-leather or vegan leather? 
SC: I am not a fan of these leathers as they break down easily. You tend to see cracks early on and as a result these leathers are not long-lasting. In addition, I do not find eco-leather to be that much better than using animal leather as to make eco-leather involves more energy, whereas leather is a by-product.
TCC: What makes this brand an ethical one?
SC: I try to source all of my leathers locally, and use sustainable tanneries with proper water filtering systems. I am always aware of where my materials come from, and try to use end-of the line materials which are often discarded or left sitting in a warehouse for years as well as high quality leathers.

TCC: Why are sustainable practices important?
SC: It is necessary if we wish to take care of our planet. We are over-consuming, which is taking a toll on the planet's resources, which is why sustainable practices need to be the norm. In order to do this it not only needs to be on the designers' minds, but also on the consumers, who need to shop differently, and take more consideration for the items that they buy. 

TCC: What are the challenges you have faced as an Ethical Handbag Designer?
SC: One challenge is that there are not enough ethical tanneries in the UK. This makes it difficult to source ALL of my materials locally, so I have to look outside of the UK (to places like the USA) for some of my leathers. Also, as a small business it is difficult to find a factory that deals with small quantities, especially one that follows an ethical guideline.

TCC: Why have you not blatantly labelled yourself as an "Ethical" or a "Sustainable" Handbag Designer?
SC: "Sustainability" and "Ethical" should not be unique selling points, but THE norm (and not just A norm). It makes it sound as if I am doing is just because I want it to be my USP. My USP is that this is a luxurious, functional and timeless handbag. I just happen to be using ethical processes to make my designs realised.

TCC: You mentioned that you wish to slow down the consumer. How do you try to "slow" down fashion through your designs?
SC: To do this I keep my designs the same [Selina uses a series of set designs], but change the colours and the leathers. By changing these, especially the leather, it changes the character and even the shape of the bag. This is my way of slowing down fashion as it makes people look at items with more consideration.

TCC: What is the price range of your handbags?
SC: The range from £59 for the small purses to around £450* for the larger pieces.
TCC: How can people get a hold of a Selina Cheong bag?
SC: I am currently having my website developed, so at the moment people can contact me at mail@selinacheong.com to purchase a bag. They can shop from the collections, or have a bespoke bag made from one of the patterns, but with different coloured or printed leathers and lining. I like to work closely with my clients, so I send them samples of the leathers and lining, so that they can be involved in the design process.

TCC: What would be your ultimate goal for the brand?
SC: To have my own factory where I can manage the entire supply chain. Izzy Lane raises her own sheep and is in charge of her entire supply chain, which is very exciting and inspiring.

TCC: Where can our readers find you next?
SC: Well, I'm doing a few Christmas fairs, because I get to use the excess materials I have. I was at SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS in Olympia and the EAST LONDON DESIGN SHOW in December.


Taken by Stacy H. [iPhone]
So what's in store for Selina Cheong? We took a walk to the studio she shares with a community of designers and craftsman where she explained her plan to take her brand to Asia. She had just sent her bags to Taiwan for a British Trade Show and had just completed a bag for a client in India.  


GETTING PERSONAL
Taken by Emma J.

Where were you born
Harrow, UK
Where do you live now?
Holloway, London
PROFESSION (s)
Freelance designer/ maker/ consultant and also owner and designer maker of my own brand of leather accessories
Birthday
4th November
How would you describe your personal style?
Classic and comfortable with a bit of creativity
What are your favourite shoes? 
Trainers to run around the studio in
How do you style your hair? 
I would use the word "style" loosely here - its messy and tied up with a grab clip
What Fashion Tip do you live by?
don't think seasonally - just adapt summer clothes with layers for the winter.
Favourite city, and why?
Barcelona - vibrant, historical and great food!
Favourite place to shop?
Charity shops
Favourite vacation spot?
Singapore and Malaysia - it reminds me of childhood holidays and my parents
Favourite Food?
I love food so it's difficult to pinpoint one but because I can't access it easily I would say Malaysian and Singaporean food
Favourite Drink?
Sans Alcohol: chrysanthemum tea
Avec Alcohol: dark rum and ginger
Favourite Movie?
The Sound of Music or Mary Poppins - I love Julie Andrews
Favourite Band?
Justice
Favourite Book?
The Witches Roald Dahl
Favourite Designers?
Céline and Marni
Style Icon?
Chloë Sevigny
Last Festival Visited and Verdict?
Bestival. It was Amazing! 
First thing you do in the Morning?
Put on my glasses
Last thing you do before bed?
Check my phone for emails
What are you obsessed with at the moment?
EBAY
Personal Motto?
Don't take life too seriously
What is your dream jobs?
Working in the jungle with monkeys, being a forensic scientist, being a carpenter, studying ecosystems and of course what I do now - work with leather.

CONTACT SELINA CHEONG via Email mail@selinacheong.com or Twitter @selinacheong

ALL PHOTOS [UNLESS OTHERWISE SPECIFIED] HAVE BEEN TAKEN BY EMMA J. 

*The previous figure written in this post was  £900, which has now been amended to  £450

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