KAYU is an accessories brand based in California, though very much inspired by South East Asia. Women in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia weave the unique handbags inspired by the traditional craftsmanship of these countries. KAYU commits to paying its artisans a fair living wage. This includes new immigrants to the San Francisco Bay Area, which produce the embroidery on some of their products. Sustainability is also incredibly important to the company, making efforts in all aspects of their supply chain. The small but mighty team is passionate about making a positive impact on the world! We had the pleasure of speaking with founder and creative director Jamie Lim about her brand over email.
What was the inspiration or catalyst for the founding of KAYU?
I grew up in South East Asia surrounded by intricate artisanal crafts. My parents had gorgeous rattan chairs in their homes and wore hand-painted batiks. I moved to the US to attend university but would go back to Asia often. When I did I would look for unique gifts to bring back to America. Over the years I realized that these crafts were being replaced by mass-produced, synthetic alternatives. I started KAYU as a way to preserve and promote indigenous crafts as well as provide jobs to the artisans.
Why is sustainability important to you and KAYU?
Having children makes you realize that everything you do, every decision you make, will affect future generations in some way.
Having my son made me reevaluate my relationship to the Earth and what type of planet I want to leave him with. My hope
is that he will inherit an Earth with no green-house gas emissions or poverty. We are trying in our own small way to make that hope a reality.
How do you hold yourself and KAYU accountable?
We are a registered C-Corp and our accounts are audited by a third party and submitted to the IRS.
What is the KAYU project you are most proud of thus far?
I grew up in Malaysia and have always wanted to work with the batik artisans there. Batik in Malaysia is painstakingly crafted through an old-age process using brass blocks and hot wax before being dyed by hand. Traditional batik has declined drastically in popularity over the years due to the availability of cheaper, mass-produced alternatives. The craft is in danger of completely disappearing as younger locals move to cities instead of learning – and passing on – this time-honored process. Recently we teamed up with batik artisans in Malaysia to create a special collection of bags that celebrates this unique heritage. We hope by doing so to revive traditional Malaysia batik and expose more people to this long-standing tradition.
Favorite KAYU motto or quote?
Live well, buy better.
Interested in another sustainable fashion designer interview, check out the piece of an interview with L.L.Y. Atelier creator.