Welcome to another edition of "8 Questions With.....". In this ongoing series,I'm interviewing people who I think make a difference in this world. Be it a artist,writer,political activist or your neighborhood plumber,everyone has a role to play and a voice to share. I hope you enjoy meeting the folks here as much as I did.
Back in California,I was a talent buyer. What is a talent buyer? It means booking bands on a stage. Sounds simple,right? You grab 3 locals,give'em a stage,rake in the cash and become the next Amir Daiza or Bill Graham,right? Not so fast....it takes a certain skill to plop in a demo tape,listen for a sound you're looking for and then try to build a show that will draw a crowd and let people know they can hear great bands for a fair price. I have listened to THOUSANDS of demo tapes over the course of my days and even now will still get a random CD to listen to.
But the best shows I ever booked.....sudden impulse. Seeing a name,a friend asking me to check out a act,seeing a act I had no idea who they were (like seeing Jennifer Charles with my buddy Rob "Sloe"Campbell at the Paradise Lounge when in fact we had traveled up to see D Generation). To stumble across a act no one had really heard of but when they played,they blew EVERYONE's mind. Those were the best shows....
Sort of like how I met one of the most inventive clothing designers I have ever seen,Evon Cassier. I met her while swapping tweets with someone else. She sent out a picture of one her creations and I went and looked. And was blown away by the concept and design of what Evon was doing. She makes handbags out of old clothes,discarded garments,one bag at a time!
I sent Evon a note saying how original and ultracool her handbags and totes were. And my (and yours,dear reader) respect just grew once I found out how she came about her great ideas.From a biochemist to a cutting edge designer?? Talk about a interesting journey.
I'll be posting the links to her business website,Facebook and Twitter so you decide to go Christmas shopping early,you'll know exactly where to go.
I am pretty excited to share this interview with you as I think Evon is going to be a rising fashion star much sooner then later.
And now....8 Questions with handbag/tote designer...............Evon Cassier
IC.: Where were you born and what was growing up in your house like?
EC: I was born in Saigon, Vietnam. My father was an American soldier and my mother is Vietnamese. My first stepdad was a Mexican and my second stepdad (the one I credit for raising me) an Arab. I have 4 siblings. We were the immigrant family in the hood and our household wasn't like most homes. We had our own hodgepodge of traditions, rituals and holidays. I think we were a bit of an oddity in our community because I don't ever remember other kids coming to our house to play. But I don't ever remember wanting to be anywhere else other than with my family. In my mind we didn't fit in anywhere so I wasn't concerned with trying to. It was liberating in a lot of ways because I could be who I wanted to be. I'm grateful for the way I was raised. Because of my parents I have a strong work ethic, respect for others and an real appreciation for the things I have. I've learned to be resourceful or to do without.
Some highlights from my childhood that might give you a glimpse into who I am today include:
Getting a seersucker outfit for my birthday that my mother made. At my party, I taunted our family dog and he trampled me senseless. I ruined the outfit.
Wearing the same outfit to school Monday through Friday, week after week because I liked it (it was tie-dye BTW).
Eating gum off the sidewalk.
Becoming a playground Marble Champion beginning with a single marble that I found.
Fiercely defending my Marble Champion title.
Beating up my best friend because she teased my older sister.
Rallying 8 boys to play tackle football after we were told explicitly not to, then getting paddled by the Principal for doing it. I got 2 swats for my "Bring it on!" attitude.
Getting choked out by my little brother when I attempted to cross the monkey bars with him on my back.
I think I was a scrappy and sassy and independent child.
IC:. You learned to sew at a young age...how old were you and why did you decide to learn what some consider a dying art form?
EC: I did not make a conscious decision to learn to sew. My earliest memories of using my mother's sewing machine was when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I'm certain I jammed something but with 5 kids in the house, I probably lied about it and blamed it on my brother. But I learned quickly and within a few years my sisters and I were experimenting with altering clothes and other fabrics. It's embarrassing to admit but I made a shirt out of a pillowcase that I wore my entire 7th grade year. What I believed to be my expression-of-self through fashion was probably just some sad, odd child in a pillowcase. But I felt empowered to create and that was a good thing. And because of that experience, I teach young girls how to sew in the summer.
IC: How did you go from becoming a biochemist to become a inventive designer and owning your own business? What triggered the change?
EC: My parents came to the U.S. for a better life. It made sense to get a degree in math, science, engineering or something that could provide me with gainful employment. Education in artistic endeavors was never a consideration although we spent a lot of time creating and making and fixing and repurposing. I worked in my field until having children and then I stayed home to raise them.
After being home for 10 years, I knew that I was still a mother first and wasn't yet ready to focus on a new career. Sewing gave me the opportunity and the flexibility to be at home and to meet my kids' needs in a way that was familiar to them. I did not consciously choose to make handbags over anything else I could have sewn. A bag made from a sport coat was the first thing I ever made that I wanted to repeat. I made my first one and loved it so much, I just never stopped.
IC: You lived in Korea for a while....how did you end up there and what did you like/dislike about the experience?
