20 May 2019

She Sells Sea Shells..

A name loaded with intriguing references – Kairi derives both from the Japanese work "kai" meaning "from the sea", and is also named after Greece's first feminist poet and playwright, Evanthia Kairi. The contemporary handbag collection marries style and substance with sustainability and seaside symbolism through expertly crafted pieces which are designed and produced right here in London. I spoke to Kairi's founder and designer, Beatrix, about her main creative inspirations, her favourite sustainable brands at the moment, and what to expect next from Kairi.

how did Kairi begin?
Kairi began when I started my studio last year and left my job at Matches Fashion to go freelance. I was going to originally start a womenswear collection and I just started playing around with certain bag shapes and then researched all sorts of sustainable materials and came up with this really nice bag shape – so I just kind of rolled with it.

why is the shell shape such a prominent design feature?
It’s quite a classic symbol across art and in different cultures and when I was playing around with shapes it looked really beautiful. It’s also a symbol of femininity, beauty and good fortune in different cultures too so it’s a good representation of female power as well.

would you branch into other shapes or do you want to make the shell a signature?
I’ve definitely got some more designs in mind so I think if this kicks off then I’ll start designing some new shapes; maybe sticking to a similar form but I’ve got loads of ideas.

what people, places or things do you cite as your main creative inspirations?
London is a big inspiration because there’s always stuff going on and lots of innovation. I like travelling a lot so just discovering new places and new things is hugely inspirational too. Also, my Grandma had a design business when she was younger in the 60s so I always find that an inspiration.

part of the proceeds of every sale of a bag on your website goes to the Women for Women International charity. why did you decide to work with this charity in particular?
It was always part of the brand’s ethos to give back so ideally I want to have a different charity each year. This one really grabbed my attention because it helps rebuild women’s lives. It’s quite a hands-on charity because they’re on the ground helping women who have no hope to give them skills they need to get jobs and new opportunities.

the brand was only formed this year so as such a new business, what has the main challenge and main highlight been so far?
Challenges have been things like production, so being adaptable whenever there’s a problem or something you wouldn’t even think about that you need to add – that’s definitely been a challenge and learning to take it in your stride has been… interesting. This highlights are that people’s reactions to the brand have been really positive. Customer reactions have been amazing as well, I saw a customer the other day who absolutely loves her bag and it really brings you joy to hear that.

how would you sum up London style with being a London-based brand?
I’d describe it as eclectic, diverse and innovative.

ethical practice and sustainability are hugely important production elements for you, how easy/difficult is it to create sustainable products as a new brand starting out?
I think it’s very difficult, you’ve got to have the attitude that you’re always building and challenging yourself as a designer. You also have to be aware of all the small steps you can make towards being a more sustainable brand; it’s all about heading in a positive direction. That’s why I started with veg tan leather, because it’s a really sustainable material and it’s a bi-product of farming so it’s essentially reusing. We’re also looking into lots of vegan alternative materials as well so it’s looking at all the steps in that progression.

what are some of your favourite sustainable brands right now?
I love Veja trainers, they actually use the same leather as us! I also love vintage and second hand clothing, it’s quite difficult with bags and shoes because you always want that quality but with clothes I love buying vintage and second-hand. Some of the Copenhagen brands like Stine Goya have done some amazing collections and they’re more sustainable so there’s lots of people doing exciting things.

what should we expect to see from Kairi's next collection?
I’m hoping to get the vegan range out this year which I’ve been developing and I’ve got a few new colours but we’re also developing new shapes so I’d say probably next year – 2020 – we’re going to test the water with these and see what happens!