Interview: Clara Chu, rising accessories designer

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“One of a kind” is an expression that often comes up in the fashion world, but when it comes to Clara Chuit is handmade accessories, the ideation and production process behind each are so singular and nearly impossible to replicate that they are truly one of a kind. Intrigued by the whimsical designs of her playful yet functional handbags, we reached out to the London-based, Hong Kong-born designer for a look at her unique practice of colorful accessories that stand out like no other.

At first glance, Chu’s designs look more like toys than handbags. From chocolate molds and silicone baking sheets to discarded electronics and hair curlers, her accessories are often made up of the most unexpected household items you can find. “My fascination with ready-mades and found objects has always been a key inspiration. I like to deconstruct mass-produced goods to see how their various components have been put together. Almost like playing LEGO, she reveals, “It’s a fun and creative process that involves problem solving.”

This unconventional curiosity inspired the particular reimagining of the creator of the handbag as we know it. By giving a second life to mundane objects and transforming easily disposable household objects into raw materials, Clara Chu reinvents and reconstructs traditional accessories in alternative ways, forging “a more humorous and spontaneous translation” that is entirely her own.

Born and raised in Hong Kong before moving to Toronto and London for her secondary and higher education, Chu believes her upbringing in an East Asian city had a significant influence on her creative practice. “I’ve always enjoyed wandering the markets and old streets of Hong Kong, finding old and unwanted ‘treasures’ in the compact cityscape,” she recalled, embodying the phrase “one man’s trash.” are another’s treasure”. By scouring the streets and the usual home for seemingly ordinary objects of vastly different shapes, forms and properties, the designer’s vision has formed her brand’s unconventional aesthetic that blurs the high and low forms of culture.

Although she won the responsible accessories award in Europe in 2020 for her kitchenware collection which explored the concept surrounding Tupperware from which she received funding and mentorship, being an independent designer forging her own path is no small feat. Chu admits, “I always try to get better at time management and stick to how much time I can afford to spend on a bag based on each client’s budget and design criteria.” As a designer of unique pieces, her process can sometimes be unpredictable. “Compared to the traditional design process of sourcing X amount of fabric and producing X amount of clothing for one collection, there’s no prototyping and you wouldn’t know what materials you might be collecting tomorrow for your next customer.” She explains, “This different design model is always difficult in terms of keeping track of my production costs.”

When we want we can. Clara Chu plans to involve the community more in its sourcing and production processes by encouraging customers to donate their materials to receive a handmade product in return. Currently, she is part of a new fundraising, mentoring and networking initiative supported by H&M and Ingka/IKEA and led by Workshop100 in London, where she is working on her next collection from West London, which will be released in October. But his ambition does not stop there.

Last April, she worked on an interactive installation titled Ride on Slow Street in Arnhem, the Netherlands. It consisted of three life-size interactive ‘living sculptures’ in the form of handbags surrounding a map of Arnhem to inspire conversation around ‘slow fashion’. “This piece aims to challenge our existing fashion system, the way we buy and consume.” Chu says, “The sculptures gather data by displaying questions to ask about the changes the viewer wants to see if they can help redesign the future main street of their community.

More than an accessories designer, Chu staunchly works towards sustainability with her artistic and community efforts that reject the wasteful methods of fast fashion. “I hope to be involved in more collaborative projects with some of the homeware stores in London and run workshops on reusing materials into accessories,” she concludes, “and of course I also want to stay open to opportunities such as the art project in Arnhem, and sculpturally transform everyday objects into artistic directions other than props.


Ashlyn Chak is a Hong Kong-based arts and culture writer informed and inspired by lived experiences, cultural perspectives and social phenomena. Discover his work here.

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