Is there a more sought-after accessory than the perfect handbag? Probably not. As with many wardrobe staples, the search for a bag that fits your daily essentials (just how big can an iPhone get?), while still looking stylish, can take a while. Enter Kacy Yom, the tech worker-turned-boutique owner-turned-handbag designer who just introduced her debut collection of eye catching totes, clutches, and wallets.
Inspired by her Korean heritage and informed by years of customer-centric roles, Yom's delightful candy-colored collection is a manifestation of Pacific Northwest innovation combined with the soul of a legendary fashion brand. The pieces have been popping up all over town, including Seattle magazine's April issue fashion feature, Basic Instincts (now on newsstands!).
We had the opportunity to chat over email with the designer to learn more about her business, design process and what's next for her eponymous label. After hearing her story, let's just say that in business and design, Ms. Yom definitely holds the purse strings.
SM: Can you share with me how your prior experience working for large tech corporations and owning the Arm Candy boutique informs your designs?
KY: Working at high tech companies, such as Expedia and Amazon, shaped how I approach the design process. I feel so fortunate to have worked alongside so many talented people in multiple disciplines. We were continuously presented with the challenge of delivering a better product for our customers, while struggling with the trade-offs necessary to meet both the needs of our customers and our business requirements. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that design is never done. I learned that the lifecycle of design requires continuous iteration, re-validating assumptions, challenging the design through constant measurements, and testing with actual customers. I am totally confident in my design, and yet I always stand ready to redesign my bags as I learn and hear feedback from customers.
When I started Arm Candy, my friends and family were surprised that I left my secure job at a highly desirable company like Expedia, but I knew I had to pursue my real passion for handbags. Owning Arm Candy provided me the open-ended creative outlet I had been seeking, and the full control to bring my ideas into reality. It gave me invaluable experience operating a small, independent business. I self-funded, built the store from the ground up, and operated it independently. I travelled to all the high-end luxury fashion shows from New York to London to Paris to Hong Kong, enabling me to hand source and learn about emerging handbag designers from all over the world. Trends come and go. One’s needs and wants change with time. But what changes much less frequently is one’s style. It gives me so much satisfaction when I see my design matching someone’s unique style.
Bo-Ah pebbled tote in Aegean blue, $1,100.00
SM: I understand it took a while to find the perfect Italian factory to produce your designs. What were your requirements for the factory? How often do you visit?
KY: I had countless prototypes built by many different factories around the world before finally finding our manufacturing partner in Florence. Some of the key requirements for our manufacturer were quality and craftsmanship, sustainability and good factory conditions, scalability to meet our production orders, and strong relationships with their partners, such as hardware factories or leather tanneries. In total, I spent many months at the factory, perfecting all the sample bags, returning before the start of the production and then additional visits post production for final reviews. Each new design will likely require additional in-person interactions to ensure we achieve the exact results we’re looking for.
Eun-Bi clutch in Marigold, $950.00
SM: Your pieces are designed to transition from day to evening. What specific design elements have you incorporated to accomplish this?
KY: All bags come with detachable shoulder straps and/or top handles that can easily be removed to carry it in different ways. The signature lock is designed as a secure way to close the bag. I designed the bags to have multiple interior compartments and pockets, so you can easily store and organize items, as well as exterior pockets for convenient access without having to open the bag.
Cho-Rong pebbled mini crossbody in Black, $650.00
SM: Can you tell me a little more about your design process?
KY: I find inspiration in all things that are opposite and contrasting. I emigrated from South Korea at age 10. Growing up as a Korean American, I embrace and honor my Korean heritage and try to balance that in harmony with what’s new and modern. I find this invaluable in my design process. By combining these contrasting elements, I create interesting dynamics and balance in my design. The silhouette of my bags is structured and masculine, balanced by softer lines and classic colors; I believe the contrasts of these makes the bags more sophisticated.
Bit-Na mini wallet in Lipstick, $200.00
SM: What has been the most rewarding part of being an independent designer? What unexpected challenges have you had to face?
KY: Operating independently has provided many benefits, in particular that I have full control of the design and manufacturing process. There are so many aspects of handbag design, far more than I ever appreciated prior to working through the physical construction with factories, but the reward is worth it: seeing my products on real people, incorporating my designs into their personal style and making it their own.
There were unexpected challenges at every step of the process, and admittedly, my obsessive attention to detail did not necessarily help accelerate the process. With my background in user experience design, switching from the virtual world to the physical meant speaking an entirely different language, in addition to translating much of my communications into Italian to work with my factory and suppliers! Eventually, I hired a technical designer with many years of prior experience to help me bridge the divide between my designs and the technical specifications required to enable high-end manufacturers.
SM: Where do you see the KACYYOM brand in five years?
KY: We have plans to add a range of leathers in seasonal colors. We also plan to add new styles and accessories to the product mix in the future. We may test some retail channels, and we are looking at local and national boutique online platforms to expand our business. We also intend to expand sales internationally. But we hope to retain a direct relationship with our customers whenever possible. Working primarily through our online sales channel is certainly challenging for a product like a luxury handbag, but we intend to continue investing in this approach, to maintain our direct connection with customers and deliver affordable luxury products.