Returning with our series Secrets of Success, we’re interview inspiring individuals that have that thing we’re all looking for – a dream job. Whether it’s a full-time thing or a moonlit gig, we want to know the passions that drive them.
Today we’re talking to accessory designer Khoi Le. As a leather expert, Khoi can take all of your animal skin purse fantasies, give them cleaner designs, up their functionality and then make a few dozen iterations, all in a week. A destination brand at American Two Shot and Fivestory, the beautiful utility of his backpacks, travel bags, clutches and trays are true collectors items. We met in his Bay Area studio and caught up with the powerhouse about old copies of Architectural Digest, and his love for the backpack.
The icebreakers: Where are you from? How long have you been pursuing your dream occupation?
I grew up in Vietnam and moved to the Bay Area when I was six. I have been actively working for three years. Inactively, or subliminally, since I was 14. I design and produce leather goods and wares that I can make anywhere, depending on whether I can get my hands on some raw materials and a sewing machine, but preferably at home in Los Gatos or in New York.
What was the first step in launching your own company? On a scale of one to ten how hard was it?
The first step was finally taking the hint from so many people that believed I had a good thing going — I was super passive at first, and more or less fell into it, admitting that designing leather goods was something I would do a for a great deal of time. Actually launching my own company wasn’t the easiest thing, because it wasn’t initially in my grand-scheme-of-things plan. But on a scale, I’d say a 6.5.
Where do you consistently find inspiration for your collections?
Tumblr. More specifically Tumblr photos of interior spaces. Actually, a whole lot of interiors sourced from old issues of Architectural Digest really illustrate the story of the Khoi Le "person" for me. It really helps filling in the gaps in a collection, or details and sensibilities of the pieces, when you see the other objects that the people you design for are probably living with already.
Why do you love backpacks so much?
For utility reasons, because it's hands free. And for reasons of ease: it looks like you don't care, but you do. It has the super easy "collegiate" feel of when you were a kid, except now you probably have grown-up shit in your backpack.
What adult things are in your backpack now?
Now, as opposed to my fifth grade self, I tend to need to carry less things. Then it would probably be filled with unstapled unbindered papers flying around, lots of doodles and goofing off sketches of purses and handbags. Now it’s still the same amount of sketches and fly-away papers, but I only carry a bag if I ever feel like I need to look like I’m going somewhere or doing something important. Nothing in my bag these days really needs to be toted around, unless I'm going to the factory or suppliers to make more bags.
Are you in pursuit of ultimate greatness, or are you excited to add to the collective repertoire?
My initial intention in doing what I do is to simply have these products exist. If it doesn't raise the level of quality, or elevate the taste of the zeitgeist, then at least for my sake they exist in an aesthetic self-actualizing process for my selfish needs. I think, however, I have an expectation that what I am building today will grow into an empire tomorrow, and if these two end up walking hand-in-hand into the horizon, I won’t be mad.
Who's your favorite game changer, and what one question would you ask them?
I remember listening to a podcast on NPR which featured Ina Garten, of "The Barefoot Contessa" fame. It chronicles her journey from the office of Management and Nuclear Budget at the White House, to purchasing her own specialty food stores in East Hampton. My question for her would be, “Do you hand mash the Cauliflower puree, or do you just puree it?” I'm always looking for the best consistency.