Born and raised in Hawaii, Portland-based Maker Erin Sim developed her appreciation for nature and simple design at an early age. Practical craft became her passion after studying architecture, and in 2014 she directed her attention to bags, launching The Umbrella Collective. Erin’s belief that “synthesis and attention to detail are habitual” is clearly reflected in her work, while her brand exemplifies her desire to “produce quality for the sake of quality.”
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting history behind it?
Not so interesting, I was really just walking around one day thinking of brand names, it was raining and I was holding an umbrella. I like when people ask about it though, [they] always ask if my bags are made out of umbrellas.
Have you always been passionate about design?
Well, I’ve always loved creating things and working with my hands. I remember when I was 6, my friend and I were super into origami, and would see who could engineer the largest origami ball. I also really loved wheel throwing in high school, but I didn’t get into actual design until architecture school.
Why did you start working in this particular craft?
I couldn’t find a job in architecture after graduating. I worked my ass off for 7 years getting my doctorate and couldn’t land a job. It was a really sobering experience. I would freelance here and there, but nothing concrete, so in my off time (I had a lot of it) I taught myself to sew. I would watch tutorials, and look at bags and try to figure out the construction.
What do you think sets your designs apart from others?
I don’t look to set myself apart. The goal is to seek something that is common among everybody. I’m looking for something universal that everyone would be able to value.
Are there any moments of failure that brought insight to your business?
I sacrificed my sanity. No regrets.
What has been your proudest moment since creating your business?
Making a tote on my sewing machine, listing it on Etsy (my first listing), and having someone buy it! Basically anyone that tells me that they find my bags useful in their daily life is so rewarding.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
I am fortunate to live in Portland, where the city thrives on DIY and small businesses.
What are some inspirations for your work?
Japanese contemporary architecture and design.
What are some tips or suggestions you’d like to offer to fellow makers?
Just do it. You learn from everything.