Handbag label Repleat began quite by accident. Founder Debbie Leung owned a chocolate company and was trying to make packaging for all the festive seasons. The hampers she fashioned were a hit and a friend of hers began using one as a gym bag. She told Leung that she got a lot of comments about its unusual design. “So, from there, I refined the bag and began using it as a handbag myself. Everywhere I went, people would ask, ‘Oh, that bag is so unique, where did you get it?’ Eventually, I closed the chocolate business down and decided to focus on these bags as there seemed to be something in them,” she says.
Her new venture quickly turned into a family project when her daughters insisted that she make the most of her brilliant idea. “I have two daughters in the US and one in Australia. Each has her own strength — one does the photography, one does the copywriting, two do coding. One is in finance, one is studying and the first is in advertising. So, they are quite well placed for an online business. In fact, for them, it has been also a very good learning experience because it’s an actual business.” The family affair allows them to bond and combine their different areas of expertise, spending valuable time together learning.
“I first wanted to name it Totes Amazing but my daughters thought that was too cheesy,” laughs Leung. They settled on Repleat — a play on the words “replete”, meaning abundant or well supplied with something; “repeat”, for the repetitive patterns on the bags; and “pleat”, a nod to the multiple folds needed to create the products.
With her daughters handling social media and promotion, Leung focuses on production. “I actually design every bag and I do it by hand with paper, pencil and eraser — no computer involved. I make the first prototypes myself, test them and then go through a series of testing, amendments, adjustments ... and that may go through about 10 rounds before I actually get the thing perfect. Because for me, the thing has to be perfect before I get it produced,” she says. Leung studied business and has no background in design, so she learnt a lot on the job. “A lot of it is just playing around. I know what I want to produce and I just keep doing it. A lot of it is learnt along the way through trial and error, and persistence.”
When she is satisfied with her prototype, she sends it to her contact who produces a batch of “blanks”. Similar to Ikea’s flat pack concept, these blanks are then folded, assembled and embellished by her, and she makes sure they turn out the perfect end-result she envisioned. “What I also try to achieve, especially with this [Lantern bag], is that it locks into itself and is still very strong. I was very proud of it because it all just fits into each other. I discovered a few new techniques with this new bag,” Leung says, referring to her recently launched design.
“I like texture, I like light and shadow, I like a three-dimensional feel about it. I don’t like just two sheets stuck together; I like something a bit more complex,” she says on what she wants to achieve with her designs. Inspired by architecture, origami and geometric designs, Repleat’s handbags are made from polypropylene, a material that was chosen because it allows Leung to make precise folds. She explains that the plastic creates clean lines and is very durable. So, having a bag in light cream colours or white is fuss-free as any spills or marks are easily wiped off.
Repleat has been quite successful in international online sales but hopes to improve interest in the local market. For the future, Leung is toying with the idea of a branded pop-up shop in favour of a retail space because of the declining interest in fixed stores. Her passion for making unique designs remains undiminished, and with her daughters by her side, coming up with striking creations continues to be Repleat’s distinctive edge. “For each bag, I try and do something different, whereas a lot of people will take one concept and give many different iterations of the same thing. For my range of bags, each design employs a different method and it’s a different look ... and that’s because I enjoy creating something new,” she says.
This article first appeared on Jan 21, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.