Jamie Lim is the founder and designer of Kayu, a San Francisco-based accessories label of eco-minded sunglasses and handbags. A childhood in Hong Kong coupled with extensive travels that stretch from Vietnam and Chiang Mai, to Bali and the Philippines, exposed Lim to a wide variety of artisan craftwork. In 2008, Kayu was born out of her desire to preserve these traditional techniques while supporting artisans abroad. The blend of their fine handiwork and Lim’s eye for color and shape creates Kayu’s unexpected products that have graced the pages of Vogue and Elle and the shelves of Nordstrom and Holt Renfrew.
How did Kayu begin? What was your motivation behind preserving the traditional techniques of an artisanal craft?
I traveled a lot as a teenager and in my early 20s and was really affected by the immense poverty, but also great riches I witnessed. It just didn’t make sense to me that so many people could live so well yet so many people didn’t even have drinking water. I thought, there must be a better way than this because this way just isn’t working any more. I started Kayu with a vision for a company where social and environmental goals were equally as important as profit. The fashion part came to me when traveling through Asia – I noticed how difficult it was to find handmade, artisanal products. It was then that I connected the dots and realized that by harnessing the artistic talent in Asia not only could I help to preserve my cultural heritage but could also help provide jobs.
What does the name mean?
The name means “wood” in Indonesian.
Where are your bags produced?
All over Southeast Asia including Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Can you describe the delicate process of producing one of your bags?
All of our products are handcrafted out of natural materials like straw, shell and wood, by artisans. Each product is made using indigenous techniques that have been passed down through the generations and take many days to make. So many things these days are mass-produced in soulless factories. Our products are the exact opposite – they are made in limited batches and entirely by hand.
Take for example a wood and straw clutch. First the wood is carved to the exact specifications, soaked in water and then dried in a kiln. The wood is then sanded and polished until it is smooth. Meanwhile, straw is being woven by hand to be eventually placed on the wood mold. The process can take more than three weeks to complete.
What has been your most exciting travel venture thus far? Was there a certain bag born from that trip?
This year I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Bali and Paris – two places that I love. These two very different but equally charming destinations directly inspired our “travel” series.
Would you describe your brand as part of the sustainable fashion movement?
We don’t like to be labeled but we do strive to do things in as sustainable a way as possible. For us, sustainability is not only about using natural materials but also about how the goods are produced. We work with artisans and families to produce our bags – not only preserving their cultural heritage, but also providing them with jobs.
What education and health initiatives do you support through your company?
We donate 2 percent of each sale towards the non-profit organization Awareness Cambodia to help buy backpacks and school supplies for children in rural Cambodia.
How did you become involved with Maison de Mode?
We were thrilled when Amanda and Hassan invited us to be a part of Maison de Mode. We are big fans of the other designers involved in the project and of Amanda and Hassan’s work. Maison de Mode introduces ethical fashion to an audience that isn’t necessarily interested in sustainability. The quality of the design speaks for itself – the ethical components are a bonus.