TARYN’S DESIGN DIARY is the informal, conversational companion to TARYN ZHANG [www.tarynzhang.com]. Here Sunny, the designer behind Taryn Zhang blogs candidly about the behind-the-scenes process that goes into launching a personal line of handbags and accessories.
While we’re all being informal, here’s an informal “About” page on Taryn Zhang New York:
about taryn zhang
Feminism and femininity should go hand in hand, but the men who have been running society decided feminism was a part of femininity they didn’t much like, so they tried to convince the rest of us that the two are mutually exclusive. I started this brand with the hopes of contributing my little part to show today’s society that the two are complementary. I hope my handbag designs reflect that philosophy.
Strength and elegance should also go hand in hand. I find strength to be an admirable form of elegance, and elegance a form of strength. How can I incorporate both into a handbag design? I hope bags like The Executive, The Workaholic, or heck, any of my bags embody both attributes and, as a result, when a woman carries a Taryn Zhang bag, she remembers to embody both, strength and elegance.
Now, let’s not make any pretenses about it: I am one high-maintenance woman. Okay, so I appreciate luxury. I love indulging in a high quality, beautiful handbag. I do. But I am not going to kill a cow or snake or alligator (or whatever other cute little creatures are getting skinned these days) over it. I mean, show a little compassion, right? Thus, all our handbags are cruelty-free and animal-friendly.
We also use PVC-free materials. We’re using the highest quality polyurethane vegan leather we can find on the world market. We don’t just stop at the first one we come across, oh no. I’ve looked and touched and tested and looked some more at high-end vegan leathers to the point where my eyes can’t tell the difference between red and blue anymore! I’ve hunted down materials from multiple countries, multiple manufacturers, using different manufacturing techniques, I mean, I’ve really, really looked, and only at the good stuff. Below a personal standard or threshold? I won’t even touch it. Our final picks for our collection? I love! And totally stand behind.
What’s more, we try to be eco-friendly too, but oh man, it’s tough. In sourcing our materials, we look for ISO 14001 certification from the manufacturers; personally visit the factories, talk to the factory owners and the factory workers; get the materials tested, and so on and so forth, but it really takes a whole corporate department to dot every “i” and cross every “t,” to really hound everybody to be eco-conscious and, even harder, to make sure everybody tells you the truth. And we don’t have a whole corporate department. We have Hubby and me, with a home office filled with boxes of inventory piled floor to ceiling. But for what it’s worth, TZ tries. We’re just saying don’t expect us to be perfect about it.
(Also, don’t ask me why the above is in first person and the below is in third person. It just is. Deal with it.)
One April day in 2009, Sunny, a corporate attorney in California, decided to sit for the New York bar exam, just in case she ever decided to practice law back in her home state. In July of that year, she flew back east to stay with her parents and study. While hand-writing a practice essay question (her laptop broke down in the middle of the California bar just a year ago and since she was still traumatized by that, she decided she would be prepared this time to write out the whole exam if it came to that), Sunny took a break from study and started doodling. She doodled a purse, which is very unusual for her. Throughout her life Sunny has doodled many things but never purses. This is the purse she doodled:
How exactly that led Sunny to decide, “Hey, now I am going to be a handbags designer!” is a bit fuzzy, but it did. When the bar was over (she was prudent enough to wait until after the exam, which she passed, thank you very much), she set about making the handbags she sketched from scrap fabrics found around the house. One thing led to another and when she flew back to California, she said to her husband James in greeting, “I’m going to be a handbags designer. We need to buy a sewing machine.”
The husband was confused at first. He thought maybe she meant she was somehow looped into doing business with a fashion company and that was inducing her mind to wander, or maybe she had been watching one too many episodes of Project Runway, or maybe–oh heck, he really didn’t know what was up when it came to Sunny and her pipe dreams (prior to this, she had wanted to write a novel, a Broadway musical, hang out a shingle and start her own private law practice, buy up a warehouse to shelter homeless kitties, et cetera).
Nevertheless, being a supportive super-hubby, he jumped on board immediately and said to Sunny, “Okay. Let’s do this!” By day Sunny continued her work as a corporate attorney doing corporate attorney things and by night she set forth on her design aspirations. Thus, Taryn Zhang was born, or at the very least its zygote was synthesized.
