Founded in 2011, Emm Kuo is the brain-child of New York City based accessories designer Emmaline Kuo. Growing up in between Hawaii, Hong Kong, and New York; Emmaline Kuo has had a wealth of travel and inspiration to create a truly one-of-a-kind accessories brand. Her unique aesthetic combines architectural influences, clean silhouettes, and strong textural contrasts to transform pouches and evening clutches into beautiful works of art. But what really sets Emmaline apart, is her dedication to sustainability. Her love for natural materials brought her to the Philippines, where she works with local artisans in a small Eco-friendly studio. The studio is not only committed to energy and water conservation, but also to zero waste production. Utilising every aspect of the materials they work with; whether it be Mother or Pearl, or exotic skins. We sit down with Emmaline Kuo and chat about her well-travelled life, her latest collection, her friendship with the local artisans — and how we can contribute to the future of sustainable fashion.
Tell us about yourself and your background, what made you fall in love with accessory design?
I started my career in fashion in Shanghai, working on the business side of the industry. I have always travelled a lot and grew up between Hawaii, Hong Kong, and New York. Travelling has definitely always been a huge source of inspiration for me. Each one of our bags is named after a place I was inspired by. I began getting drawn to the creative side of fashion, and decided to enrol into the graduate program of Parsons School of Design. From there, I found myself launching the accessories line for Catherine Malandrino, which made me realise that I really wanted to take the leap and create something of my own.
Tell us about the inspiration behind your latest collection?
Our spring/summer Collection was filled with such fun and whimsical pieces like our Bora Bora Watermelon Clutch and Lightning Bolt Ziggy Clutch. For fall, I wanted to create a warm and ethereal collection that feels very romantic. I’ve always loved the complexity of the universe and the symbolism of constellations. That same curiosity can be seen in the clutches that have inlayed moons, and the velvet pouch bags with a scattering of bejewelled stars and embroidered “evil-eyes”. I also re-imagined some of our classics, like the Marigot Bucket Bag in a rich burgundy patent leather with gun metal detailing.
Tell us more about your relationship with your artisans in the Philippines? What is it like working with these local craftsmen?
Evening bags are meant to be used for special occasions; and to be passed down through generations. I knew these bags needed to be made with love by experts, so that customers could feel each piece was one-of-a-kind and made just for them.
I love organic materials, the texture is incredible! I knew that if I wanted to use materials like Mother of Pearl, I needed to go right to the source. Working in the Philippines with the local artisans, is such an inspiring experience. The studio where the clutches are made, makes sure to use all of the materials. For example, if we use pearls then we are also using the shells; which means we’re cutting back on the waste.
How important is sustainability to the ethos of your brand?
It’s really important. It’s fantastic to see more and more brands embracing sustainability. In addition to this, questions are arising about how much the fashion industry impacts the planet; and ways we can work together to find solutions.
Each Emmaline Kuo evening clutch is handmade in an Eco-friendly studio in the Philippines, could you tell us more about how your brand reduces its carbon footprint?
The studio that we work with in the Philippines is Eco-conscious. We not only cut back on the material waste, we also function in an energy efficient way and reduce the water consumption in our production. We use materials from the earth, so we make sure that we give back to the planet in the best way we can.
Today, sustainability is more important than ever, with brands becoming more and more concerned about their carbon footprint. What role does the fashion industry play in the effort to minimise our environmental impact as a species?
I think the discussion has become more popular; and now brands are becoming more transparent with their customers. The fashion industry is one of the most environmentally damaging industries there is — so it is imperative that these discussions on sustainability are also turned into solutions.
As consumers, how can we make a difference in protecting the future of our planet?
Buying quality over quantity is probably the easiest rule to live by. If more people ditched spending their money on fast fashion, and invested in pieces that are more expensive but made sustainably; then not only are you supporting local artisans, you are also investing in yourself and reducing your own carbon footprint. We all need to do our part!