Sunday, May 15, 2011


The Sal

A new entrant to the ever rapidly growing pool of bag makers, is Brooklyn based designer Vincent Lai, who's already earning his keep in the game with his brand, Skinny Vinny. Vincent reached out to me with his spring collection and I jumped at the chance to feature the line. It's not every day that a freshman effort offers such a nicely curated, unified and well crafted range. From the simple City Slicker Tote to The Sal, a convertible backpack/carry-all, each model remains understated while answering to a distinct functional need. My favorite is the Rowan, soon to be available in the fall, a backpack that looks easy-breezy but is made of heavy duty canvas and contains plenty of pockets for everything you might need in the urban wilderness - from pocket knife to laptop.

The Rowan
Submit pre-order inquiries here

Covering the bags was a no brainer but I wanted to scratch the surface a bit on this emerging designer, and was lucky enough that Vincent was willing to answer a few questions about himself, the brand and the products. I urge you to take a peak at the line and get to know the brand; I have a feeling, and not just because of my flagrant Brooklyn pride, it'll be one to watch. - M

The Sig Other: First, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Vincent Lai: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, So a Brooklynite to the core. I come from a family of sewers and makers in the garment industry and grew up in and around factories. For college, I attended Carnegie Mellon University and graduated with an Industrial Design Degree in 2006.

TSO: So how did Skinny Vinny come to be?
After graduating from college, I worked for a design consultancy in Lower Manhattan, Soho area. After about a year, I decided that it was time for a change. I wanted to combine my product design education with the soft goods and pattern-making knowledge I gained growing up in a garment factory. As a child, I would sometimes help my mother at her job in a garment factory in Brooklyn. I would cut loose threads, do some sewing, ironing, or even just sweep the floor. As I was looking for a new job, I had some sketches and ideas for bags. I made some samples just to get it out of my head. I sent some photos to my friends and out of the blue, a blog picked it up and then another blog and another. I started to get some orders and I thought “hmm… maybe, I can do this for a living?” I stopped my job search, and been doing Skinny Vinny ever since.

Does the brand have a mission or perspective?
We strive to create straight-forward, no-fuss products you can use everyday. We give special and careful attention to craft and quality. Since all our products are made in limited quantities by my small family of artisans and myself, individual variation and that special level of human touch is guaranteed.

The City Slicker Tote

What is your design approach?
I always find myself thinking about new bags, new shapes and new ways of carrying things. I can be out with friends and I find myself drifting off thinking about it. I love people watching, watching how one interacts or stumble with their bags is a huge source of inspiration for me. How the bag falls or hugs the body, or what problems they seem to have with their bags is very helpful to my process. Through watching, I usually have a direction and sketching helps me find the right shape and proportions. I sometimes make quick and fast muslin samples just to test out the proportions and usability. Then I jump on my computer to refine the design and make the tech packs. I won’t really know if the bag is successful or not until I get a final working sample. After I give the "okay" for a new design, we make the production in small batches. I number each one and I keep a log of where each bag is going, whether they're are going to a store or to a person. I love keeping things personal like that.

What are your thoughts on the current collection?
Our collection is usually not seasonal, we usually have injections where we introduce a new product here and there. It's easier to manage that way since we are a small brand and it's usually just me.  For the Spring season, The Sal convertible bag is my favorite. Just the functionality of it and the versatility is quite successful in my opinion. It has been quite popular.
The Sal, in all its multi-functional glory

Could you elaborate on the materials you use?
Our products have been predominantly cotton. Mostly cotton canvas and a few leather detailing here and there. We like using natural fibers. However, we are defiantly going to be looking into some tech fabrics. There's a lot of possibilities of new types of bags we can create with those kinds of materials.

What are your future plans for Skinny Vinny?
Currently, I'm all booked up for the next 6 months! I would love a vacation, but I can't take one as of yet. We have orders to make and fulfill for the Fall. However, we will be working with some stores releasing new styles exclusive to their store and the city they're located in. There's a store in Hong Kong that I'm really excited to collaborate with. I'm always looking to collaborate with people, weather in the design industry or not, the experience will help me grow as a person and as a designer.

The Rowan

// skinny-vinny shop

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