For Fumi and Himi Bull, good things really do come in small packages. Since the Vancouver sister act launched Davie & Chiyo, a line of whimsically ornate hand-sewn clutches, the orders—and creative possibilities—haven’t let up.
The pair began focusing their energy on pint-sized purses last summer when their father, a woodblock artisan based in the historic Ome district of Tokyo, sent them a bunch of vintage kimonos. Himi, a mother of two who was looking for home-based projects and had been trying her hand at tuques and woven bags, crafted a clutch out of a sash. Fumi, who had just graduated from UBC with a degree in business management and marketing, immediately saw the potential.
“I said, ”˜Oh my God, these look great. We should start selling these,’ ” she tells the Straight on a brief coffee break from the thriving enterprise. “It felt so soft, and these days when you buy silk, it’s just not the same.”
Today, the collection is a far cry from that first little bag, and it’s indicative of the sisters’ ability to quickly adapt to customer demand. When the vintage-kimono purses were slow to sell, they stuck with the popular clutch style but started sourcing new silks. Right now, Davie & Chiyo’s most popular clutches are made from new materials—a luminous dupioni-silk version with an oversized, off-centre bow, and a ruffly number with a fabric rose embedded within its champagne silk-charmeuse tiers. The sisters are proud of their mixed Japanese-Canadian heritage—their company moniker is a play on their parents’ names, Michiyo and David—and you can see both influences in each little tote.
But there is another important influence, too. “Most of our inspiration comes from customer feedback—from people who say, ”˜Oh, I wish the stores had this or that,’ ” Fumi explains.
One look that has drawn attention is the duo’s clutches in eye-catching printed tapestry—turquoise cherry blossoms on a beige background, an ivory chrysanthemum on ruby red, or a giant pink flower on lime green. Their constant search for new fabric has also unearthed some hand-painted silk, with delicate blooms scrolling across a rich rose-hued or brilliant turquoise background.
Some of the styles come with a metal chain that’s been threaded with more coloured silk.
The possibilities, it seems, are endless when it comes to the clutch. That goes double for custom orders, like bridal parties. (Fumi pulls out an order she’s hand-delivering to a bride-to-be today: an ivory bow clutch for her, and black, ivory, and grey vintage-look peony prints for the bridesmaids. Instant keepsakes.)
Want the lining of your purse to be in a contrasting dupioni silk? Just ask. “We make them to order,” explains Fumi, whose sister does most of the sewing.
Of course, the sisters will have to premake purses for this weekend’s Portobello West market, where they’ll be selling their wares on Sunday (July 26) at the Rocky Mountaineer Station. They’ll also have a stall at the next Spend on Trend event, August 21 to 23 at the Scotiabank Dance Centre. Through their own Web site and at Etsy.com, the bulk of orders coming from stateside. (Prices start around $75 and go up to about $165.)
Timing is everything, and it’s helped that the clutch has made a serious comeback this year—not that Fumi Bull really noticed. “I just recently took a fashion merchandising course. I figured I’d better, since we were making these,” she says with a laugh. “Now we notice clutches everywhere.”