"Sustainable" seems to be the most fashionable buzz word these days, and we're definitely not mad about that. And now that a classic basket bag has become a wardrobe essential (you know you've seen them all over the 'gram), we often find ourselves on a never-ending quest to add more consciously-made carryalls to our closets. If you, like us, are attempting to be a more mindful bag lady (or lad), then allow us to introduce you to Accoutrements LA.
Founded by interior designer Lisa Upton, the LA-based online shop featuress clothing and accessories made by talented artisans in the Philippines. The brand is behind those chic woven fiber bags that you've probably spotted at our city's cool indie bazaars (Unique LA's Mini Markets and pop-ups at Galerie.LA and Local Mercato, to name just few), which is why you can expect to see handmade standouts like the Olivia polka dot tote ($88 to $98), the round rattan Norah bag ($128), and the black woven Talitha bag ($210) on the arms of stylish Angelenos this summer and beyond. (Just add a string of bohemian-inspired pom-poms and you're set.)
"Now it's fashionable to wear basket bags; a decade or so ago, that was unheard of," Upton tells us. And given that handwoven carryalls have become synonymous with global-cool style, it's no surprise that the brand was inspired by Upton's international travels. "I grew up in the Philippines and Spain," she tells us. "My dad was a tourism attaché and we lived in Madrid for five years, and I moved to Los Angeles 25 years ago." Now that the food scene has tastebuds for Filipino-inspired fare, it's about time the country's up-and-coming fashion designers — like rising talent Carl Jan Cruz — share a more prominent place in the spotlight, too.
In addition to carrying bags and clutches woven from sustainable fibers like wicker, rattan, and bamboo, Accoutrements LA also stocks intricate inlaid shell jewelry, luxe tassel earrings, printastic varsity jackets featuring one-of-a-kind indigenous textiles, wood veneer and shell minaudières, and more statement pieces that showcase the centuries-old traditional crafts of the Philippines.
For Upton, fashion and supporting Filipino talents have always been her passions, but it wasn't until last year that she found a path that allow her to fuse both. After starting her career in the hospitality industry, Upton went on to work for Australia's Quantas Airways before earning her master's degree in interior design from UCLA. During her decade-long career in interior design, she's worked on projects for stylish staycation spots like the Four Seasons Hotels, Peninsula Beverly Hills, and St. Regis Hotels, to name a few, she tells us.
"In 2017, I visited the Philippines. There I attended an annual trade show promoting Philippine-made products," Upton explains. "I went to check out the furniture, but fell in love with the fashion accessories they were also promoting. I was very impressed with the quality, craftsmanship and beauty. I didn't realize until then that most of the bags and other accessories you find at Anthropologie, Barneys, Saks, and J. Crew, were all made in the Philippines."
While we'll always get behind goods crafted on our home turf, we can also thank globalization and the advancement of technology for redefining what it means to shop "local" — and thus, giving us plenty of retail therapy options for empowering a far-flung community while supporting a locally-based business.
On that note, we sat down with Upton to find out more about Accoutrements LA, why it's important to her to support Filipino talents, how LA inspires her collections, and more. Read on below, then shop the brand over on its website or at Unique LA, which returns May 12 and 13 to the California Market Center.
Can you tell us more about what to create Accoutrements LA?
I've always loved fashion since I was little. My mom was very fashionable all her life and I loved her '50s and '60s outfits. I loved dressing up, wearing accessories and I always followed fashion and the trends. In Spain, my dad's job was to promote the country, so even then, I was very proud of my heritage and knew what the Philippines had to offer.
All of this led to my decision to launch Accoutrements LA. I came back from that trip last year very excited and charged up. Two months later, in July 2017, the website was up! So I "left" the interior design industry and did not accept any new projects [in order to focus on the brand].
Why was it important for you to work with and support artisans in the Philippines?
The Philippines has a wealth of talent but unfortunately, only a handful make it big outside the country. Why this is, I'm not sure. But I want to showcase and promote these talented designers. There are so many of them. When you support designers like the ones I choose to represent and include in the collection, they all provide livelihood to various communities or organizations that help women and communities by providing the livelihood.
I'm committed in promoting and showcasing the unique beauty of Philippine artistry to the next generation.
What sets Filipino culture/craftsmanship apart, and why is it important to you to preserve it?
The Philippines is unique: Pottery, metal forgery, basketry and textile weaving have existed in the Philippines for centuries, before colonization by the Spaniards. When I launched my store, I quickly realized that not many people knew the rich history of the Philippines and its craftsmanship.
For hundreds of years prior to the Spaniards, they were already practicing trade, had their own distinct style in basketry and textile weaving. The same methods are still being used to this day.
In the last decade or so, the country has had a resurgence in truly preserving these indigenous methods. Various groups and designers have created programs to preserve these traditions by going to these communities, providing them livelihood by continuing their traditional crafts and creating modern design. The younger generation is being taught by their elders to continue this tradition. More and more Filipinos are wearing clothing and accessories that have been made using the indigenous methods but are now modern and wearable.
You mentioned that basket bags haven't always been a cool fashion accessory. What should people know about the designers that you support?
You have to realize that a lot of these products are already quite common, but understand that these product are very different from what you see [in many fast fashion stores]. Those are made in factories, using less quality materials. The ones that are truly precious are handmade, using locally grown materials made by hand are thus more durable and exquisite. We're trying to promote slow fashion. Understand the reason why these are more expensive than what you would find in a [mass retailer like] Target, for example.
Fortunately, some products that are exquisite have already made it in mainstream stores and are being recognized worldwide: Designs by Aranaz, Rafe Totengco, Maco Custodio, Zacarias 1925, Ken Samudio, Banago, and Silnag are just a few fashion accessory brands.
Given that the Philippines is currently having a major moment in the U.S. food scene, what kind of impact would the same recognition make on Filipino fashion designers?
It would be great! There are already quite a few successful Filipino designers like Monique Lhuiller, Josie Natori, Michael Cinco, Armina Aranaz, Rafe Totengco, Rajo Laurel, and Oliver Tolentino, to name a few.
How does Los Angeles inspire the pieces you carry?
I definitely keep an eye out on current and future trends, and I make a decision on which items to carry in my store. LA is definitely a trend setter and I always talk to my suppliers and give suggestions on how to make their products more marketable and have an edge to other similar designs from other countries.
What's your favorite item from your collection and why?
From my current collection, it's so hard to choose since each one has its own distinct uniqueness that makes them special. Right now, my favorite bag is the Bayong by Maco Custodio. It's made of upcycled, pre-consumer handwoven aluminum foil juice drink pouches, like Capri Sun.
Maco is a prolific fashion designer. He started with shoes, now he makes fashion accessories. He was given a challenge a few years ago to create a bag that part of it he could delegate to a community (through Gawad Kalinga, a nonprofit organization) and provide them livelihood. He came up with this handwoven foil bag.
He collected from various factories the remnants from the packaging, like juice drinks, and chocolate drink foil pouches. He designed a bag, and since then he has won awards for it! Each bag is 100% made by hand including the leather accents. Truly a great story, and an exquisite and chic bag too. Sustainability at its best!