Jesse Dorsey and Wannasiri Kongman, founders of Thailand-based handbag line Boyy, are big in Bangkok -- but now, they want to make a name for themselves in America, too.
“We put so much energy into Bangkok,” says Dorsey, a Canadian with a cool charm who spends a lot of his time in Italy sourcing materials for the brand. “We own retail stores and flagship stores, and we have a café. Now it’s [time for Boyy’s] reintroduction into the United States.”
Kongman says that there are marked differences between the way fashion brands are marketed in Thailand and how knowledgable consumers are about them. “Everyone [in Bangkok] checks out all the websites like Style.com,” says Kongman, whose nickname is, in fact, “Boy.” (A rep told me that it was just too hard to copyright Boy, hence Boyy.) She’s also aware that there is a huge premium on image in an increasingly crowded marketplace. "Vogue Thailand formed last year, Harpers Bazaar Thailand; it’s one of the countries that has fashion week all year. Pretty much every three months, we have fashion week.”
With such success in the East, Boyy’s presence in the West seemed a natural fit, and it seems Bergdorf Goodman agrees: Boyy bags are now available at the upscale New York retailer, in styles ranging from $555 to $925.
In Thailand, Boyy's best seller is the "Slash" bag (available at Bergdorf Goodman for $875). “It’s been three years and it’s still selling," says Kongman. "We believe it will [succeed in the U.S.] because it’s really functional.”
Beyond function, it also looks great -- the stingray version, especially -- and gets an update each season. It’s a blend of the exotic with the functional, the perfect mixture of cool and classic to take owners from a power lunch or boozy brunch to a fun or intimate night downtown. In other words, it’s the bag that’s supposed to go with all of your outfits. “Customers will probably buy at least two Slashes and then start looking for other designs," Kongman believes.
Kongman says that the duo began designing at a pivotal moment in fashion. “We started at the beginning of the 'It' bag era” -- so around 2005, when Phoebe Philo released her ever-so-popular Chloé Paddington bag. "Back then there were not too many brands.”
But oh how the market has changed. “It has exploded and everyone and their mother has a handbag line,” says Dorsey, “But we’ve carved a little niche for ourselves and it doesn’t really affect us. I think the psychology with bags is now, the more luxurious they get, the more disposable they get. It’s odd the way people consume them.”
Perhaps that’s why they introduced something quite kitsch-y and kooky into their line in the form of a large gold zip clutch with the phrase, “Size Does Matter” in raised alphabet soup–like letters. That was a fashion week favorite, and Zara has already made a knock-off version. (The Zara zip pouches read “Caution” and “Have Fun.")
Yet, try as they might to inject some tongue-and-cheek humor into the handbag world, Kongman and Dorsey can’t disguise the fact that their success at Boyy lies in their playful ability to mix exotic materials rather than words. And if size does matter -- size of sales, that is -- then we know it’s the Slash that's got all the girls gossiping.
So while you may sense a sting in the designers when they zoom in on witty innuendos, it’s Boyy’s two totems of cool luxury and artistic sensibility that should keep its American clients coming back for more.