It would have freaked Sunny out a bit to see her name embossed across every handbag, so she decided she would come up with something else. The process of conceiving the handbags company was a lot like the process of conceiving a child, and so she decided to name the company the way she would a daughter.
For some time, Sunny and her husband James had said they would have their first child before Sunny hit 30, but they soon enough realized that this was not going to happen, so they adjusted their plans accordingly. Being a bit of an obsessive-compulsive planner, Sunny had a matrix already of baby names. Since she wasn’t going to be conceiving a human baby before 30, she decided a corporate entity baby could take its place, and applied the baby name brainstorm to said corporate entity. She whipped out that matrix and the name Taryn spoke out to her.
Taryn is derived from “tender” in Scots Gaelic, “of the earth” in Latin, and “youthful” in Sanskrit, or at least that’s what Sunny came up with from a quick scan of Google search results. Zhang is her husband’s surname, and though Sunny has kept her own family name, Woan, she thought it’d be swell to use Zhang for her new baby, the purse business, that is.
brand & design theory
The design of each handbag is inspired by one particular facet of the female spirit, one of her many life goals or hopes. The brand embodies who women are and who women strive to be, with an emphasis on bold, balanced lines and silhouettes. In three words, Taryn Zhang designs are about ambition, fearlessness, and strength.
Sure, it’s easy to make the connection between Sunny, a woman working in the corporate world, and her brand point of view, handbags for women working in the corporate world. Great, she’s designing bags for herself. Well, yes and no. These handbags are not about what one single designer wants, or what her closest circle of girlfriends might want; Taryn Zhang is about complementing the lifestyles of the most ambitious, fearless, and strongest of women.
What’s more, once a gal gets it in her head to design and produce handbags, she inevitably finds herself staring after random women on the streets to check out what bags they’re carrying. That’s when Sunny realized that working women, these most ambitious, most fearless, and strongest among us, generally lug around big boring totes. No matter how they’re dressed, Armani suits, DVF, or St. John, they will most likely be holding a dowdy looking man bag for their case files and work papers. Somebody’s got to replace those dowdy looking man bags, thought Sunny. That’s where Taryn Zhang comes in.
Taryn Zhang is about designing women’s power bags for those aforementioned case files and work papers. Of course it’s also about other parts of the working woman’s lifestyle, but the case files and work papers is a main part. Sunny envisioned a world of career-focused alpha females carrying sleek, bold Taryn Zhang briefs and attachés, bags that convey both “pretty” and “powerful,” bags that integrate gracefully into the corporate conservative culture while remaining assertively feminine and individualist. A woman should not feel compelled to downplay her femininity (or her strong, passionate personality) just to fit in to what is still a male-dominated (“please, woman, your opinions are giving me a headache”) business world.
about the designer
Sunny doesn’t know what to write for the first sentence of her bio, especially since people always think whatever is written in the first sentence must be what the writer thinks is the most important and she doesn’t know what she wants other people to think she thinks is the most important, and now since this is the first sentence of her bio, in all its vague, ambiguous and run-on glory, people will probably think she’s a flake. Sigh.
In no particular order:
Sunny is Taiwanese American. Sunny grew up in upstate New York. She plays the piano and violin (refer back to “Sunny is Taiwanese American”); unfortunately she is not very good at math, though that is a stereotype she wishes she could live up to, as being good at math seems like such a useful thing to be good at. Sunny is a lawyer. She works as in-house general counsel for a venture capital firm.
Sunny fancies herself a writer; she absolutely loves it. Her creative works have been published in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Blue Earth Review, SoMa Literary Review, Houston Literary Review, Identity Theory, among others. Sunny continues to serve as Managing Editor of Kartika Review, an Asian American literary journal she founded in 2007. In addition, her law review articles have been published in The Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice Law, Temple Journal of Science, Technology, and Environmental Law, Santa Clara Law Review, Cal. Western Law Review, and have been anthologized in casebooks. Sunny swears that she’s at work on a novel, but, well, she’s been swearing that for nearly a decade now.
Although Sunny’s home and heart will always be in New York, she is currently located in the Bay Area, California for work (that whole general counsel lawyer blah blah thing). While here, she’s also been serving as a commissioner for the City of Richmond Arts & Culture Commission.