How Boyy stepped off the fashion carousel and came up with the handbags cool girls covet
- Pair behind label launched to make affordable handbags with a masculine vibe decided on a new direction
- Buckle motif transformed Boyy’s fortunes
When Montreal native Jess Dorsey and Bangkok-born Wannasiri Kongman established handbag label Boyy in 2006 in New York, the buckle that has become the most distinctive feature of their coveted bags was not yet part of their designs.
The signature motif, which they introduced four years ago, led countless cool girls to start carrying the colourful buckle bags at fashion weeks around the world, and is behind the recent runaway success of their company.
Dorsey, who had been involved in the music business, and Wannasiri, who briefly worked as a buyer in her native Thailand before moving to the United States to further her studies, knew little about the fashion industry when they started the label. Their founding principles were that their accessories should have a masculine vibe to them (hence the name Boyy) and that their price point should be accessible.
While the label did well in its early days, attracting the interest of US media and international stores such as Colette in Paris, it was only after Wannasiri moved back to Bangkok that she and Dorsey realised it could become a viable and profitable business.
“In 2010 Central Chidlom, a big department store in Bangkok, approached us to open a space and wanted to put us on the Thai-brand floor, but I stepped in to say that we’re not a Thai brand but an international brand, a young one, so we should be on the international designers’ floor,” says Dorsey when we meet him and Wannasiri at an event in Hong Kong to celebrate the 30th anniversary of retailer I.T, one of their first stockists.
The rapid growth that the company experienced in Thailand eventually led to the opening of four boutiques in Bangkok. “We had no idea that so many people would like our products,” says Dorsey.
“Once we sensed that we would have that kind of success in Thailand, I packed my bags in New York to move there too to explore and create the brand how we wanted it to be.”
The company has had “different waves” down the years, the pair admit. They say that in 2014 they decided on “a philosophical change” in the brand’s ethos.
Wannasiri, who had been into a rock/chic vibe, says: “My style evolved and I wanted to put the rock 'n' roll aside, and I started only wearing vintage bags instead of carrying the ones I was designing, so I felt strongly about these kinds of structured silhouettes. We wanted to create a bag that would last.”
That is how the latest iteration of Boyy began, and how the buckle was born. The motif, which now adorns pretty much all of Boyy’s bestselling bags, has done so well that Dorsey says that many of their customers wrongly assume the brand was only founded when they introduced the buckle in 2014.
“We wanted to get out of that cycle that you have to pump out a new style every six months without letting the design breathe because you have to come up with something new,” explains Dorsey. “We said, ‘Let’s design a collection that feels truly timeless and could potentially be timeless.’
“We started looking at the [Hermès] Kelly or Birkin bags and thought how great it would be to create an iconic, timeless bag that’s not about this season or last season but has been around forever.”
While Boyy bags may look ladylike and even a bit conservative at first sight, there’s always an element of fun, whether it’s the use of bright pastel tones or materials such as velvet, or colour blocking, which has made them photogenic Instagram bait.
The global aspect of Boyy, which also has a store in Copenhagen, is reflected in its current set-up: the design studio and production facilities are in Bangkok, where Wannasiri is based, while all materials are sourced from Italy, where the company has opened a showroom in Milan (Dorsey is planning a move to the city).
Boyy is part of a recent wave of accessory brands, such as Staud and Danse Lente, which offer bags at a relatively affordable price while not compromising on design and quality. “It’s great to see that the customer is more open to have fun with accessories,” says Wannasiri.
“Bags are statement pieces but people must be even more confident to say, ‘I can afford this luxury bag but today I’m going to wear this bag instead.’ They’re not too stuck to the big brands and status symbols.
“That opened a lot of doors for designers like us, but it’s also a fine line between trendy accessory brands and those that really are here to stay and are not just trendy for a few seasons. At the end of the day, it’s creativity, quality and perception.”