In 2014, Jasmin Larian and her then two-year-old brand in New York launched a bag called Gaia's Ark that looked poles apart from what was available on in stores. It was a small, rigid, half-moon shaped bag weaved from bamboo, so you could literally see through the bag. And the bag was so structural that it stood upright on its own. This came at a time when the accessories conversation surrounded leather satchels and envelope clutches — Mulberry's Del Rey satchel, Marc by Marc Jacobs' satchel, and the Cambridge Satchel Company. Larian gave birth to her bag at a wrong time. It was too soon, too early. The market was not ready. Bags were seen as functional items, not artistic objects.
"It did not take off immediately," Larian recalls.
The bag, however, was Larian's best foot forward. It encapsulates what the 29-year-old had in mind for her brand, Cult Gaia. "Gaia is the goddess of Mother Earth and the daughter of chaos, the most creative force there is, in my opinion," Larian explains. "Women and nature are endlessly inspiring me, so there is a lot in the name. Most of my inspiration derives from women and nature."
For this Ark bag, Larian was inspired by the biblical Noah's ark, "and it rocks from side to side like a boat. It's the nuance that gets me." She sought out bamboo for the bag — a material that is produced in China for the most part. "Bamboo is very sturdy and versatile. It grows like a weed so it is a renewable source and we can build so many different shapes with it."
The material made this bag a decorative object of its own. "It was designed to stay on your coffee table and look just as beautiful as home decor... When we design, I always ask, "Can this be just as beautiful as an object on a coffee table as it would be [worn]?" This polarity confused the consumers back then. "So many things we made are not necessarily things people think that they can pull off immediately because they stand out so much." Larian took steps on social media to "[show] people how to wear it, and then a few different influencers started buying the bag. I think because it is so uniquely different, and everyone on social media wants to stand out."
Larian's Ark bag was dubbed the "it" bag last year, and the success saw e-tailers such as the British Net-a-Porter approaching them. "They reached out over a year ago and our bags sold out on their site in three days," Larian counts her successes. The brand cast their nets far and wide, and now boasts a ready-to-wear (RTW) clothing line, accessories such as earrings and arm cuffs, and most recently, shoes. "I wanted to make sure that our footwear really completed our head-to-toe look."
The brand's story is vaguely familiar to the fashion industry. It seems to follow the rapid trajectory of another New York accessory-turned-RTW label, Mansur Gavriel. Between 2013 and 2015, Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel's bucket bags shot to fame on Instagram. Later in 2016, they too, took to Net-a-Porter to venture into shoes. By 2017, the situation was: "Remember the days when Mansur Gavriel was the hottest fashion ticket in town?" The irony of a 'trend' is its lifespan — a successful trend is always destined to expire with time.
"I feel like time cripples the creative process, but pressure makes diamonds," Larian muses. To her, the rapid success of her Ark bag kept her on her toes. "We need this pressure to grow and get better. I don't anticipate that anything we make will become an instant hit — if a hit at all."
For Larian, a brand is more about bringing a group of kindred spirits together than mere products. She started her brand in her college days, making "flower crowns for friends for fun, and turbans out of vintage fabric... [and] it became this cult-like thing." Likewise, with her current brand, Cult Gaia, the trends may ebb and wane, but the people should stay with the brand (or in the cult) irregardless. "Every great brand is cult-like, uniting like-minded people in their aesthetic ideals."
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