Studio Visions: The London Atelier Of Accessories Designer Sonya Kashmiri

Studio Visit with Sonya Kashmiri. Interview by Dörte Lange, photography by Joanna Jankowska.

Studio Visit with Sonya Kashmiri. Interview by Dörte Lange, photography by Joanna Jankowska.



Sonya Kashmiri runs her namesake accessories brand from her studio in the South-East London district of Brockley. Brockley is a quiet residential neighbourhood lost in time, with some scattered cute cafés and just a stone's throw away from lively Peckham. Sonya has invited me for a studio visit with the promise to grant me a look behind the scenes and further insights into her work, and when I travel over to meet her, she greets me with a steaming brew of builder's tea. Her charming London studio is where the design work, the sketching and prototyping of her Sonya Kashmiri bags and purses, takes place, whereas the manufacturing is done in the North of Portugal.

Dörte: Could you tell me a bit about your design background and how you started your own label? 

Sonya: Prior to launching my own label, I worked as a sneaker designer for various brands. But after seven years in the industry, I wanted to work in a different way.  I had also worked as a lecturer at the London College of Fashion in Footwear and Accessory Design. And I undertook an MA there, which served as the basis of my own label that centres on an ethos of creating timeless pieces that transcend seasonal fashion trends.

 

A weekender bag, one of Sonya Kashmiri's initial designs. 

A weekender bag, one of Sonya Kashmiri's initial designs. 

 

What are your design influences? 

I admire Charles and Ray Eames' work. They created beautiful and timeless products that are still seen as contemporary today. I aspire to this objective. As technology and needs change so must the products, in order to remain functional and useful objects.

What drives you and serves as main inspiration and motivation for your work?

I enjoy designing and developing concepts. In the beginning, it was about challenging the status quo by developing new ways of making things. Materials are important: Using vegetable-tanned leather is a cleaner process than working with the cheaper chromed-leather, which uses chrome as a metal agent that cannot be recycled in the tanning process. Additionally, I decided to use recycled leather made of the off-cuts from the leather industry as a structural support. With the lining, it was important for me to choose a cleaner non-synthetic material, that was produced without the use of pesticides and under fair working conditions, and a higher income for the growers. Which is why I chose to use organic cotton.

 


I admire Charles and Ray Eames’ work. They created beautiful and timeless products that are still seen as contemporary today. I aspire to this objective.
Above: In Sonya Kashmiri's living room, below: in the kitchen, making some builder's tea.

Above: In Sonya Kashmiri's living room, below: in the kitchen, making some builder's tea.

 

What is your approach to designing and producing in a mindful way?

I think that the two are synonyms now, as our own values shape our ideas. For me, it is essential to use the best types of materials and the most sustainable methods of construction. To make something that is functional, aesthetically pleasing, and lasting.

How do you source your leathers and what are the challenges? 

The vegetable-tanned leather is made at an Italian tannery and is originally sourced from Bovine cows in France. The leather is a by-product of the meat industry and within the EU, there are more stringent laws on animal welfare. 

Could you explain the advantages of working with vegetable-tanning?

The vegetable-tanned leather is produced at an Italian tannery that has specialised in this process for over sixty years. It is finished with oils and waxes, and this is a more natural process as the waste can be easily recycled. In contrast, chromed leathers are supposed to be carcinogenic in their treatment.

 


Initially, I start by researching imagery that inspires me, which can range from architecture to plants.
Above and centre left: Sonya Kashmiri's studio, centre right: the "Miss Alicia" bag, below: pattern and "Miss Tara" purse.

Above and centre left: Sonya Kashmiri's studio, centre right: the "Miss Alicia" bag, below: pattern and "Miss Tara" purse.

 

Could you describe your design process in its different stages?

Initially, I start by researching imagery that inspires me, which can range from architecture to plants. With these images, I will then create a mood board. Using these boards, I will begin to design initial ideas, which can take up to a week. This leads on to the design development stage. This can take me a week or more, depending on a number of styles. Having created the collection, I will begin to make paper prototypes to see if they will successfully translate into 3D. Once this is finalised, I will make patterns, and sometimes I will construct a mock-up by using felt. This would normally take me around seven to ten days. Once completed, I will implement the designs on my specification sheets (technical descriptions). And finally, I will visit my manufacturer in Portugal with the patterns to discuss the initial samples. There is only one sample stage to my selling range. For a small business, this saves money, and there is less waste.

Where do your accessories get produced?

All accessories are made in Portugal, to the South of Porto. I work with a small manufacturer, in a lovely setting in the mountains. They are interested in being more sustainable in their production processes and have great technical knowledge.

 


I think that we are living in a time of great change.
Not only politically, but also in terms of our attitudes towards what we consume and how we consume it.
Above: Mood boards, below: initial sketches and the final product.

Above: Mood boards, below: initial sketches and the final product.


What is your vision for the fashion industry? How could it develop in a healthy and sustainable way in the future?

I think that we are living in a time of great change. Not only politically, but also in terms of our attitudes towards what we consume and how we consume it. Especially already in regards to food. And I think, as we become more transparent, this will eventually be reflected in other industries, as well.

Thank you so much for showing us your studio, Sonya!

 

In the neighbourhood, on a grey December morning. Photography by Joanna Jankowska.

In the neighbourhood, on a grey December morning. Photography by Joanna Jankowska.

 
Above and below: Production facilities of Sonya Kashmiri's manufacturer in Portugal.

Above and below: Production facilities of Sonya Kashmiri's manufacturer in Portugal.

 

Places We Love In:

Brockley

Browns Of Brockley

One of South-East London’s original speciality coffee spots, located
directly opposite Brockley overground station.
5 Coulgate St, London SE4 2RW
www.brownsofbrockley.com
 

Arlo & Moe

Independent café with charming vintage décor, providing quality coffee
to Brockley residents since 2012.
340 Brockley Road, London SE4 2BT
Link to Website