10 Questions For Wicker Wings
Image: Wicker Wings
Wicker Wings is a UK based brand with vital roots in Chinese culture. Founders James and Belinda Yu are reigniting our passion for artisanal woven handbags. We spoke to them about how they found inspiration in their cultural heritage.
Launched in 2014, Wicker Wings is the brainchild of siblings Belinda and James Yu. Growing up in Manchester in a Chinese family meant that their cultural references were a melting pot. When they discovered that their beloved Grandmother had hand woven wicker baskets in China before coming to the UK, they wanted to preserve this precious craft. Between them they have created a cult bag brand, loved by influencers like Brittany Bathgate and Lucy Williams. The essence of the brand is rooted in their culture but also their ethical passions.
The Vendeur – Can you tell us more about your childhood and working background and how it influenced you to begin Wicker Wings?
Wicker Wings – Growing up we were split between English and Chinese culture. Our home was dominated by our Chinese roots, but at school our friendship groups were very English. It was quite a difficult and confusing period in terms of culture. I think most British born ethnic children share this same experience. But as you grow older, you learn to appreciate diversity and embrace your differences.
When we started and as we continue to tell our story, our products and everything we do has an element of our Chinese culture. Whether this be the name of the product or a campaign that we shoot. We are proud of our Chinese background and want to continue to echo our origins.
Both of us come from business backgrounds, we collectively studied Economics and International Business. But since an early age, we have always had an eye for design and fashion. All the handbags are designed by the both of us. Our business backgrounds have given us the foundation to keep the business going. Although we place a lot of importance on design and product, it is only a quarter of what it takes to run a business. We’re still learning.
TV – How old is the weaving method used by your Grandmother and was it so important to you to keep this alive?
WW – It is hard to pin point exactly when weaving began – we are talking centuries ago. For us, in this ever changing fast paced world we live in, it’s important to keep certain techniques and traditions alive. Most of our artisans come from very small villages without any real education just like our grandmother. By shining light on this incredible art, we provide an income for our artisans.
TV – Where do you source your materials?
WW – Our rattan is sourced from the Philippines, hand woven in China and sent to our studio in England. We use the highest quality Italian vegetable tanned leather with Italian hardware.
“We are proud of our Chinese background and want to continue to echo our origins. There is an element to our Chinese culture in everything we do.” – Belinda & James Yu
TV – How is the rattan for the baskets planted and harvested?
WW – The rattan seeds are planted, nurtured and harvested once the plant gets to around 6 ft tall. It is then processed by handwoven techniques to trim it down to the desired width.
TV – Can you tell us more about the way your leather is tanned?
WW – Our vegetable leather is tanned at our Italian tannery. Vegetables, bark and other natural materials are tanned together in the process of producing the leather. We avoid using chemicals like chromium sulphates that are normally used to produce chrome tanned leather, which can be found in a lot of handbags in the market.
TV – Your bags are handmade, how closely do you work with the factories and artisans that create each bag?
WW – In terms of the woven body, we have gone full circle with the origin of our artisans in that the they are from the same village our grandmother grew up in. Once they’re ready they are sent to be assembled at our studio with all the imported materials. Our office and studio are literally next to each other, so we are able to oversee each bag. We can address any problems that we come across and we are constantly finding new ways to improve the quality.
TV – Why is it so important to you to create your bags sustainably?
WW – We all know the sheer size of the fashion industry and the impact it has on our planet. For us, every bag we create we ask where the materials are sourced and comprised of – it’s important for us. We’re in this polluting industry and it’s our way of giving back.
“We have gone full circle with the origin of our artisans in that the they are from the same village our grandmother grew up in.” – Belinda & James Yu
TV – Why do you think woven bags have become so popular in the last few years? And what makes Wicker Wing’s unique?
WW – Jane Birkin and Audrey Hepburn popularised woven bags in the 60s, 70s and they have been a go to Summer accessory. However recently it has become more of a staple item. Our bags transcend between seasons and our designs and materials used are more seasonless than others. A WickerWings bag is not just another woven bag. Not only do we use the finest quality rattan and the highest quality Tuscan vegetable tanned leather, it’s all handmade at our small studio in England. Importantly each bag is a physical representation of our grandmother’s past. A symbol of real artisanal skill that cannot be replaced by machinery – this is so important to us.
TV – How do you go about designing a new collection. Does it begin with an inspiration or with your materials?
WW – In the beginning of our design, we try to showcase how diverse the woven technique is and what different modern design we can build it into. We’re constantly thinking about what situation the WickerWings woman would wear it in. For us, we like architectural, structured design and we find the balance between timelessness and playfulness.
TV – Who is the Wicker Wing’s woman?
WW – Our woman is international. She is well travelled. She dresses up as well as down. She is an individual who is conscious of trends but does not follow them. She is a conscious consumer who wants to know the stories and processes behind every bag.
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