A peek inside my design process

People always ask me about the inspiration behind my designs, so I thought I would show you the entire design process from beginning to end.

Step 1 - Inspiration

Inspiration for the Okubo crossbody

It is trite but true that inspiration can come from anywhere - fine art, architecture, travel, nature, even trash - all have been inspirations for my sewing projects throughout the years.  

In the case of the Okubo crossbody, I was inspired by a vintage modernist handbag that I saw pictured in a sewing magazine.  I loved the shape, but wasn't so hot on the rustic, crafty vibe, so I set out to create a sleeker version of the bag.

Step 2 - Cardboard prototyping

Cardboard prototypes of the Saito backpack

The next step is to try creating the shape I have in mind using whatever cardboard or stiff paper I have laying around: manila filing folders to mimic soft leather; discarded Amazon boxes as a stand-in for stiff leather; clear packing tape as stitching.  At this point, I don't sweat the details - the point is to test out variations on the core idea and refine the shape before moving on to the real materials.

For the Saito backpack, I made cardboard prototypes of both portrait and landscape orientations and tested them by hanging them on my mannequin to see if they would be flattering on the body.  I also played around with the flap quite a bit before I finally found a shape I liked (the first iteration made the bag look like a trash can!).

Step 3 - First leather prototype

White Okubo prototype

After that, it's time to move on to making the first prototype using leather (or faux leather).  Picking out the leather and bag hardware is always fun, but there are also numerous other, less obvious choices to be made in terms of construction: what kind of seaming to use, how to give the bag the internal structure it needs to maintain its sculptural shape, how to line the inside and finish the edges.  It can often take two or more prototypes before I get the construction details exactly right.

For the Okubo crossbody, I soon discovered that it wasn't just an envelope bag with the flap pulled sideways.  Changes needed to be made to the interior construction to give the bag its dramatic asymmetrical shape.  After much trial and error, I eventually discovered that the secret was only adding bag stiffener to part of the front of the bag, which allowed the left side to 'twist around' the front.

Step 4 - Testing

Testing the Saito backpack

Once the prototype is done, I use the bag IRL to see if it holds up to the rigors of everyday wear.  This testing process also shows me things I didn't think of during the initial design process.  For example, for the Okubo crossbody, I learned that I needed to add an interior flap to keep things from falling out the left side of the bag, swap out the spike with a more secure closure, and add an exterior pocket that could hold frequently used items like a phone, credit card or subway pass.  With the Saito backpack, I made the bag slightly wider to make it easier to insert and remove a laptop, and changed the closure to something that I could open with one hand while the backpack is hanging off my shoulder.

Step 5 - Final product

Black leather Okubo crossbody

At long last, the final stretch!  After I have made the changes that were prompted by the testing phase, I make the final product, take a bajillion photos of it, and release it!  In reality, a product is never "final" - even after release, the design continues to evolve as I receive customer feedback or think of new color combinations.

As you can see, a lot of trial and error goes into developing each bag, and many ideas never make it to the final stage.  You can see more in-progress photos on my Instagram.

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