Do you remember what you were doing when you were 21? I was in the middle of an undergraduate degree, simultaneously trying to figure out what my career path would be and what I should wear to that evening’s student party. I certainly wasn’t at the head of my own company.
Which is exactly where designer Marina Raphael is at now. She started her eponymous handbag brand only last year, and just graduated from King’s College London, splitting her time between her native Greece (her mother is Swiss-Austrian and her father Greek) and London.
Her travels, alongside her affinity for arts and culture, are the inspiration behind her designer handbags, which you’ve probably seen all over your Instagram feed this summer, on the arms of celebs like Pixie Lott and influencers such as Doina, Bettina Looney and Anna Vitiello. But whilst the bags are lust-worthy (think structural shapes, clean lines, autumnal colour palette), there is a far more important message behind them: sustainability. I caught up with the designer to find out more.
What is the inspiration behind the collection?
The inspiration behind the current collection is the conversation between our innate and everlasting link to nature and the changes that accumulated through the years in the context of evolving and refining our processes. I chose to materialise this concept through the use of natural, biodegradable elements, such as suede, nappa leather and soft shearling.
The luxury profile of every piece stems directly from the quality, ensured by top-level craftsmanship of the Italian artisans to whom I have entrusted the production of each collection. Simultaneously, we always try to make sure we address all the values that govern our work, such as sustainability and supporting local communities. Lastly, my heritage always stands as an inspiration, which I am excited to incorporate through the use of crystals that adorn selected pieces giving them an extra note of glamour and finesse.
Is sustainability important to you and your brand?
Growing up in this modern day and age, I have been fully aware of the core environmental and social issues of today. While building my brand, it was inevitable for me to monitor every step in this process so that it adheres to my ecological and social values. However, I do realise, that in order to truly make a change we always need to strive in evolving and pursuing new paths that allow us to bring an even better result than before.
That is why I constantly look forward to learning, and growing as a brand and as a person, so that I can hopefully make even the smallest of changes. In addition to that, I believe in the idea that limitations and guidelines can be a great source of inspiration and can sharpen one’s perception of how to approach any new design. I absolutely welcome the creative challenge of figuring out what the right process and the best design is, within the constraints of what needs to be done so as to remain sustainable.
The brand is still young, what else is on the horizon?
I am very excited to grow as a brand and to explore the possibility of expanding my product range as well as my retailers. There is a constant rush of new ideas that I can’t wait to channel into upcoming collections while in my pursuit of creating a handbag for every occasion. Along similar lines, I am very much intrigued by the concepts that arise within the context of a collaboration.
I am very invested in the exchange of creative backgrounds and different perspectives which is facilitated by the process of joining forces in pursuit of a common goal. Overall, I am greatly appreciative of the fact that, through my brand, I have so many opportunities and ways I can broaden my horizons. From new designs to exciting collaborations, to spreading my creations across the world, I am looking forward to seizing any and every opportunity that comes my way.
Have you found social media really helped with starting off?
Social media has offered an invaluable tool. Using it, has made it immeasurably easier to spread the word about the brand and reach out to people who have expressed interest in the bags. Both its global reach and its unparalleled immediacy have been indispensable in laying the groundwork for the visual communication of the brand.
At the same time, it is important to state that I am always quite aware of the balance that needs to be kept while taking advantage of this technology, so I like to plan events as well. It is a way to meet people from up-close and interact with them so as to have a better feel of what they enjoy about the brand and cultivate a connection which I find fulfilling as well as necessary for establishing a link with all those who have been kind enough to support us.
You are such a young designer, have you found this a challenge?
It has undeniably been a challenge for me, but a much welcomed one. Most of all, managing my studies at the same time as building the company from scratch admittedly took a lot of effort. However, it never felt out of place as I believe I learned a lot by pursuing those two endeavours in parallel and it also granted me the ability to see one in a different perspective as I was exploring and being informed by the other, and vice versa. Starting a brand of my own has been a true passion for me which is at the core of what truly helped me to push through and why I never felt overwhelmed but rather challenged.