For Boyy, it’s in with the old

A man and a woman standing in front of buckle samples attached to a mood wall.

The members and founders of leather accessories brand Boyy discuss how the pandemic inspired them to look to their own archive for a fresh – and sustainable – design approach

By Rosalind Jana    Images and video courtesy of Boyy    Wednesday 18 March, 2020

‘We’ve been doing this for some time now. We met in New York and were just two dreamers in the big city.’ I’ve just asked the founders of cult bag label Boyy – best known for their innovative, sleek accessories – how it all got started. Launched in 2006 by husband and wife duo Jesse Dorsey and Wannasiri Kongman, over the past 14 years Boyy has expanded from a daring, somewhat impulsive idea to a burgeoning global business. 

The pair are currently in Thailand where they have their flagship in Bangkok, a further four stores and a cafe, too. ‘Because I’m Thai, we have a fanbase [here] that makes Bangkok feel like the home of Boyy,’ Kongman explains. ‘We don’t really have brands that go international, so I think they feel so proud and happy for the brand.’ 

It all began back in New York in the mid-noughties, with Dorsey working in the music industry and Kongman waiting tables while she studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology. ‘When we met, she already had an extreme obsession with handbags. I didn’t,’ Dorsey laughs. ‘But her passion got me into it. It was almost contagious. We’d stroll around downtown Manhattan and every girl that walked by, she’d break down the bag and explain it to me.’
A green handbag with a large leather buckle on it.
A maroon handbag with a large leather buckle on it.
Dorsey was ready for something new and Kongman had just the right idea – and just the right eye. Together they got some samples made in the fashion district and, according to Dorsey, ‘with our good fortune, it just took off. We built it up to where we are now as just the two of us.’ 

Over the following years, their bags dangled from the wrists of everyone from Sarah Jessica Parker to Chloë Sevigny, with the brand moving its operations from New York to Bangkok, and then on again to Milan in 2018. In the past five years they’ve switched up the tempo, focusing more on creating accessories with real sticking power, rather than ‘churning out new styles’. It’s perhaps this more reflective mode that’s seen them dubbed the ultimate ‘anti-it bag’ brand, the pair collectively honing a select number of silhouettes and signature details. 

Their creative process is both collaborative and hard-won. ‘When we started the brand, it was absolute hell. Looking back, the problem was that neither of us knew what we were good at,’ explains Dorsey. It took time for the duo to figure out how they wanted to work together. ‘It’s always, to this day, very combative,’ he adds. ‘But the way I theorise it, with friction and pressure, out comes the diamond.’ 
A man and a woman working with samples at a table.
One such diamond is their buckle bag: a crisply shaped bag featuring an oversized buckle that’s been a particular hit with celebrities and street-style stars alike. The idea for this inventive design first came to Kongman when the pair were travelling in Copenhagen a few years ago. ‘We were just looking out on the street and I saw a woman carrying a brown paper bag,’ she tells me. ‘I ran after her to see what it was, and I saw it was a to-go bag from a health-food restaurant. I managed to go to that place and get the bag. We brought it back and sampled it into leather, then the buckle idea came. When we saw the first draft sample, I said, “This is it. This is the bag I really want to wear right now.” I don’t know if [Jesse] felt the same because we had a big fight during that initial buckle bag design. But then we showed the collection for the first time at Paris Fashion Week and got such great feedback.’ 

More recently, they’ve turned their attention to other projects, specifically a design initiative called Boyy Up. It was an idea that the pair had talked about for a long time, but never found the right moment for. As it turned out, it was COVID-19 that gave the couple the extra time and latitude to think seriously about the project. For this initiative, currently being sold exclusively in a dedicated pop-up store located at the Siam Paragon mall in Bangkok and online, they’ve looked inwards: delving deep into their own inventory of previously purchased raw materials and finished goods to create fresh designs. In doing so, they’ve been able to sustainably recycle lots of stock and push themselves creatively.
A small leather handbag in front of a larger tote style bag.
A red leather handbag with extended fabric sides.
‘I still can’t believe we did what we did,’ Kongman reflects. ‘When we started playing around with it, we cut [bags] open, we split them front and back, we added the body, we used other handles… everything is like a Frankenstein.’ Both of them are very proud of the results, and slightly amazed that they pulled it off. ‘We could have just taken two pieces of leather and stitched them together and said, “Here’s a laptop case, here’s a wallet”,’ adds Dorsey. ‘But it has to be in the spirit of Boyy, so it’s a huge challenge.’

Although a relatively new endeavor, the project seems indicative of the general ethos that Boyy has always maintained. As Dorsey observes, ‘the way we design handbags is that we look at them as objects first, and then all the purposes of a bag come second. It has to be able to stand alone and have an incredible presence.’ These latest designs do just that, reimagining classic silhouettes and adding all sorts of eye-catching twists. Like everything else Boyy does, it’s playful, but also very considered.
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