Inspiring Conversations

Hey Handsome, What’s in the Bag?


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On their site it says that Billy’s a designer/lawyer with a taste for the outdoors and the Arts while Joseph’s a guy who seeks adventure when he isn’t being a architect/designer. Amongst the many hats that they don, the creative duo are primarily the passionate creators, if not trendsetters behind Handsome Bag Co., a Hong Kong based company that reuses discarded parts of Hong Kong’s taxis and transforms them into urbane, stylish accessories like bags, iPhone sleeves and cases for sunnies and spectacles. Do a double take if you must, but what you see is what you get!

Penny C chats with Handsome Bag Co.

Billy (L) and Joseph (R) working out in the sun.

Handsome Bag Co. engage the help of Hong Kong’s NGOs (non-governmental organisations) to create these spiffy fashion embellishments for the modern snazz and subsequently, providing jobs for those who need it – a favourable cycle that’s making a rewarding difference in cosmopolitan Hong Kong. It may sound entirely unfathomable right now but trust us, we’re on to something good.

Inspired by the unconventional, discover how Billy and Joseph first ignited this raging spark called Handsome Bag Co. Carry on and find out how everything else they stood for has evolved into something much more than fashion/design and has taken on a new role in embracing  social responsibility.

Talk us through everything! Why and how did Handsome Bag Co. all happen?

We’ve known each other since childhood but we never spoke until after college. Billy got hired to do some writing for a women’s lingerie magazine – Joe waltzed into the meeting 30 minutes in, he had been hired to do the layout… weird coincidence. After a summer of working on two laptops in a tiny sample room surrounded by children’s clothing and lingerie we developed a great working partnership- we knew we were on the same wavelength and we had to work together again.  Sadly, the magazine became defunct (even though it looked great!)- but out of that the Handsome Bag Company was born.

This is treasure.

We started off welding huge crazy chairs out of heavy industrial steel and discarded taxi parts and I began hoarding all these old bits and pieces like decals, signs, lights etc. until one day I found a little family run business (Mom, Dad and grown up Son) that did taxi upholstery. I saw they were stripping taxi seats and that some of the stuff looked barely used, I asked if I could buy it and they said: ‘Are you crazy?! This is junk! You can have it!’

We began making bags out of that material and it was the start of another beautiful relationship because we go down to that business every week to take out their trash in exchange for cakes and biscuits (they refuse to take any money). Once we had the basic idea down, Joe began working with two NGOs – Home Sew and the Hong Kong Women Worker’s Association. Hong Kong has many NGOs like this as a result of the surplus labour that was left behind when industry moved across the border into China.

Home Sew for Handsome Bag Co. from Handsome Bag Company on Vimeo.

Joe worked really hard to perfect the rough idea through trial and error, we got advice on materials and stitching and finally we ended up with the bags that we make today. Our designs are still developing and changing.

Why “Made in Kowloon”?

Because Kowloon has so much to offer but most people ignore it and focus on Hong Kong Island (which is actually tiny in comparison to Kowloon side). Kowloon has all the best food, all the industrial buildings and means of production, all the colourful old style culture that hasn’t been gentrified (yuppified), all this crazy history and tradition and so much more. Also, all our stuff is made here……

Besides engaging the help of Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association and Home Sew providing them with work, how else does the company help the community?


We stop hundreds of heavy vinyl taxi seats going into landfills where they will sit for hundreds of years without biodegrading.

We encourage other designers to join us to make good things. We are trying to support and be a part of Hong Kong’s budding design scene.

We sponsor causes that we believe in- we just sponsored the Wokai Scramble, which is an urban scavenger hunt race that raises money for a microfinancing institution called Wokai that makes small loans to rural Chinese entrepreneurs (we designed the course as well). More on Wokai here and here.

How do you find a balance between working on Handsome Bag Co. and your individual day jobs?

We already spend a huge amount of time on Handsome Bag Co. but even so, I wish we could focus even more time on it. Having two people working on this project takes a little pressure off as we can always count on each other and have each others back. That’s how we got to where we are now.

It can be tough, work sometimes demands long hours and it can be tiring but the Company is our passion so we don’t mind losing a little (or a lot) of sleep for it. I often use my lunch breaks to deliver materials and do vital communication. Night time is used for cutting and cleaning materials, doing meetings, design work and whatever else needs to be done.

There is always too much to do, too little time, but at the end of the day, this project of ours puts a smile on my face.

How did you overcome the hurdles when people mutter in disbelief when they first heard of your venture?

Lots of people were really supportive and thought the idea was good, there were also many neigh Sayers- we had to ignore them. Sometimes it was disheartening but we just thought, ‘if we don’t give this a shot then we’ll regret it forever!’. It takes no effort, thought or time for some people to make negative comments and you have to remember that most of these people have no idea what they’re talking about, so you have to ignore them. At the same time, there are people who give constructive criticism, and they want to help you- you have to listen to those guys and be grateful that they’re taking the time to play devil’s advocate with you.

