Handled with Care

The Woven Bags to Tote

The essential summer bag gets an artisanal makeover

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An undeniable summer staple, oversized raffia totes and straw basket bags offer up an easy, carefree attitude – but this year, a new wave of brands are creating exceptional handmade accessories that also give back to the communities around them. Delve into their stories right here…

California-based label KAYU was founded by Jamie Lim, who grew up in South East Asia surrounded by artisanal crafts. “My parents had these gorgeous rattan chairs in their dining room and would wear hand painted batik clothes,” Lim tells us. “I moved to the US for university but would often travel back to Asia. While I was there I would seek out gifts to bring back to America but found it increasingly hard to find the type of things I grew up with. I noticed that these crafts were slowly but surely disappearing and being replaced by cheap, mass-produced alternatives. I started KAYU (meaning "wood" in Malay) as a way to preserve and promote South East Asian artisanal crafts as well as provide jobs for the artisans.” Today, Lim and her all-woman team harvest, strip and dye real straw by hand before the effortlessly cool batik bags are woven by communities around the Philippines.

Maria Kemp combined her passions of travelling and experience of volunteering at the Children’s Institute to launch Creative Hands Transforming Lives, a social fashion project that builds bridges between communities and consumers. Brazilian accessories brand Nannacay quickly followed, offering vibrant woven bags handmade by artisans in Peru. “I wished to build a legacy to the world,” Kemp says, “to impact people’s lives positively and leave something for them.” Overseen by Kemp, every piece is unique, unassuming and unafraid of colour. “The difference between Nannacay and other fashion brands is that it isn’t just about fashion – the aim is to transform people’s lives. The women who buy my bags admire simplicity and beauty, and also want to give back to society. It’s a story of compassion.”
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The first Montunas bags were born 25 years ago on a cattle ranch on the coast of Costa Rica, when busy mother Elke Ruge began creating practical, stylish pieces inspired by the country she loved. Today she has teamed up with her two daughters, Amanda and Elena Hawila, to share her designs with the world and celebrate their Costa Rican and London homes. “Montunas means ‘women from the mountains’. It comes from a nickname given to our mum as a young girl growing up on a coffee plantation in Costa Rica - she was a tomboy, always climbing trees and playing in the wild,” the Hawila sisters tell us. “Our production has grown substantially, but we are passionate about creating a personal relationship with everyone we work with.”
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Sensi Studio
Sensi Studio was launched by Stephany Sensi in 2010 as a design and product lab inspired by the craftsmanship of the local artisans of Ecuador – the designer’s place of birth. From authentic Panama hats to playful totes and bucket bags, every piece is handmade by female artisans in the Andean region: “Sensi Studio prides itself in working in a close environment of social responsibility with their artisans and their craft, working mostly with woman artisans in the Andean region,” Sensi revals. “We provide work and fair remuneration for the development of their communities.” Many of the brand’s designs use a classic Toquilla straw weave, updated with contemporary details, for a whimsical, idiosyncratic finish that can take as long as two or three days to perfect.
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Dragon Diffusion
In the Year of the Dragon, 1985, designer Craig Wright launched his own brand – Dragon Diffusion. Today he employs a team of artisans to create beautifully effortless woven leather bags. “South India has a very rich and old tradition of hand weaving,” Wright reveals. “In the ‘70s, a man from Croatia came to Madras and started hand weaving leather with local women weavers in the area. We have continued this tradition and I work with a very close team of master weavers who I have been with for more than 25 years. All of my designs are inspired by traditional basketry techniques and forms. My focus is to make every design pure and simple to bring out the artistic feel and texture of the weaving motif.”
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