Skinny Vinny Talks Bags
On the checklist: smart design, a sleek look, and little to no waste.
So-good merch on display at the Skinny Vinny studio.
While working as a product designer in 2008—figuring out how to make electronics look good and work well at once—Vincent Lai noticed that one of our most crucial everyday utilities can prove to be a huge hassle, too. “I’d often see people fumbling with their bags,” he recalls of his commutes to and from Brooklyn. So he made a prototype of his ideal carry—and bloggers and editors went bananas over it. Here, Vincent talks through some of his creations, as well as the hard-hitting requirements you need to make it as a Skinny Vinny brainchild. —jiayi ying
A rad-ass chair Vincent designed as an undergrad at Carnegie Mellon.
“My senior year of college, I took this furniture class where one of the assignments was to create a chair. So I did this. You’re supposed to sit in there and get lost in it a little bit because it closes in on you. I sewed everything by hand. It took me forever to finish. I studied industrial design, which is very different from creating bags, but our program was geared toward research and problem-solving—that part definitely comes into play a lot with the line.”
Speaking of hard-hitting requirements…
“For these totes, there are numerous exterior side pockets for easy access and internal organization pockets where your wallets and keys can go. There are pockets to fit a Kindle or the like, too. The goal is that nothing will get lost in the pile.”
FYI: These guys are adjustable—see the white clasp on the chambray tie? Mind. Blown.
“About a year and a half into the line, I visited this cutter in the Garment District—he showed me where he kept all of his fabric, and I was like, ‘Woah, you’re going to cut all of these?’ And he said, ‘No, these are cut already—this is all waste.’ So I took it and made the bow ties out of it. You should see us when we’re laying out the patterns on the fabric—we put them as close as possible as we can. And we even use the leftover slivers to tie up our stuff.”
Showing off the genius design.
“This is one of our newer laptop sleeves. It comes with a handle, so it can be used as a bag too. There are pockets outside if you need your power charger or something. It’s a simple bag—sometimes you just want to have your laptop and not a bunch of other stuff.”
It’s a tote, it’s a briefcase, it’s a messenger, it’s a backpack…all in one.
“There are four ways to use this bag. You can carry it like a tote. You can button up the leather strap and hold the bag like a briefcase—which is how I usually like it. The third way involves the removable strap: You can hook it on the top two rings, and it can just be a messenger bag. Or, you can make it into a backpack by looping the strap through the top handle—twice for stability—and hook it to the bottom rings. Of course, the strap’s completely adjustable, so you can have it sit higher or lower depending on fit. And, here you go—that’s the Sakhu bag.”
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Meet the Faces Behind Skinny Vinny
Creating solid products runs in the family.
A peek at the Skinny Vinny moodboard.
When Vincent Lai’s family moved from China to the U.S. back in the day, they ran a garment factory in New York. And, as a teenager, Vincent spent much of his time there, observing how the design and production components come together to make some sartorial magic. Although Skinny Vinny, the line of streamlined bags Vincent launched in 2008, is mostly a one-man show, for Vincent, enlisting the help of those he grew up watching seemed like a no-brainer—especially as things got busier. Prepare for some introductions. —jiayi ying
His mom: “My mom is my pattern-maker. She came to the U.S. in 1977 and took a class at FIT for a year. Later, she ran her own garment factory with her brothers and sisters. I knew general pattern-making basics just from spending time there, but, with the bags, I was just learning as I went. My mom was like, ‘No, this is how it’s done.’ I would just watch her and go, ‘Damn…’ Now I leave it to her.”
His uncle: “My uncle helps me cut. After their factory closed down, everyone kind of scattered to different jobs—my uncle went on to work at a belt factory. He’s really good with patterns and cutting, so he does all of that for the line.”
Vincent!: “If I have any ideas, I just sketch them in my notebook. Then, I refine the proportions, lock down the measurements, and sit down with my mom to make a few patterns and to mock-up samples. That usually takes a few tries. If everything goes right with the samples, we go ahead with production. Our bags are usually named after plants and trees—when I was at school, I worked with a lot of different kinds of wood, and so I thought plants were a good place to go for names.”