Based in timeless style and innovative design, the KACYYOM collection presents a fresh mix of handcrafted Italian leather handbags that transcend seasons. Designer Kacy Yom offers bold, yet effortless pieces inspired by her Korean heritage. The debut collection, named Soh-Lee, is deeply rooted in traditional Korean design details including bright colors and simple lines. We sat down with founder, Kacy for a quick catch up.
How did KACYYOM begin?
My debut collection is heavily inspired by my lifelong search for the “perfect bag” that could easily transition from day to evening. It was important to me that every bag in the KACYYOM collection featured structured elegance and functionality. Women today lead busy lifestyles and its essential for them to have the ability to wear their handbag in multiple ways. Our product line helps women fill that void and customize their look without compromising their style.
I have been collecting bags for as long as I can remember, and my passion eventually led me to open a boutique handbag shop called Arm Candy in Seattle’s historic Ballard neighbourhood. Having travelled to many parts of the world, from South America to Southeast Asia and Europe, my roots and travels inspired the shelves of Arm Candy. With the success of the store concept, another passion emerged: a desire to design my own handbag line. I wanted to design a handbag that was versatile and classic, elegant yet sturdy in its structure. The KACYYOM collection debuted in Fall 2017.
Have you always been interested in fashion?
I grew up in a family of women who coveted designer handbags and learned to see them as beautiful works of art. From a very early age I would notice the subtle design details and gravitate toward bags with color. As I got older I started collecting bags and noticed that I would receive compliments whenever I would carry a colorful bag. I developed an interest in fashion over time and my style continues to evolve every day. In terms of personal style, I prefer a minimalist look with a colorful handbag or bright pair of shoes. I’ve learned that it’s the accessories that often make (or break) a look.
What have been the highest and lowest points on your journey so far?
Operating independently has provided many benefits, in particular that I have full control of the design and manufacturing process. There are so many aspects of handbag design, far more than I ever appreciated prior to working through the physical construction with factories, but the reward is worth it. Being able to see the products that I design on real people and witness how they style it to make it their own is an incredible experience.
There were unexpected challenges at every step of the process, and admittedly, my (obsessive) attention to detail did not necessarily help accelerate the process. With my background in User Experience design, switching from the virtual world to the physical meant speaking an entirely different language, in addition to translating much of my communications into Italian to work with my factory and suppliers. It wasn’t easy, but it was well worth the journey to get it right. Eventually, I hired a technical designer to help me bridge the gap between my designs and the technical specifications required to enable high-end manufacturers to produce my line.
What was the inspiration behind your latest collection?
KACYYOM handbags are inspired by traditional design as well as playful innovation. I like to keep my designs simple but with delightful small touches that make each bag special. I immigrated from South Korea at age 10. Growing up as a Korean American, I embrace and honor my Korean heritage and try to balance that in harmony with what’s new and modern. By combining these contrasting elements, I create interesting dynamics and balance in my design. The silhouette of my bags is structured and masculine, balanced by softer lines and classic colors. I believe the contrasts of these makes the bags even more sophisticated.
Do you ever struggle to stay inspired?
I find inspiration everywhere. Sometimes I get spontaneous ideas in random places or conversations. Sometimes I simply drop everything and take a break. If I need to create mental space while I’m in the design process, I usually go for a long run, hop in the car for a drive, or cook up a storm. I learned how to hand roll pasta from scratch in Florence.
Where is your go-to meeting spot?
I have an art studio that overlooks South Lake Union where I meet with my team members on regular basis. This is where I sketch and conceptualize design into paper mock-ups and patterns. This is where we also do our photo shoots for the brand.
How would you describe your customer base?
Our customers are conscious of timeless, classic works, and more likely to buy a product that benefits society or the environment. Our customers are women who embody what KACYYOM represents: simplicity and elegance.
Is there anyone you would love to see wearing your designs?
Cate Blanchett. I get goosebumps thinking of her role in Elizabeth Queen of England. She’s an incredibly dynamic and talented actress. I admire women with elegance and smarts but most importantly self-confidence.
What are the morals you run your brand by?
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” - Leonardo Da Vinci
Do you have a mentor?
Yes, I seek out advice from my business partner (the left brain of our business) and my team members who are multi-talented and creative in so many ways that I am not. I always appreciate their input and feedback.
What apps keep you sane?
Doodle. It saves hundreds of text messages and conversations when I'm trying to find a date that suits everyone!
If you could only wear one piece from your collection, what would it be and why?
I love the Cho-Rong crossbody in black pebbled leather. I can pack all my essentials and carry it everywhere I go and also easily convert it into a clutch for evening. Being an avid traveler, I like to keep things simple and light when I’m walking around.
What’s the biggest style mistake you’ve ever made?
I had countless prototypes built by many different factories around the world before finally finding our manufacturing partner in Italy. Some of the key requirements for our manufacturer were quality and craftsmanship, sustainability and factory working conditions. In hindsight, many of the sample bags in various styles built by previous factories were mistakes. It just required me to keep persevering through these mistakes to perfect all five styles of my debut collection with the right manufacturer.
Is there another designer whose work you particularly admire?
Anya Hindmarch’s nostalgia-driven playful luxe handbags. She is a brilliant designer and business women who managed to embody a sense of pop art in this digital culture.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My father escaped North Korea during the Korean war in the 1950’s and brought our family to America in the early 80’s. He taught me to never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. I’ve always lived by what he said and as a result, I believe that anything is possible.
What drew you to Wolf & Badger?
We care about the design process of making handbags just as much as we care about the working conditions in which our bags are made. KACYYOM is proud to work with a leather tannery in Northern Italy which has been in business for over 50 years. They produce high quality leathers while minimizing the impact on the environment during the production process using a variety of recycling methods and eco-friendly practices. We want to continue to partner and build relationships with like-minded people throughout the supply chain and Wolf & Badger was a natural fit for us.
Where do you see the brand in 5 years?
We’ve experienced amazing growth over the past six months and look forward to keeping that momentum going. In addition to adding new styles to the line we also plan on testing additional retail channels including international online boutique platforms that can help expand our business.
We hope to retain a direct relationship with our customers whenever possible. Working primarily through our online sales channel is certainly challenging for a product like a luxury handbag, but we intend to continue investing in this approach, to maintain our direct connection with customers and deliver affordable luxury products in five years.