Be Inthavong, co-founder and former designer of luxury handbag line Be & D, is venturing out on his own with a namesake line of woven leather handbags.
The leather is handcrafted in Laos, where Inthavong was born, using a patented weaving technique on silk looms. Laos has a history of creating hand-loomed silks, and Inthavong’s family has maintained a silk weaving business for generations.
After immigrating to the U.S., Inthavong had an aversion to the silk looming business. “I grew up in Texas, and I was trying so hard to fit in,” he said. “Anything Laotian, I thought…I’ll never do that.”
But Inthavong returned to his artisanal roots after the “soul searching” that followed his split last year with design and business partner Steve Dumain, who now owns and designs Be & D.
“I’ve always wanted to work with my homeland,” he said. “I love New York, I love fashion, but I wanted something more long term and more meaningful.”
Referring to his work at Be & D, Inthavong said: “It was a lesson to me as a designer, [going from] designing for a price, trying to find cheaper resources, just trying to turn a dollar” to focusing on craft and product first.
The collection, unveiled last week, contains 40 pieces in nine styles, including a tote, a top handle bag, a shoulder satchel and a small clutch. The handworked fabric is lightweight, durable and “smooth like silk,” he said.
Inthavong anticipates the line will be sold at 10 to 20 specialty boutiques, priced from $595 to $3,295. He hopes it will be embraced by “a customer who understands craft. [This consumer is] underserved, they’re not into trendy things. They want something very unique, something that no one else has. The economy is teaching designers to up the ante…it’s a reshift of what our perception of manufacturing and luxury and price is.”
Inthavong is working to develop a manufacturing foothold in Laos by acquiring additional silk looms and training Laotians in his patented technique. One of his goals is to create a sustainable source of employment for Laotians. “To stand up and try to help promote the local-ness of things…it’s important,” he said.
Inthavong acknowledged he has not yet cobbled together an infrastructure to handle extensive demand. “I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into.…If the world came [to buy], I couldn’t accommodate them,” he said.