Responsibly produced, beautifully designed statement bags that are 100% animal-free, made with plant based leathers and organic and recycled materials, and those who make these bags are paid fair salaries. This is the incredible business Ciara, the founder and designer of Brinn Bags, has created.
How did you begin designing bags?
Before I started designing handbags, I had actually started with backpacks, specifically backpacks for photography and travel. I graduated from Parsons with my BFA in photography in 2013 and after working in the city as a fashion photographer for a few years, I went through so many horrible camera bags that I decided to make my own! I wanted something that looked really stylish, was multi-functional, comfortable and made from animal-free materials. I wanted something I had never seen before.
Soon after, I started to realize how hard it was to find sustainable handbags that fit my personal style. Everything I came across in that market played it safe when it came to design. I’ve never been one to play it safe when it comes to my personal style so I wondered where were the products for me?
What is your background and how did you learn the techniques/skills to bring your bags to life?
As I mentioned, I attended Parsons School of Design for photography. I never imagined that I would have my own accessories label! When I first started designing, it was honestly just a lot of guessing and testing. I would spend hours on the floor of my apartment, writing down measurements of all the bags I had and even making mock-ups out of poster board to make sure my measurements weren’t totally off. I really had no idea what I was doing but I did have persistence and a willingness to learn!
After I launched my backpacks, I went on to study sustainable design and brand development at FIT and that really catapulted my interests in doing what I love in the least harmful way possible.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I draw a lot of my inspiration for my handbags from cinema as well as furniture. It might be something as simple as a pattern in a scene from one of my favorite films or a beautiful, modern chair or couch. Really whatever captures my attention!
How did you choose cactus leather along with the other materials you use to create your bags?
As a vegan myself, it’s a part of my personal core values to do good by the planet, people and animals the best I can. While Brinn’s products have been vegan since the very beginning, I always had this urge to do better. While I still personally consider traditional vegan leather (which is often made from polyurethane) to be more environmentally friendly than cow leather, I certainly know that new plastic based materials come with their own set of problems for the Earth. Once plant based leathers became readily available for use on handbags, I knew introducing something like Cactus Leather was the perfect fit for Brinn.
The Cactus Leather is made from Nopal cactus that is grown on an organic farm in Mexico. The cacti depends on the earth minerals native to the land and rain water to grow and can be harvested without killing the plant. It’s all regenerative. I chose to also work with organic cotton over conventional cotton because organic is grown without harsh chemicals that are harmful to both the people growing it and the planet. Plus, organic cotton requires far less water compared to conventional. For the lining of the bags, I work with recycled polyester and nylon because it’s always great to give new life to existing materials when we can. instead of using new.
What type of vendors do you work with and why?
It’s important to me to work with vendors that share my same values which is putting people, the planet and animals first. I can proudly say the vendors I work with foster positive change in the fashion industry, creating safe and fairly paid work environments for garment workers and having sustainability measures in place to make sure we are creating the best products we can in the best way we can.
Do you have a favorite piece you’ve created?
My favorite changes every week! However, I am really proud of the Cash Bag. It was my first proper handbag and took me almost 2 years before I could launch due to working with a new factory and Covid. I remember being so scared to finally share it with my corner of the world but it has become one of our best selling pieces!
What does a day look like for you as a designer?
I definitely wear a lot of hats so everyday is pretty different and always busy. While some days are more glamorous than others with meetings in the city and photoshoots (that I’m the photographer on), some days are spent entirely at my office answering emails, doing outreach and inspecting and packing orders. I personally pack every order that goes out the door and never without a written thank you note. It makes me feel closer to my customers and I can only hope they feel the love in every box.
What is the meaning of the name of your business?
Brinn is my middle name and since the brand is an extension of me, it makes so much sense. When I was younger my mom would always call me “Ciara Brinn”. She always wanted me to use my middle name more..what better way!
What are your goals for Brinn Bags?
My goal is to make sustainable fashion more mainstream. Over 90% of my customers are not vegan and I love that! This means that I am creating products that they are drawn to aesthetically first and it is just the cherry on top when they learn about the materials used.
I had the privilege of styling the Cash Bag and I am in love! This bag is gorgeous and is made from Cactus Leather, organic cotton and recycled plastic bottles, making it eco-friendly and sustainable. I love the adorable cow print (my two oldest daughters had matching cow print dresses and hats when they were little and so this bag brings back happy memories as I remember how cute they were wearing those dresses!) I also love the removable crossbody chain and how much actually fits in to this bag. The chunky chain across the front adds even more fun and bit of edginess, while the bag adds some interest to my usual black or neutral outfits.
This is only one of the great bags Ciara has designed. It’s really so perfect and I’ve been wearing it nonstop! I can’t wait to see what’s next for Ciara and Brinn Bags!