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Minimal, Ethical Handbags Made of Rubber, Marble, and More

"I think I relate to the bags as sort of funny little furniture items that you can carry around," Anna Lynett Moss, founder of the understated, alternative handbag brand Chiyome (pronounced CHEE-o-meh), told The Cut. "It’s just a different scale, and through the mechanism of sewing, so it feels like making a self-enclosed piece." Moss, whose first two loves were drawing and printing, studied printmaking at RISD, worked at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, and plunged into the world of fashion design when she appeared on Project Runway season seven as a contestant.

After her brush with television, she decided to move into handbags and launched her own studio to produce a line of minimal, architectural purses; recently, she kicked off a trunk show for her latest collection, Hover, during New York Fashion Week. While the bags are hand-held works of art in their own right — crafted from materials like onyx, copper pipes, rubber, marble, vinyl, and brass — they're also products of Moss's socio-ethical world view. In addition to ensuring every material Chiyome uses is ethically sound, Moss also launched a program this summer to work with survivors of human trafficking, partnering with nonprofits in New York to open up a creative outlet and employment options for these women. The Cut spoke to Moss about her brand's eco and ethical focus, and the joys of working with new materials, which you can see in the slideshow below.

How did you decide to name your line Chiyome?
Chiyome was the name of my great-grandmother. My mother’s side of the family is Japanese-American and I wanted to be sure that I could  honor the history of my family and have a personal connection to it. There’s this interesting tradition in our family where Chiyome’s father would have the women with “Chi”— so there was “Chiyome,” “Chiyeko,” and my mother’s middle name was “Chiyo.” I think for a minute my mother tried to find an anglicized “Chi” name for me, but there kind of isn’t one. [Laughs.] I kind of feel like I’m reincarnating the tradition by taking on this name.

What was unique about the Hover line to you?
Hover's about the natural versus the unnatural. Also, Hover is integrating strange or unintuitive elements in the design and thinking about the sense of wonder that you have when you’re seeing a new material or form for the first time. It's interesting not knowing what a material is and having that intriguing moment. That’s something I want to explore further: combining materials, using different sorts of finishes that sort of create an illusion of maybe a different material. How can we combine these hard and soft elements to interact with the body?

There's an ethical focus to Chiyome. What made it important for you to address that in your own company?
It started when I was developing the idea of the company initially. I was confronted with my capacity to make choices about how we source materials and who you’re working with and I just became really aware that if I could create the company to be anything I wanted it to be, then it just made sense to me that I would be careful about where I was choosing my materials from. Mostly it’s manifested in sourcing, and I ask them a lot of questions about where it comes from, where it's made. It feels like this standard hasn’t really established yet. So in terms of our options for sourcing materials, it’s a narrow space. We’re going to be moving forward with almost only vegetable-tanned leathers because the process of tanning is just easier on the environment than chromium tan. We’ve kind of self-selected this tiny range and the quality isn’t always so great, so we need to make the extra effort.

Can you tell me more about the materials you’ve been using?
I've been using a lot of waxed canvas, and I’ve also been introducing a lot of alternative building materials like marble and wood and also industrial finishes like powder coating and copper. It’s really been an experimentation, and I think considering the balance between the natural and unnatural materials has been really interesting. We look at something like leather or marble or wood and think of it as being from the earth, but really it’s passed through so many hands and so many processes and artificial finishes to arrive at the final material that it’s not actually pure. That kind of idea is really intriguing to me — and pairing those materials that we think of as being so natural with definitely man-made materials like vinyl and plastic. I’m really curious about the potential tension that could exist when those kinds of materials intersect.

You just started a new program working with survivors of human trafficking. What inspired that?
Really, it started out of a desire to be more thoughtful about the way we’re interacting with our immediate community and personally, I’ve always been curious about ways in which creative work can have a healing power and a connecting power. Because I’m committing myself fully to Chiyome, it just made sense to me to consider ways in which the company could be interacting responsibly and supporting underserved communities where we live in New York. We’re at the beginning of it, and it’s going to be really interesting to see how it goes. It’s just been a really huge honor to be in the lives of these women and have their trust.

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Photo: Courtesy of Chiyome

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