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The making of a 2021 “It” bag


Even in an era when no one left the house, where celebrity paparazzi images were scarce, shopping trends were reversed and the industry was clouded with uncertainty, fashion still managed to produce a handful of pieces. that seemed to be everywhere – even if “everywhere” meant social media feeds kept us company in isolation.

One of those must-haves was that of JW Pei Gabbi, a vegan leather shoulder bag that stands out with its scrunchie handle, bold color, and price tag of $ 89. You may have seen it on the arms of Emily ratajkowski, Gigi hadid, Irina Shayk, Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, or any number of influencers, editors, or stylish people on the streets or on your timelines over the past year and a half.

The Hong Kong and Los Angeles-based accessories brand was founded in 2017 by husband-and-wife duo Steph Li and Yang Pei, but it had its first real success during the most unlikely and difficult time. for small businesses.

Spotted almost every fashion week since 2020: Gabbi by JW Pei.

The story begins in early 2020. The Gabbi was actually born out of the success of a different style – the Eva, a minimalist shoulder bag with a curved bottom that comes in a range of colors, textures and prints. “We had the very solid Eva and wanted something that could go in the fall and winter, because the Eva is very summery,” Li explains. “Since I was in the 90s, scrunchies and that sort of thing. stuff, I was like, ‘Why don’t we put that in the handle part of the bag?’ “The popularity of the Bottega Veneta Cloud bag and other styles in the market has given it, as well as the team, confidence in their potential.

JW Pei introduced the Gabbi in February 2020. That same month, House Of, the brand’s signature PR agency, hosted a taste-building event for editors, stylists and influencers where they could. borrow or take out pieces from a variety of brands for New York Fashion Week; among them was the Gabbi.

“We laid them all out on a white muslin with little cherry blossom petals – that made it a very colorful dish, and everyone was taking pictures from above because it was such a cute and simple setup.” , Christina Tung, founder of House Of, tell me. “It was really a centerpiece that season, when people came in. It was really colorful. They looked like candy on the table. It was such an easy Instagram moment.”

House Of had started this giveaway the year before “with no expectations,” but it had massive returns when the season’s street-style imagery returned, according to Tung: “Editors and fashion insiders are really the influencer of your influencer, so It was really cool to see all the different ways that editors and stylists styled the Gabbi and incorporated it into their outfits in so many different ways – more casual, more dressy, more formal. .. It was a really good time for us, like, “Maybe we’re on to something. While all editors and stylists and influencers can incorporate this bag into a myriad of looks, it’s just a microcosm of what’s possible in the world at large. ‘”

This fashion month season has generated a lot of interest in the bag and more broadly for JW Pei. Then, of course, the world went into lockdown because of Covid-19 – but that didn’t necessarily slow the brand down. Rather, JW Pei fit the profile of the types of brands people could and were looking to buy: first online, direct to the consumer, under $ 100. Additionally, JW Pei was investing in digital marketing and social advertising campaigns, which brought more attention to the product. “If you were on the right algorithm, you couldn’t miss this bag,” Tung says. “It was a booming ‘it bag’.”

However, Li and Tung agree that the Gabbi did not peak until celebrity sightings began to occur en masse in 2021.

“If you look at our business, since the start of 2020 we’ve grown almost 10 times,” Li said. “Part is, of course, the pandemic; part two is how celebrities start to grow. ‘interest in Gabbi. ”

The bag had already generated some buzz among VIPs by then – Shayk was pictured with the black version in April 2021, and Ratajkowski was spotted with it five times, in three different colors, in the span of one. month. Then, Hailey Bieber wore it on a high-profile trip to Paris; that’s when the celebrity really started pushing the needle. As of June 2021, the Gabbi accounted for 50% of JW Pei’s total sales. (A little more perspective on the impact of stardom: When Megan Fox wore it during New York Fashion Week in September and In the style wrote it, Li says the brand has sold over a thousand Gabbis.)

As Li describes it, it was a perfect storm that made this happen: the Gabbi was part of the still-alive nostalgia trend, it was relatively affordable, and it had the approval of a few big names. And at this point, there were a myriad of colors to choose from: the original ivory, brown, and orange; purple, butter, beer and ice blue from the Summer 2020 collection; the grass green, black, and chewing gum pink for spring 2021. (The brand has since introduced a darker blue, coral pink, and chili red for fall.)

“I didn’t really expect it to go as well as it used to be, because it’s simple, but it goes with everything, it’s very chic,” Li said. “We get a lot of comments saying : “Oh, I didn’t expect the quality to be so good. When you touch it, it looks like leather. That’s so sweet. We don’t think it’s $ 100. “”

Gabbi’s success has been so powerful that the brand has redesigned the entire company. “We’ve always been a direct brand to the customer, so we never really wanted to explore wholesale, but after fashion week all these big brands reached out, really interested in Gabbi,” he said. Li said.

One of its first business partners was Amazon, a platform Li recalls being warned on: “A lot of people would tell us, ‘This is not a good distribution channel for a fashion brand.’ But we did it anyway, and it worked really well for us. In about three months, the Gabbi was one of the best sellers in the class. “

Most of JW Pei’s sales, however, still come from her own ecommerce, she says. The brand is able to meet demand – and adapt, for example, to a greater interest in a specific Gabbi colourway – because it owns the factory in which it manufactures, which means it has the control of stocks and distribution channels.

Initially, Li was not betting on the Gabbi to be the brand’s big launch. There was another style in this collection, a lantern style bag, which she was sure would be a hit. “It’s very unique, there is an Asian element,” she says. “That’s what we tried to do, put our Asian heritage into the design. I thought this one would go viral, but it’s not.”

As well as being a constant generator of adjacent celebrity press clips, the Gabbi also frequently brings customers back to the brand. “Eva bag buyers, they all come back to get Gabbis,” Li said. “What we’re seeing now is that over 60% of customers buy more than two colors from Gabbi … We get a lot of e -mails like: “Are you going to do something with Gabbi?” One size larger or one shoulder strap. version? It’s definitely something she and her team are thinking about.

“One of the dilemmas I constantly talk to Christina about is, should we stick with the Gabbi and just come up with more different colors and sizes? Or should we just let it be one of the classics and go. to new styles? ”Li asks. “At the moment, since people are still in love with it, my point is that we should take some of the elements from the Gabbi and make it an entire collection, whether it’s a bigger size or even a shoe with that darling element. . That would be really fun. “

It’s all along the line, however. In the shorter term, JW Pei is playing with new Gabbi riffs, perhaps using different fabrics for different seasons (knit for fall, tweed for summer) or releasing a shoulder strap version or with a more shoulder strap. large. The brand actually just released a Super Mini Gabbi – think of it like JW Pei’s Le Chiquito (according to the website, fits a “7cm lipstick”) – consider it a preview of what could be in the future.

Now your Gabbi can have a Super Mini companion.

Now your Gabbi can have a Super Mini companion.

“It’s still a very iconic bag,” Tung says. “People recognize him as JW Pei, if you’ve seen this handle on a shoulder strap or crossbody or longer crossbody bag or tote bag. It’s a design detail that they now own. think for JW Pei that’s a big move, to build that up to a few different styles. “

When it comes to longevity, Li often looks to her role model in the industry, the Bulgarian accessory brand By Far, for inspiration. “Her Rachel bag has been working so well for years. How do you make sure it still works? To be honest, I don’t know,” she said. “Our way of solving the problem right now is to come up with a whole collection with this Gabbi element, whether it’s the darling or the simplicity. We’ll have to still try to see if the market responds well to that.”

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