From being an heiress to one of the world’s silicon carbide manufacturing giants (Dongxin) to the creator & designer of her own collection of handmade luxury Italian leather handbags (SUBELLA), Susen is a force to be reckoned with! She cites the inspiration for her drive to the culture shock she received when she left China to attend the London College of Fashion, and entering into a world of style mavens & fashion daredevils. With her humble spirit & soft voice, it is easy to not foretell the surge of tenacity that dwells not just within her, but within all artists. Her charismatic & humble team of professionals from Fashionable Photography, Chris Browne & Creative Director/Photographer Anna Nicholas, seem to be the perfectly well-rounded talents and minds helping her to spearhead her venture.
What brought these amazing people to Barbados? Besides the sun, sand, sea and …oh yeah… the rum! But it was our bustling West Coast culture of luxury, style & Polo that truly allowed them to set their sights on Barbados. That’s right! Susen may have already launched her brand in the UK (you can purchase from across the globe at http://www.subellalondon.co.uk) but is looking to bring her brand to our lovely shores, using our thriving Polo scene as a launching pad. So far, she’s been a hit and is looking to local high end stores to carry the brand. And may possibly be opening a franchise?
Well, I met with the Subella team at The Limegrove Lifestyle Center’s ‘Lime Bar’ to have a little chat to learn more about Susen, the brand and its future.
– When did you realize that fashion was your calling?
When I was a little girl, I always liked to dress up and when I came to the UK to study at London College of Fashion, I spent a year doing a London–based fashion and design course, which helped to shape my future calling, but I always had a strong leaning towards bags and accessories design.
– How did it come about that you would produce a line specializing in high end handbags?
As I said in the last question, I was always drawn towards bags and accessories but I also wanted to produce high quality goods. When I looked at the high-end fashion houses, they produce beautiful bags, but they are so expensive! So my dream was to find top quality manufacturers who would make bags to my designs, but at a reasonable price. I travelled extensively throughout Italy, to find small hand-crafted manufacturers who can deliver to my high expectations
– Who is the ideal woman you would like to see carrying your handbags?
Any woman who has glamour, style and is prepared to love and treasure her bags and accessories. She would probably buy for quality, knowing that true quality and style is timeless.
– What’s the reason behind the name Subella?
Well, my name is Susen and my lovely four year old daughter is named Isabella – hence, Subella!
Also, ‘bella’ is Italian for beautiful – so it’s a great double meaning for my beautiful hand-made Italian bags!!
– Any examples of the inspirations behind the stellar designs you’ve come up with so far?
I know what I like and I always want to produce designs that are both functional and aesthetically beautiful, and stylish. I also pay attention to the metalwork, which is so important to give a high quality look and finish to a well designed bag. I never want to make a bag that lasts for just the current season, it’s much better that my bags and accessories are timeless and can be mixed with many different looks.
– What is your design process like?
Whilst I am the driving force and visionary for each design, I give a general idea to my design team, who then turn the initial brief into reality. I am always looking for unique combinations of the finest Calf and Kid leathers which are all organically and ethically sourced in Italy, where I (and most of the world!) believe that Italian leather craft is the very best.
– Give us an insight into the journey of Subella.
Back in 2012, I sourced some Italian bags and took them back to China, to test the market. I found that although China is the main manufacturer to the world in clothing and accessories, what Chinese people really value are high quality, hand produced goods by artisans in Europe. Italy is known for its fine leatherwork and most of the world’s top fashion houses still produce bags and accessories in Italy. The next step was to find talented young designers in London, and internationally. I then travelled extensively throughout Italy to find small factories with Italian artisans, who have an immense pride in their work. I then set up an e-commerce website – www.subellalondon.co.uk to showcase my bags and allow me to sell both in the UK and across the world. I am now in the process of looking at retail opportunities within major London stores (Selfridges, Fenwick’s, Harvey Nichols, Liberty etc.) as well as outside the UK.
– What challenges would you say you have encountered during the setting up of your business?
China is known for being a big manufacturer of clothing & jewelry, and I’m doing it the other way around. I’m having things made in Italy. And setting up a business in the UK, especially the type of business I am doing, it’s certainly not easy coming from my background.
-Where are the key places around the world that one can find Subella handbags?
Everywhere!!! My e-commerce website allows me to sell my bags and accessories across the world. I am also setting up retail outlets in China and London and I am currently talking to retailers here in Barbados. Watch this space!!!!
– What made you decide to bring your brand to Barbados?
Through a major fashion photo-shoot in Barbados last year at Apes Hill Polo Club by ‘Fashionable Photography’ (Anna Nicholas, a London based fashion photographer), my bags were featured and showcased in ‘Very Very’, a London based high-end lifestyle magazine owned by Russian Oligarchs and ‘POLO Magazine’, the main editorial for the UK Polo enthusiast and player. Due to the success of the “Fashion Meets Polo” photo-shoot last year, I wanted to explore opportunities here in Barbados and through the kind help of Wendy Kidd, I have brought my bags here for the world famous ‘Holders Season’ where I was the sponsor for their Gala Night.
– Many wealthy visitors set up home or simply vacation here in Barbados, but what say you to the somewhat average woman with a flair for fashion? Does Subella cater to them?
Because my bags are hand made by Italian artisans who have an immense pride and dedication to their craft, combined with the finest Italian Calf and Kid leathers, I would like to think that my bags will appeal to any woman who has a sense of style and glamour. My customers would buy for quality as well as style. When I started Subella London, part of my ethos was to produce beautiful bags, but also at a reasonable price.
– How do you plan to solidify a relationship with Barbados?
Over the last ten days that we have been in Barbados, I have met so many kind and generous people, such as the Kidd and Williams families and others, who have given me great encouragement and want to work further with me on my future projects, especially my equestrian range of bags. I am loving my time here in Barbados and want to forge strong business links with your beautiful island and people.
– Where do you see Subella London in 5 years? In Barbados and across the world.
I want to have my own flagship stores in China, Europe and the UK, with franchise stores in Polo clubs and top equestrian centres, including Barbados, for my equestrian range. The range of costume jewellery and accessories and belts for men and women should also be an established part of the business. However I will not lose sight of my original plan to source the best materials and have them hand-made by true artisans, whilst keeping a reasonable price level.
– Do you plan on expanding into other high end products at any point? (eg. shoes, belts, or any unique accessory pieces)
Yes, I am in discussion with high level people in the Polo and Equestrian fields to develop a range of bags for men and women based around the equestrian lifestyle, that are both functional and beautiful high end products. I will also bring out a range of costume jewellery, belts and accessories for men and women.
– Do you see Subella London collaborating with any other high end brands, specifically clothing brands? For any special design/showcasing purposes?
Anything can happen in the fashion industry. As a creative businesswoman, I am always open to fresh ideas and collaborations and as long as the Subella London brand identity is not compromised, I would always consider working with other like-minded people.
– What advice would you have for aspiring fashion talents/professionals?
- Create a good business plan.
- BE PREPARED! Always be prepared.
- Always planning. If you have a talent and a dream, you need to spend enough time investigating what must be done and how you can do it.
- Everything has a cost. It costs a lot to start up a business. It is a lot of money to start up any kind of fashion business.
- Never rush into something.