I recently had an opportunity to catch up with Be Inthavong and Steve Dumain, the co-designers/founders behind the beloved handbag and accessories line Be & D. We got to talk to them about the recent re-launch of the iconic Garbo, what they do on their off days, their love of New York (go Brooklyn!), their sources of inspiration and much more. They are completely adorable and so full of energy about their designs, fashion and life in general. Be even dropped a hint about their upcoming line collaboration with Doo.ri. Can't wait to see more from this dynamic duo!
Sugar Rock Catwalk: Happy 5 year anniversary! How did the partnership begin?
Steve: On a Unicorn ride through the forest, I was on my way to Narnia and Be was heading back home. We decided to stop and get a little creative.
Okay - but really it was really the corner of 14th and 3rd ave - after a fun night out. We were both at a deli getting some late night eats!:)
Be: Well, what Steve said, minus the unicorn but add a BLT sandwich late night.
SRC: What’s the best part of working together?
Steve: The end result and the family feel we have at the office.
We constantly challenge each other to create exciting new products and get better in work and life.
Be: Nothing is ever the same and being challenged to push the envelope. It’s truly a partnership.
SRC: I’ve read that Steve was originally a screen writer; you’ve had quite a change in careers how did you decide to go into hand bags?
Steve:It really was just meeting Be - he taught me how to use my sculpture background as well as my imagination and love of really amazing leathers to create beautiful creations for women. I hadn't understood the relationship between what I was creating for arts sake and what we could turn into wearable art until Be started to show me how.
SRC: Be, you are said to draw inspiration from your Laotian heritage, is there a specific detailing that you’ve incorporated into your designs that is unique to the Laotian aesthetic?
Be: I’m inspired in lots of ways from my heritage. My family has done Lao Silk Weaving for over 100 years. One design element I did was introduce leather weaving into our collection. By doing this, I was able to pull from my past and also add my own twist.
SRC: As male designers, purses and heels wouldn’t be something that you would ordinarily use in your day to day life, how did you know what women would want and incorporate it into your designs?
Steve: Be and I are both really in touch with both our masculine sides and our feminine sides. We feel that a lot of woman can be very feminine - but still have a tough edge and a little bit of a punk or sometimes masculine approach to what they wear. We really like to go into ourselves and look outside at the work around us to marry these tow aesthetics in the best way we can for what we feel is most relevant at the time. We're also both very utilitarian - so we're obsessed with the usefulness of our bags and their weight. Sometimes the feminine sides come out as romantic and other times they come out very glamorous. The masculine side to me feels almost like a tailored punk feel.
Be: I am around lots of woman. Growing, I was inspired by my grandmother, then my mother, then my aunt, then the female friends. All these incredible ladies taught me a lot of a woman’s desire and self confident. I try to understand the balance of these desires and skilled execution of design and craftsmanship.
SRC: You mostly sell in upscale retailers and many celebrities wear your designs, what was the turning point in your success?
Steve: Since Bergdorf Goodman was our first client, the rest of our business organically grew from that type of customer and our aesthetic and the product we were naturally making.
Be: I really cannot recall a turning point. I still feel like it’s still turning!
Garbo BeltsSRC: When you launched your line with the Garbo, what made you feel it was the right time to re-visit it? Also there were slight modifications, was it difficult to change such a best selling design?
Steve: That's exactly why we waited so long!! For a long time we wanted to do it - but we just couldn't get it to click. It’s like a recipe. You need to try it and try it again - and finally we knew exactly what to do - and it all came together - and luckily it was also our 5 year anniversary so it totally made sense.
Be: For me, when we would do Personal Appearances in stores and describing who we were to customers, I kept describing the Garbo as a reference. Then like Steve said, it’s like a recipe, the time was right and it made sense to just make what we are. The Garbo was a powerful bag for us.
SRC: Do you have any favorite spots to draw inspiration from in NYC?
Steve: The streets, Brooklyn for me - as I've lived there in my loft (where Be and I started the business from 6 years ago and shipped Bergdorf from). Parties at friends homes, Concerts (I love live music and it always inspires me), art galleries.......and all the women in our lives who live here. We can also see the NY skyline from Brooklyn, which is enough to move you every day.
Be: In our studio.
SRC: If you had a day off what would be doing?
Steve: Spend it with friends and family. Or maybe just sleeeeeeeep and watch movies. If I had a lot of days off - I would go traveling somewhere I haven't been yet - like India or South East Asia - and start my new screenplay.
Be: Getting lost in New York City.
SRC: Where do you see Be&D heading in the next 5 years?
Steve: We've got a couple more tricks up our sleeve:) Be and I have been talking about what's next. Since we started shoes - that takes a lot of our energy. Something a lot of people don't know about us is that when we first met, we were making clothing together for a brief time - really just 5 or so months - the bags found a home so quickly that it took all our time. Who knows what we'll do as we get more time to create new avenues of style.
Be: Oh no, the 5 year question!! I don’t want to sound rude or clueless, but I got here because I learned to take one day at a time. But the challenge of being a businessman is the challenge to have a crystal ball. I may see Be & D stores or silks in our future, but I don’t even know where I will live after my lease is over!
SRC: Are there any trends should our readers be on the lookout for their next handbag purchase?
Steve: Green - it's a great color and is symbolic for the movement the world is moving in ecologically. Hopefully people will continue to use more and more eco friendly materials and ways of making things. We try harder and harder all the time. The first Garbo's ever and still many of our leathers are vegetable dyed - keeping the products cleaner for the environment. Green is also the color of money here in the US - and everyone love the color of money:)
Be: Fur!! And our Doo.ri for Be & D bags!
SRC: Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us!
Be: You are very welcome! It was a great pleasure! And thank you for making me take the time to talk about our brand. It’s really interesting to pause and take a look at life sometimes. It’s NY Fashion Week now, thank you for reminding me why I love fashion again!! You guys ROCK!