In Conversation With Vavvoune Founder Valérie Blaise
Born and raised in Haiti before migrating to Dorchester in Boston, Massachusetts, a young Valérie Blaise was not quite sure of her place in an American society. She knew she wanted to do something in the design world but did not have a certain calling. Until she purchased a vintage handbag online and realized she wanted to learn all about becoming a leather artisan and create her own bags.
Blaise made a move to New York and, after purchasing a sewing machine, taught herself to sew and work with leather. After making her first bag, she launched her own leather accessories brand called Vavvoune, in 2015. The brand is now stocked at Shopbop.com following Blaise’s move into wholesale retail and joining the Connect marketplace.
For Blaise, it was a steep learning curve for someone who did not have any formal training in fashion or accessories design. She discovered that young Black women and Black-owned brands were seldom taken seriously on the business world and there were many other hindrances along the way. But what drove her, then and now, is her passion for craft, staying true to her vision and embracing the inspiration from her heritage.
Blaise’s designs for Vavvoune can be characterized as modern accessories that subtly nod to both femininity and versatility without compromising on function and style. Designed to capture emotions, moods and moments, each bag is designed and handmade in New York, using Italian leather thoughtfully sourced from deadstock material left over by ultra luxury brands. Inspired by everything from childhood nostalgia to what people are wearing, Blaise takes a considered yet relaxed approach to her work.
The Folklore Edit speaks to Valérie Blaise about where the name “Vavvoune” comes from, and the sustainable practices that inspire her creativity.
How would you describe yourself and what you do?
I am the designer and founder of Vavvoune, a leather bag and accessories brand based in New York City. We design and produce passionately made products intended to cure emotion.
Can you tell us about your experience starting your own brand? Did you always want to be a fashion designer?
Growing up I knew that I wanted to do something in the fashion landscape but I wasn’t sure what it was. At that time, I knew that I didn’t want to design clothes. When I was about 20, it set in that designing bags is what I wanted to dabble in. My experience as a designer has a lot to do with self-exploration and curiosity. I didn’t go to fashion school or work in fashion, so I was very intentional and resourceful in finding my path as a designer.
Where did the name “Vavvoune” come from?
One question that I love being asked is, what does Vavvoune mean? Vavvoune is actually a nickname. It’s a nickname that my parents and relatives gave to me when I was growing up in Haiti. And when we moved to the States in 1997, I realized that it wasn’t being used anymore. So, my way of honoring Vavvoune was to rebirth this nostalgia and name my brand after it. That way it can be said over and over and over.
You were born in Haiti and spent your younger years there. Does your Haitian heritage influence the way you perceive fashion or approach your designs?
Absolutely. Growing up in Haiti was magical. There are many times I find myself looking through vintage family photos and I end up imagining and designing around what people were wearing. I get inspired by my childhood constantly and always make sure to hint at playfulness in Vavvoune. There are many misconceptions about Haiti and at times I’m shocked at what people don’t know about us. I would love to see more Haitians included in the conversations around art and fashion.
Can you tell us about your creative process? How does a Vavvoune design begin?
My creative process is somewhat spontaneous. But whenever I do get ready to dive into my design space I begin by isolating myself. Honestly, I have to be in a quiet space where my creative rhythm can easily enter in. Phone is off or on DND, light is dimmed and noise is at a minimum. I usually start with a simple concept idea and then build on that. Then I think about the color and technical stuff later on. There are times when it is completely backwards and color and technicality is the inspiration for a product.
Who do you design for? Who is the Vavvoune woman?
The Vavvoune admirer is art inclined and a clever consumer. They live in a world of intrinsic spontaneity and curiosity. Personal style is important to them and thoughtful designs boost their confidence.
Your handbags are made out of leather sourced from deadstock materials, which are recycled into your designs. Did you always intend to be a socially responsible brand and embrace sustainable practices from the start?
In the beginning when I was making bags by hand, I realized that leather can be an expensive material and there are times that it isn’t very forgiving, so waste can be a thing that just happens. When I was a teenager I was part of a program in Boston called Artist For Humanity. At the time it was a non-profit art center that touched various mediums in the creative space – film, visual arts, dance, fashion design, pottery and music, free of charge to the youth. I gave thought on how important it would be to donate to similar programs. So, I started to make small donations to art programs whenever I had leftover remnants of leather.
As I began to think about practices that I wanted to live with the brand, I researched deadstocked leather distributors and was lucky to find a partner that had high-quality leftovers (calfskins and full-grain hides) that were unwanted by famous luxury brands. So, when we sit fit we implement those into Vavvoune bags. As a small business it’s by default that there has to be a sustainable element somewhere within – it’s something that always has to come up.
If you could only carry one Vavvoune piece for the rest of the year, which one would you choose and why?
The Sunsa bag is my everyday go-to bag. It has been the bag that I’ve been wearing almost every day for three years. It’s a great companion, and it’s the perfect size for all my personal essentials. I love how cool it is.
Name three things that you always have in your handbag
My wallet, hand sanitizer and my keys.
What is next for Vavvoune? How would you like to see the brand develop over time?
I’m really enjoying the process of growing and cultivating my brand. My wish is to evolve every season and build trust and loyalty with my customers, expand our offerings and diversify the market.