The designers Kimberly and Nancy Wu discuss how they're tired of fast consumerist fashion, and their aim to offer leather as an environmentally friendly product with a line of tanned vegetable products. We also introduce the latest instalment of the LN-CC mix series. The San Francisco-based DJ and producer, Wonja finds inspiration from the modernist design aesthetic of the brand. Selections offer warped orchestral soundscapes to make up the soundtrack to the AW18 collection. Building Block explores conventionality and utilitarianism to develop practical and adaptable accessories with a contemporary design aesthetic.
What led you to start your brand?
Building Block began as an exercise in editing the excess things around us to return to making purposeful products. While we were both working corporate design jobs, we began to grow increasingly tired of fast, trend-based goods and so we're looking to go back to the drawing board. With a general interest in fashion and with our backgrounds in industrial design, we imagined that blurring the line between luxury and utility would be a natural starting point. Using materials such as industrial rubber, unfinished wood, and found leathers, we cobbled up leather purses for ourselves simply because we couldn’t see much in the marketplace that we were interested in at the time. From there, the bags took off, and we left our structured jobs in order to focus on starting from square one. The name of the brand is quite literal and embodies the desire to begin the design process from an honest place.
Where do you design and work from?
Chinatown, Los Angeles
What is the most inspiring thing about working in LA?
LA feels endless, in regards to the city’s layout and spirit. This is a refreshing and inspiring feeling for us, knowing that it’s not a race to get to the top of any high hill but more about seeking out your offbeat path in a mostly horizontal landscape. LA is built in a way that is non-confrontational and looks outwards, so to explore parts of the city requires a lot of patience, circumstance and minimal expectation…feelings that we also find necessary in how we approach our life and business.
What’s it like working so closely with family?
It's an intuitive partnership where trust and respect come naturally.
Do you aim to translate a personal narrative through your work?
We began BB in our 20s, and now we are in our 30s. The brand started off as a way to address our style needs and desire to pare down. Since 2011 it has evolved a lot, we happened to hit upon a minimalist trend wave, sold plenty of bucket bags, and maximised the line. Now we’re finding ourselves coming down from that ironic yet natural apex of growing a business. We’re trying to move at a pace that feels like us again, and of course, still trying to pare down. We are always editing.
How do you produce your collection and why do you choose to produce it is this way?
We design everything in our studio in Chinatown, Los Angeles. Projects and styles usually start with us sewing mock-ups by hand. The goal is to create something that is playful yet useful; something simple but deceivingly complex to construct. From there a technical drawing is sent out to our sewers in Taipei where they follow specifications to produce a sample for us. Production is also done in Taiwan, where our family is from, and twice a year we fly back to visit our relatives and immerse ourselves in food and family and making pattern adjustments. We have a close relationship with our sewers and always strive to give credit to their attention to detail and decades of experience handcrafting leather bags. As Taiwanese-Americans, producing in this trans-pacific way is a reflection of how we grew up not fully fluent in either an Asian or American way of life but rather a mish-mash of both. The outcome of this kind of upbringing is an exchange of broken mandarin, varied tastes, shapes, and experiences that can be seen as somewhat universal and inherently global. Ultimately that’s what we hope our bags are as well—a choice to embrace a ubiquitous identity and product.
What’s the most fascinating thing you have learnt since starting the brand?
You can really make anything you want nowadays if you simply figure out exactly what it is you want.
What inspires your silhouettes?
Striking the balance between a classic and playful proportion.
You’re cautious not to put “excess product in the world”; how has this been incorporated into your design and production process?
We are currently working on a campaign to encourage the use of tanned vegetable products, which is a more environmentally friendly type of leather. This type of leather develops a natural patina through continued usage and gets better with age. By encouraging wear and tear as something personal and beautiful, we are hoping to re-educate consumers that leather can be a friendly material, as long as you get the most out of it.
What was your inspiration for your AW18 collection?
This season we were drawn to a little bit of decadence and mystery. The colour palette was inspired by Wong Kar Wai’s film In The Mood For Love.
Did you work with any new materials for the collection?
This season we’ve introduced a lightweight, structural, and durable polyamide textile we are calling Crinkle. It has the look of a crinkled paper bag, the sound of a canvas tent, and holds its shape when asked to.
What's next for building block?
A focused collection of footwear, thoughtful collections, new materials, a more personal approach.