We encourage other designers to join us to make good things. We are trying to support and be a part of Hong Kong’s budding design scene.

People think that getting into the recycling business is all green and peachy. What do you think of this business idea becoming a trend?

Pretty good, it makes people think and gets them talking. Overall it’s a positive thing but you have to watch out when these items that claim to be green start using more new materials than they are recycling etc. etc. Having said this, the emergence of these products is really doing something to change the public’s mentality regarding ‘used’ things- which can be a big taboo, especially over here in Hong Kong. Let’s hope that this trend is one that will stay.

How would you encourage someone trying to start out on his/her own?

We would remind that person that nobody knows themselves and their idea better than they do so if they really feel like they have a good idea and a plan to make it come to life then just go and do it. Ignore all those people who thoughtlessly tell you that you can’t, just because they’ve never had the guts to start something of their own. Listen to people who want to offer constructive criticism and advice and remember how lucky you are when you find people who want to support you- value good people when you find them!

What’s your favourite product and why?

It has to be the Chet Tote. It was our first bag design and it is extremely simple, sturdy and utilitarian. That thing would have sat in a landfill for hundreds of years so you know that it will serve you well as a cool looking bag. And besides, with five inner pockets and one large outer pocket, they don’t come more user friendly.

Who/what inspires you?

People that go against the norm because they believe in something.

How are your personal styles like?

Billy: T-shirts designed by friends or supporting interesting causes. Skinny but comfortable dark blue cotton trousers or skinny (but admittedly less comfortable) jeans. I always go for shorts as soon as weather permits and when I can get away with it, I will always go for simple slip on canvas shoes. I like little things with intense primary colours- bright yellow watch, red sneakers etc etc. A dark navy blue bespoke suit always serves me well for more formal occasions- our family has been going to the same tailor for over 30 years.

Joseph: Clean and simple. Most importantly, it has to fit well. Most of the time you will find me in a simple t-shirt and tailored pants rocking a pair of vans. A nice detail like a gold Casio calculator watch also helps pop things a bit.

What’s the most bizarre item in your office?

Billy: A pair of transparent sunglasses with highly reflective lenses in a pen holder on my desk so I can keep an eye on what’s going on behind me.

Joseph: I use a stuffed toy my sister gave me as a going-to-college gift as my wrist support for my mouse.

Best and worst thing about working on Handsome Bag Co.?

Best: Working with your friends on a project that everybody is passionate about and being surprised by what lengths almost total strangers will go to in order to help you out.

Worst: Sleep depravation… but this isn’t a huge problem for us- we’d probably just be wasting our time sleeping anyway!

Care to share with us what’s in your mix tapes?

Going through the first few songs on my shuffle:

Billy:
Bob Dylan- Tangled up in Blue
Bob Dylan- Shelter from the Storm
Charlie Parker- Constellation
Pavement – Shady Lane
Sonny Rollins – Oleo
Miles Davis and John Coltrane – Blue Train
Breeders – Divine Hammer
Pixies – Debaser
Duke Ellington – Take the A Train
Janis Joplin – Piece of My Heart
Etta James – At Last
The Fall – Victoria
Huey Lewis and the News – Back to the Future Theme
The Decemberists – Mariner’s Revenge Song
Kings of Convenience – Mrs. Cold
Some Sigur Ros song
Paul Simon – Me & Julio
Peter Tosh – Wanted Dread or Alive
Talking Heads – Nothing But Flowers
B.S.S. – All to All
Eraser – Analyze
Synecdoche New York Soundtrack – Little Person
Sunny and Cher – I’ve got you Babe
Joy Division – Transmission
Breeders – Cannonball
Fiery Furnaces – Tropical Iceland
Faith No More – Epic
The Creation – Making Time
Jimi Hendrix – Like a Rolling Stone
Billy Collins – Consolation

Joseph:
Is it really lame if I don’t really listen to music?

Any crossover or collaboration plans coming up?

Quite a few but can’t talk about most of them until we finalize them (would be embarrassing if they ended up not happening) but we did make this spring loaded pencil case with this other Hong Kong designer and that’s really cool. We’re also doing some collab t-shirts and we’re still working on that.

Where else can we see stuff Made in Kowloon?


Come over to HK – we’ll show you! The best stuff is always made in Kowloon. As for our stuff, it can be found online at our website and at Kapok. More to come soon.

No one leaves without filling in some blanks!

Go ahead now, be inspired get your hands dirty for a good cause like Handsome Bag Co. and check out their videos on vimeo too! Don’t forget to look them up whenever you’re in Hong Kong!

Handsome Bag Co. for M.A.D. Conference from Handsome Bag Company on Vimeo.

From us to Joseph and Billy, you guys are accomplishing something really worthwhile and may Handsome Bag Co. achieve even better, greater things along the way and inspire others to do the same!

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