In anticipation of issue six’s studio visit to Cockpit Arts, and our pop-up at the upcoming Cockpit Arts Winter Open Studios we headed over to the award winning social enterprise at their studios in Central and South London to meet some more makers. In this interview we meet designer and leather worker Candice Lau and find out more about her brand KuKu Big Bag.
Can you share a little about your background before you started your own business?
I grew up in Australia and had moved to London for a design job in advertising and digital production 6 years ago. I was fortunate enough to work in a brilliant digital agency where my boss and colleagues really supported my interest in craft and design. My boss even gave me an industrial sewing machine for Christmas one year! During my time there, I started working on my own leather bag/accessories brand. Through various circumstances, I eventually moved to Amsterdam for a year and this is where my craft really grew and became a business. It is here where I found my first stockist and realised that this could work as a business. I broke away from digital design at this point and eventually took this new brand/business back to London.
Can you share the process of creating your bags? And how do you select the material you use?
The bags and accessories from the ‘Kuku Big Bag’ collection are individually handcrafted using veg-tanned Italian cow hide and traditional methods of saddle stitching. The collection is fundamentally contemporary designs meet traditional techniques of production. The leather is bought in London, yet sourced from the region of Tuscany, Santa Croce. I chose to maintain this slow way of production despite the much more efficient way of making by using a machine because this form of craftsmanship of hand stitching ensures a much stronger and refined finish. Most of the bags are made to order hence they are often customised for each client.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve encountered running your business so far? And the greatest achievement?
For me, the biggest challenge is definitely the promotional side of running my business. While social media has played a large role, I found that the most important and fundamental part 0f building brand awareness is developing strong relationships with current clients and peers. Word of mouth has definitely been the most successful for me whether it is selling a bag from my collection, a one-off bespoke piece, or larger orders for bigger companies. My greatest achievement to date has been a domino effect of firstly being approached to demonstrate my leatherwork at Heals, to being asked to run an exclusive leather workshop for a group of interior stylists with them. It was here where I met someone from House and Garden magazine which led to the design and production of two bespoke leather backpacks for their September 2016 issue.
Tell us about how Cockpit Arts have been a part of your work.
My relationship with Cockpit Arts has been quite serendipitous. During an interview with Visa Japan a couple of years back, the interviewer accidentally dropped a business card of a shoe maker from Cockpit Arts. I went on to discover this particular maker was a winner of the Leathersellers/Cockpit Arts award. With one week left to the deadline, I immediately applied for the award. To my surprise, just three weeks later, I was told I have received the award for 2015.
I have now been at Cockpit Arts for almost two years and it has undoubtedly brought my business to another level. The business support team has been fundamental to helping me take my startup creative business to a more professional level, preparing me for bigger clients and ensuring that I continue on the direction of reaching the bigger goals. Being a community of designers and makers whom have successfully created sustainable creative businesses has really inspired and motivated me to keep build my own brand.
I’ve never envisioned myself to be able to create my own collection of leather bags and accessories, having studied with some of the most talented designers. However, over the past few years, I have learnt to understand what I am good at doing, and accept the thing I am not. While I have identified my passion for design and leatherwork, I have also come to realised that I have quite a strong entrepreneurial side. Hence, this naturally led me in the direction of creating my own brand and business.
My biggest dream for the future is to grow and have a sustainable business and be positioned amongst other design led brands, which means a brand that one can immediately recognise as ‘Kuku Big Bag’. This includes collaborating with bigger brands to design and produce leather products. And to get there, it would be absolutely amazing to study for 3 months in Florence and learn from the best leather workers in the world!
What does ‘a well made life’ mean to you?
To me, ‘a well made life’ is when you have discovered what you love in life and that you get to wake up everyday to do that. I feel that I have been very fortunate to have found my love and passion for design and leatherwork. To be able to wake up everyday and work on my business, design and produce bags and having the support from clients and peers who enable me to continue this work is really a great thing. We can’t always fulfil every aspect of our lives to the fullest but I think having at least one thing is important. If you then have the means to live well, eat well, and sleep well, I would say ‘a well made life’ is one that enables you to travel and see the world, let it inspire you and let the things you’ve discovered inspire your creative output.
Top image courtesy of Alun Callender for Cockpit Arts
By Morgan Hamilton-Griffin | Editor-in-Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Meet KuKu Big Bag and 170 makers at the Cockpit Arts Christmas Open Studios | Hoborn – 24 – 27 November | Deptford – 2 – 4 December | More information http://cockpitarts.com/shop-cockpit/open-studios/