EC:My ex-husband's job took us there for 2 years. I worked there myself for several months before having children but I lived in a hotel, had my meals prepared, my laundry done; I was an extended visitor. Because of my blended family, I have always been comfortable in different cultures. I love them actually. But being a visitor is not the same as living there with small children. I learned exactly which buttons to push to get cash (or not) out of an ATM. I learned that shrimp sticks look a lot like string cheese and can be purchased in bulk; sweetened condensed milk looks like mayo. I learned how to give directions without being able to read street signs, "You know, when you see that guy who sells dried fish...turn right." I learned that a guy who is nearly 7 feet tall (a friend of ours) and cute children with blue eyes (mine) can become an exhibit at the zoo.
I also learned than Koreans are wonderful people with lots of love for small children. I felt welcome and safe there. We embraced our new way of life, explored as much as we could, tasted new foods, and marveled at ordinary things. I thoroughly enjoyed every single experience and I would love to go back.
IC: You stated you took 10 years to raise a family and started sewing garment for all seasons,when did you know that was the direction you wanted to take instead of going back to becoming a scientist? Was there a "aha!" moment?
EC: A stay-at-home mom who has learned to live on one income has a tremendous opportunity when choosing to go back to work. My choices were endless because I did not have the pressures of paying the bills, but I wanted a career that was rewarding, that would work for my family, that I loved, etc. I was almost paralyzed with choice. It wasn't until I went through a horrendous divorce that I had no choice but to figure out how to pay the bills and to be primary caregiver to my kids. There was no "aha" moment. It was more like a "holy sh*t" moment.
Above all else I wanted to be with my kids, to get them through the devastation of a divorce. Sewing, gave me that opportunity but it also came at a price...a home foreclosure, bankruptcy, no health insurance, etc... It was hand to mouth all the time and with a lot of tears. I could have thrown myself into a career outside of the home but I chose the path that was right for my kids and me. I wasn't afraid of having nothing. I grew up that way. I am convinced that the investment I make in my family now will ensure that I have a rich life full of love and people. I'd rather be poor and have someone to smile with every single day than rich and alone.
I am lucky to have turned a passion into a career that works for us. I hope that I inspire my kids to follow their passions too.
IC. Walk us through the creative process,where do you get your materials,how long does it to make each bag,what inspires your design?
EC: Remember in art class as a child when your teacher gave you a part of a picture and you taped it onto blank paper and then you had to draw in the rest around it? I was really good at that. I've always able to see a detail and fill in an image around it. It's the same process when I see a detail on a piece of clothing. I can visualize a bag around that particular detail. I see shapes and textures more than colors and patterns. I'm naturally drawn to straight lines and love the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Eames brothers.
Once I have the vision, I set to work with prototyping. I just dig right in and make it but it takes me about 6-12 times to work out the dimensions and construction details. Once I'm clear on the design and construction, I make my pattern pieces from plexiglass. It allows me to see material through the plexi and to align the details on the pattern. It also means that my pattern pieces are very exacting and nothing is left to chance. That's the scientist in me.
It generally takes about 4-6 hours to make a bag once the design is established. A new design takes weeks to complete.
I'm a big fan of local thrift store shopping. I snag stuff up anytime, anywhere. As my business expands, I'm also now purchasing jackets in bulk from a rag dealer (someone who deals in used clothing).
IC. How long have you had your own business and share with us the emotion when you sold your first item
EC: I started making bags in late 2008 and thought it would be a way to make money. I had no grand visions for a business that could sustain me and my family financially. It wasn't until some time in 2009 when I needed it to be more than a hobby.
The first time I sold a bag I was actually afraid. I was insecure about my abilities and it was almost unimaginable that someone would pay me for my work. But as I've gained more confidence, I'm not nearly as surprised now when I make a sale. I am, however, still grateful for every single purchase and every new opportunity that comes my way. That feeling of gratitude and feeling blessed will never go away.
IC:. If suddenly Evon Cassier Bags took off like hotcakes,how would you meet the demand? After all,your bags are personally sewn together, not massed produced
EC: I currently have 2 part time assistants who help with taking apart jackets and prepping the pieces. I sew everything myself but my assistants are capable of doing more if needed. I've entertained the possibility of hiring out the stitching but quality is extremely important to me. The only way I can see to maintain the meticulousness of my work is to stay intimately involved in the process. As my business grows, I'll hire more assistants to increase my production capacity while maintaining an artisan product.
IC:. Has anyone famous asked/or bought your handbags as of yet?
EC: Everyone who carries one of my bags is famous in there own way. Just ask their mamas.
10. Where do you see Evon Cassier Bags in 5 years?
In 5 years I want to look back on this moment when my business was still young and remember:
Family first. Work second.
Grow slowly and with integrity.
Do more good than harm.
I want to grow my business in a way that is sustainable for my family, for the people and their families that work for me and for the environment. I'd like to have a healthy mixture of retail, wholesale and custom work. The custom work is probably the most fun for me. It allows me to be creative and often it involves a sentimental piece of clothing. I love turning a cherished garment into a bag that helps to preserve a memory for someone.
My thanks to Evon for agreeing to take time off her busy schedule to do this interview.
If you are interested in buying one of Evon's bags or working with her on designing your own bag using your own clothes,you can contact her at the places below. Tell her I sent you and she'll throw in a extra stitch in for free on your purchase!
The photos for Evon's site were taken by Dave White. You can find more of Dave's work at www.davewhitephoto.com
Thanks for reading!
Dayle- Sorry about Noah.