“Your bag represents who you are.” Sometimes it is not easy to find a bag that goes with your outfit and can speak for who you are. Selected by Shopping Design magazine as “the best original brand”, LLAGUT features clean shape design, Italian leather, and Taiwanese craftsmanship. Creating leather products which are casual, elegant, stylish and modern, LLAGUT is capable of making you exclaim: “This is the bag I’ve been looking for!”
LLAGUT is a “half-blood” brand, co-created by Chichen from Taiwan and Miquel from Spain in 2013. They opened their first store in Taipei in 2014, and they already have 5 distributors selling their products. “Llagut” means “small wooden boat” in Spanish. The name represents the laid-back atmosphere of Southern Europe, and also echoes the warmth which handmade leather products bring to people in their daily life. Despite being a very young brand, it shows great potential through their insistence on high quality, with exquisite taste.
The warmth of leather triggered her startup dream.
Neither Chichen nor Miquel planned to step into the world of leather design. Chichen majored in Interface Design in Paris. Over her eight years in Paris, she built a small Internet company with her local friends, and she was responsible for the Human-Computer Interface. Back then few people talked about startups, and it was definitely not an easy job for a foreigner to start her own business there. Recalling the days she started from zero, and had to find clients and develop the products all on her own, she smiled and said, “Well, I think I was really lucky.” All the challenges didn’t seem to bother her at all.
After a few years, her company didn’t grow as fast as expected, and she also became tired of the weather in Paris. She decided to come back to Taiwan and worked at PEGA D&E, where she led several branding design projects, and had chances to learn about product design, including leather accessories. Unexpectedly, leathercraft soon changed her life.
Until then, she had been devoted to tech products for many years. In response to the rapid-changing market trend, tech product development is always a race against time. However, despite so much time and effort, she sometimes asked herself, “Who are the end users? How do they feel about the products?” In the long run, she felt that her job lacked the sense of warmth of people. In comparison, in the world of leather design, from pattern making, cutting, to sewing, all of these procedures rely on handicrafts. The warmth delivered through leathercraft inspired her to start her own business again.
She spent two years on learning the basics of leathercraft, starting from pattern-making and sewing. By the second year, she could use technical jargon to communicate with leather craftsmen. “Based on my previous experience, I know very well that product development means creating something that doesn’t exist in the market yet. So sometimes you don’t even know who to ask for help. You can only take courage to find potential partners to cooperate with you and realize your imagination.” For example, Chichen’s design did not follow the usual style that catered to Taiwanese consumers, which meant most local craftsmen were not familiar with manufacturing the bags she designed. To communicate with them, she had to equip herself with enough basic know-how.
Spanish partner joined Chichen with his aesthetic creativity.
While preparing for her own leather business, she mentioned her plan to Miquel. “I saw the wooden tofu molds in Miquel’s place. He said he asked his neighbor for them to make a table on his own. I thought, this guys is a bit weird, but very creative as well. It might be interesting to work with him!”
Miquel is indeed a humorous and playful person. On the day of our interview, he welcomed us with a big smile on his face, implying his optimistic character. He showed us his place. From chairs, lamps to flower pots, all were handmade by himself. He likes handicrafts and art, and enjoys making his own furniture. Calling himself an autodidact in design, he actually majored in Translation and Interpreting and worked as an audiovisual translator before moving to Taipei.
Originally he planned to continue to study a PhD, but before he graduated from graduate school, the idea of going abroad suddenly came to him. “But where?” As he had classmates from Taiwan, “Taiwan” naturally became one of the choices. “I googled Taiwan, and I thought the country looked nice. Although I knew very little about it, I didn’t think too much. I just bought the ticket and flew to Taiwan.” Speaking in fluent Chinese, Miquel said, “Recently I am thinking about learning Taiwanese. It will be easier to communicate with local factories in Taiwanese!”
After coming to Taiwan, it was natural for Miquel to find teaching and translation jobs with his expertise. However, he still spent his leisure time on art and handicrafts, and also traveling around to see beautiful things. Therefore, when Chichen shared her leather business plan with him, he could also share his opinions and ideas based on his instinct. They then found that both of them had similar perspectives in pursuit of beautiful and quality products. “Even our logo was created by Miquel,” said Chichen smiling, pointing to the brand logo of LLAGUT. The simple few lines of the logo truly match the core concept of the brand. It is not an easy job.
The relationship between Taiwan and startups in the lifestyle industry
With so many competitors globally, how could a new brand create unique products to win the market? Both having abundant foreign experiences, Chichen and Miquel think, “Although LLAGUT is a Taiwanese brand, we don’t want to place in ‘Taiwanese elements’ literally. Culture should not be presented in a stereotyped way. It is something innate.” They think that it is not designers’ job to deliberately apply some cultural symbols in their products, and call them “cultural and creative products”.
What they are pursuing is to build up a unique and playful brand using all kind of creative means. The leathers they use are Italian top-grade full-grain leather, calfskin and haircalf leather. They only import leather from suppliers whose whole production process complies with all European laws in terms of environmental protection and quality standards, and select chrome-tanned leather that is minimally processed (besides necessary processes, such as waterproofing). Chrome-tanned leather is soft and flexible, and is less likely to fade and shrink, which allow more diversity in terms of design. Naturally, they also source the best accessories they can find. For example, the high-end solid brass zippers they use are made in Japan by YKK, which are neatly polished to ensure durability and a smooth gliding.
“All of our leather products are made in Taiwan,” said Chichen proudly. “After collaborating with local manufacturers for a couple of years, I found that we don’t lack skilled craftsmen. The problem is that the scale of local manufacturers is very extreme. We only found big factories which provide services to international brands, or small workshops. So for a small independent brand like LLAGUT, we face problems when we need to raise production quantity.” They hope that they can continue to bring more high-end design inquiries to local small manufacturers, so as to stimulate the growth and improvement of the whole industry.
What are the advantages of starting up in Taiwan? “In the lifestyle industry, if we had not started the brand in Taiwan but in other places, it would have been almost impossible for us to grow so fast. Since Taiwan has a long history of manufacturing, the related production chain can be very flexible and efficient.” As an entrepreneur who had the experience of starting up in both Paris and Taipei, Chichen revealed the potential Taiwan has in the lifestyle industry.
Miquel majored in Translation and Interpreting and worked as an audiovisual translator before moving to Taipei. During his high school years, Miquel used to repair vintage cars, reselling them for profit. In Taiwan, Miquel designed and made some furniture pieces for personal use and years later, after meeting Chichen, started learning from her and experimenting with leather design. Miquel considers himself to be a playful autodidact and is also interested in interior design and technical aspects of design and construction
After her degree in Interface Design in Paris, Chichen worked as a graphic and multimedia designer for a couple of years, which was a starting point to get in touch with the product design field. Afterwards, Chichen came back to Taiwan and worked at PEGA D&E. While leading several branding design projects, Chichen discovered her interest in accessories design, and then spent two years learning leathercraft skills. She and Miquel met in Taiwan and decided to join together into leather design.