On a recent visit to Los Angeles, we stopped by the workspace of ARE Studio to talk to founder Cecilia Bordarampé about her background, how she chooses her manufacturers and materials, and supporting the city she loves.
What was your background before launching Are Studio?
I studied fine art while in school, which ultimately lead to pursuing a career in museums. I became involved with artifact care and preservation, working primarily with Native American ethnographic collections. The experience really gave me an appreciation for natural materials, skill and craftsmanship - pieces made by someone’s two hands (long ago or recent) - no two objects alike.
What made you decide to set out on your own and launch the brand?
I’ve always designed and been curious about working in varied mediums ever since I can remember. After college, I started experimenting with making canvas and leather bags, simply because I needed an everyday bag that I could personalize over time. I approached designing these bags in a sculptural way, keeping in mind its utilitarian use, which was an incredibly fulfilling challenge that I wanted to pursue.
The Are Studio collection is all made in LA. Was it important to you that your designs be manufactured in the USA? Was that a conscious decision that you made?
Keeping all material sourcing and production localized in Los Angeles is incredibly important to me. Not only is it a matter of efficiency in my day-to-day process, but supporting the city in which I live and the local economy is merited. The collection is developed and produced within 6 miles of my home with help from small family-run business that I know personally. All of these efforts help foster pieces that are thoughtfully made.
Are there challenges to producing in the USA, above and beyond the normal headaches of any manufacturing?
Manufacturing costs are inherently higher than if I were to outsource to another country, but I feel really good about having production close to home, overall – there’s less of an environmental footprint when it comes to travel and packaging, as well as being able to personally assure quality pieces.
What’s your design process like? Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Shapes, forms, colors and textures are all sources of inspiration for me. Sometimes, just one of these things will ignite an idea. In developing the SS17 collection, I came across an image that involved a minimally wrapped piece of metal, which resulted in thinking about what it means to wrap something and how this might work for a bag form. Once I sketched out a few wrapping applications, the shape of an olla presented itself – the “wrapping” being at the “mouth” of the vessel. In the end, the wrapped application and the olla don’t have an immediate connection, but both lead to an unexpected shape. This creative process is so fascinating to me – the stream of consciousness, investigation of shapes and the pairing down to achieve the desired intent.
How do you decide on your materials each season and what’s the process for sourcing them?
For bag production, I’m pretty committed to working in leather for reasons of aesthetics and durability. I’ve experimented with a few different types over the years and have settled on a naked finish cow leather that is soft, shows natural imperfections and wears really well. In terms of fabric decisions, I start with how I want the designed piece to feel on the body and go from there. I scour the shelves for just the right weight, color and texture and hopefully there’s enough yardage available to make the collection.
How does living in Los Angeles affect the Are Studio collection?
I tend to design pieces that are unstructured, minimal and have a certain ease to them – perhaps this has something to do with having grown up here, but I think this aesthetic sense ultimately transcends location.
Do you have any goals when it comes to sustainability or introducing more environmental initiatives into your company?
An eye toward eliminating as much waste as possible for both bag and clothing production is key for Are Studio, which results in the recycling of fabric and leather scraps. There should always be another life for discarded pieces. For this reason, a conscious effort is made to use overstock/deadstock fabrics for my clothing production – this means that styles are in limited quantity, but I’m also avoiding the dye process completely, which consumes a lot of water (something that is scarce in California these days) and currently contributes to one of the largest pollution issues in industrial production.
What’s next for Are Studio?
Later this year, a collaborative piece between Arc Objects and Are Studio will be launched. This project bridges New York and Los Angeles, representing a year of correspondence and friendship – I’m really excited to share it soon! Building a core collection of bags has been on my mind lately, as well as beginning the development of the FW17 collection.