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An Interview with EcoBag Designer to the VeganStars: Crystalyn Kae

An Interview with EcoBag Designer to the VeganStars: Crystalyn Kae

Crystalyn Kae Accessories tout themselves as “distinctively smart handbags.” In terms of eco-friendly, vegan handbags that are easy to wear and use on the daily, and can take a major beating and be machine washed; it doesn’t get any better than Crystalyn Kae. We had a chance to sit down with Crystalyn recently and pick her baggy brain. Green fashion divas can all count at least one “Crystalyn Kae” bag amongst their jewels (I have one friend in particular who I’ve literally never seen without her Crystalyn Kae hobo bag), but even non-veggie girls are getting down en masse with Crystalyn’s gorgeous green design aesthetic and perfectly simple, but sweet, style. Plus her I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-leather buttery soft fabrics will make you so super proud to have chosen to buy cruelty-free. Have we mentioned these bags are terribly affordable – all retailing from about $75-200? Read all about it here:


GIRLIEGIRL ARMY: How did you begin designing bags? What was your inspiration to make sure these bags were environmentally sustainable and animal-free?

Crystalyn Kae: I have been sewing since the early 1980’s – my first Home-Ec project was a duffel bag. I earned my BA in Apparel & Textile design and started my own line shortly after in 2001. My first batch of hobo bags was made from vintage plaid pants, because I though it would be special to creating something useful out of an unexpected material. The material was not as much of a consideration when I began, but I started to pay more attention as sales took off and suddenly hundreds of my bags were being sent out into the world. As my skills and taste have evolved, I have enjoyed experimenting with an eclectic mix of new, old and eco and vegan materials.

GIRLIEGIRL ARMY: Thank goodness for us! Your bags have this great duality of being both practical and utterly whimsical. Is that something you set out to purposely accomplish?

CK: Thank you. Most women carry a bag every day, and I feel it is important that it be useful and comfortable, but also distinctive and stylish.

Green Foxtrot Medium Hobo.
Green Foxtrot Medium Hobo.

GIRLIEGIRL ARMY: Indeed. Have you felt that the recent outpouring of positive mainstream response to eco-fashion gave your business a big boost in the last few years? If so, how? Reversely; do you sometimes feel like if your bags weren’t eco or vegan that they would have been picked up by more stores? Do you feel like overall having the eco slant has brought you more acclaim than the average new bag line, or caused you more hassle?

CK: Five years ago, it was much more difficult to sell my bags to stores. I would often hear “Your bags are great, but call me when you do leather.” These days it is a lot easier as people are beginning to pay more attention to where their money is going, what products are made of, and where and how things are being made. The vegan community has been very supportive of my designs and my customers have also let me know that they appreciate my bags are made right here in Seattle instead of overseas. In that sense the eco and vegan acclaim has been a great boost for business. I would not say it has been a hassle, if anything it has encouraged me to educate myself more.

GIRLIEGIRL ARMY: We’ve seen tons of the eco-celebs wearing your bags.

CK: Zooey Deschanel bought a bag on my website last Fall, which was exciting! I’m not really sure what bags celebrities are carrying but it always puts a big smile on my face when I see anyone wearing my bags around town.
Troubadour Tote Bag.

GIRLIEGIRL ARMY: Do you ever get tired of explaining why you create non-leather bags?

CK: No, I think that most buyers appreciate having a vegan option.

GIRLIEGIRL ARMY: There are so many advancements in fabrics every day (see our recent eco-fabrics blog) like Seaweed and Corn derivative fabrics; what are some of the new fabrics you have been experimenting with? What do you see as the future for green fabrics?

CK: Because of the complexity of materials needed to create a sturdy functional bag that will endure daily wear and tear, I don’t have as many options as clothing designers. Some of the things I have been experimenting with lately include suede made from recycled pop bottles, cradle to cradle felt, and occasionally reclaiming vintage leather. It is great to see so many eco-friendly materials coming to the market, but the green frenzy has led to some pretty outrageous prices for supplies. There is still a ways to go as few materials are yet truly sustainable, but I have faith that the industry will catch up and when it does the prices will even out. Until then I strive to use the best available materials with the least impact on the earth and all of the creatures that live here.

GIRLIEGIRL ARMY: What is your personal favorite bag you have ever designed? Why?

CK: The Soiree Pleated Drawstring bag was a big leap forward for me. I was dying to figure out a way to combine the glossy faux-leather with my stash of amazing vintage fabrics. Creating pleats across the front and tucking the fabric inside, seemed the perfect way to infuse a punch of color and uniqueness into the large messenger-style bag. It has become an instant classic in my line and one of my best-selling bags.

Tiger Lily Soiree Pleated Bag.
Tiger Lily Soiree Pleated Bag.

GIRLIEGIRL ARMY: Do you have design aspirations and plans outside of the handbag realm? What else can we expect from Crystalyn Kae in future collections? A pop record? A bakery? ;)

CK: No, I really think I want to focus on handbags for now, because I’m constantly thinking about and sketching new ideas for bags. This week, I just released a collection of bags with accents of tweed, vintage tapestry and eco-friendly velvets. I am also working on adding a-la-carte options on my website, where you can customize your bag with extra pockets, wipe clean linings (for diaper bags), center dividers and longer straps.

GIRLIEGIRL ARMY: Who are your favorite designers? Who/ what inspires you?

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CK: My favorite designers are Nicole Farhi, Cynthia Rowley, and John Galliano. I find my inspiration by gardening, road trips, concerts/shows, and wandering ocean beaches.

GIRLIEGIRL ARMY: Do you live green at home? Are you vegan?

CK: I try to live greener every day. We (my husband and I) run the business out our small studio apartment in Seattle so neither of us has a commute to work, and since we don’t have a car we walk most places we need to go. We are becoming an increasingly paperless business, and are taking a much closer look at the products we need and use around the house. I am not 100% vegan, more like 85%. I try to eat organically as much as possible.

Gray Tweet Clutch.
Gray Tweet Clutch.

GIRLIEGIRL ARMY: What are three things you couldn’t live without?

CK: Music, nature, and love.

GIRLIEGIRL ARMY: Yep, that covers it. What is your favorite upping the ante green tip?

CK: Find a way to live your life without owning a car.