November 3, 2015
Who doesn’t love a well-designed bag? If that person is out there, we don’t want to meet them. Becky started Proper Assembly with one of her closest friends, Nate- who also is their brilliant photographer, website designer, and general marketing guru. Proper Assembly is making their way to our New York Fair and boy we cannot wait to meet these bags (and their Makers) in person!
We met in 2009 and we imagined and started the business out of my basement office in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Between the two of us, we pretty much do everything that it takes to run the business ourselves. From designing and coding the website, to styling and producing our photo shoots (shooting and editing to boot), to packing and shipping our products to our dear customers and also consistently making a pass at book keeping.
When I design products for Proper Assembly, I usually start with a basic pen and paper line drawing- and then go straight to prototyping with muslin or whatever scraps I have lying around. Once I get the general proportions and shape right, I then finalize the patterns and the last step for me is making a technical drawing to send to one of our factories. I sort of work backwards because usually my favorite ideas come while I’m sewing or messing around with the shapes of the bag.
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting history behind?
We honestly just started throwing words that resonated with us onto a list, tried various combinations together, and then searched into google for available urls. It’s not very romantic sounding, but Proper Assembly was available on all fronts, and it also happened to connote” the right things. Obviously creating good product, but also emphasizing to us the group or “assembly” of people it took to make our brand a reality. And then the trigram symbol represents Earth, Summer (our favorite season!), Vitality, and also harkens to Nate and I’s Korean heritage.
Have you always been passionate about design?
Yes-! I started as a sculpture major in college, and after moving to New York realized I wanted to work in the fashion sphere and was fortunate enough to be able to attend school in London for leather accessory design. It was the perfect outlet for my preferred method of designing three dimensionally.
When/Why did you start working in this particular craft/field?
I started interning and assisting throughout the whole fashion spectrum in 2006 and after going back to school landed my first job as an accessory designer for a menswear brand that taught me the ropes in production and entrepreneurship.
What do you think sets your designs apart from others?
We try to create bags that are pretty simple and utilitarian, but with detailing similar to what you would find on many luxury brands. I believe our uniqueness is particularly visible in the types of materials we use (like a custom developed water repellent linen/nylon hybrids, and the contrast hand edge painted leather detailing on all of our bags).
What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?
I was fortunate enough to be a first hire for what is now a very successful business so I got to help a brand grow from the ground up and learn how to be comfortable learning all sorts of miscellaneous skills continuously on the go.
Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
We’re a little over a year in business, and we’ve definitely made some mistakes. I have a tendency to want to make fast decisions all the time, and I’ve learned that just because we have the luxury to make quick decisions as a young and lean startup, doesn’t always mean we have to make quick decisions.
Have you sacrificed anything to create your business? If so, what was it, and do you have any regrets?
Savings! More person to person interactions! But I don’t regret those- the only regrets I could have would be mistakes I’ve made- but since I’ve learned from them, I wallow for a minimal amount of time and then move forward.
What has been your proudest/favorite moment since creating your business?
Definitely when Eva Chen emailed me back my first week of pitching the new brand to press, and decided to feature one of our bags in her letter from the editor of the October 2014 issue of Lucky Magazine.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
New York is so much about commuting and being able to seamlessly transition from home, to work, to gym, to social events, to name a few. I really tried to create bags that would function and provide the necessary capacity for a lot of those scenarios and would also look chic and not be an obvious “work”, “gym” or “weekend” bag.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
I never set out with the goal of being my own boss- but it ended up being the best way for me to be able to have my hands on every aspect of the business. While designing products makes me super happy, I also love learning and experiencing multiple facets of the business at the same time.
What are some inspirations for your work?
I am definitely inspired by my friends. And commuters on the subway. I love to see what they are carrying, how do they use straps- does it look like the bag is holding what they need and also complimenting the person’s sense of style at the same time? I also enjoy studying color theory, the contrasting colors found in nature and abstract minimalist artwork.
What are some tips or suggestions you’d like to offer to fellow makers?
I generally always want to or am naturally drawn to thinking about Proper Assembly and how to solve issues or improve our offering. But I’m also pretty good at turning off that part of my brain for a couple hours a day, especially if I’m with friends, and it makes me feel well rounded enough to really enjoy what I do. Especially as a startup, personally, those types of boundaries are really important to prevent a constant threat of anxiety. Also- taking time to celebrate and commemorate the WINS in business, but I’m still working on that.