Created in 2013 by Elise Durbecq and Gillian Tozer, TRUSS collaborates with small business owners and weavers in the Oaxaca region to produce custom accessories. Now stocking in Barney's, Net-a-Porter and Colette, Truss Bags are the must have summer accessory. Otiumberg set off to New York to meet with co-founder Gillian to learn about the rich Mexican tradition that informs these bold and beautiful designs, and understand more about the brand's work in the preservation and growth of Oaxaca’s artisanal trade.
So tell us a little bit about how Truss first began - how did you both meet and when did you have the big idea?
I was working at Opening Ceremony, with the online team doing content, and Elise was working with the visual merchandizing teams—we met through a mutual friend. I invited her to my birthday party cause she seemed like fun and the rest is TRUSS bags.
Like all great ideas, TRUSS, as a concept was created, while hung over. Elise had just returned from a vacation in Oaxaca and had brought bags back as gifts. (It's important to not here that none of said bags were for me.) We were looking for a summer project to sink our teeth in, so we thought we'd buy some bags and sell them at the Brooklyn Flea. Fast forward to us in Oaxaca, where we both learned enough about the bags to know that we wanted to do something bigger and with a lasting social impact.
Truss bags really evoke the colors, shapes, and sturdiness of traditional market bags from the state of Oaxaca. When did you first go to Mexico, and how has that culture inspired the craftsmanship & design of the bags?
Elise is from Mexico City and had spent a lot of time there as a child. She took me there the summer of 2013. The bags are a part of the culture. These market totes have existed for hundreds of years and are still a part of every woman's lives across Mexico and particularly in Oaxaca. Originally, these bags were weaved from palm, but as plastic became available, weavers switched thins over. We work with weavers to build upon the aesthetics and design of the bags. It's a collaborative project between us and them.
You mention in your brand statement that you collaborate with local artisans and support the Fondo Guadalupe Musalem - tell us a little bit about your work in and with the local community in Mexico.
We're now a considerable member of the Oaxacan weaving community and use what we've learned from our years of experience in design, retail and the luxury market to better others. We ensure that our working relationship with the weavers and small business owners is reciprocal: we most certainly learn from them and vice versa. On top of this, we partner with Fondo Guadaupe Musalem and their work to empower young, underprivileged Oaxacan women.
What's been the highlight for the brand so far?
So many, we never thought TRUSS would be where it is today. Our first order from Barneys, wow. Followed by Net-A-Porter, then Colette. While Elise is based in Oaxaca now, I visit every few months and every time I go back to our tiny "warehouse," I'm more and more impressed by the progress we've made with our partners: we've gone from barely producing small orders to sending out thousands of units to places all over the world—Russia, Korea, China, the Middle East, Lebanon—keeping in mind that each tote and clutch takes a day to make.
Where do you see the brand being in five years? Will you be expanding into other accessories?
Yes, we'll be expanding into other materials and shapes, as well as expanding our product offering: Elise has a design background and is champing at the bit to do furniture. We see TRUSS as a fluid project, that isn't necessarily tied to one region, technique or product.
What's been the toughest moment - any words of advice for others setting up a new brand in the fashion industry?
Lots of lessons learned the hard way, indeed. Production is a tough industry to fly in without existing experience: couple production with a developing community and you can find yourself in some hairy situations. It's often about relationship building, both in Oaxaca and with our retail partners.
Here on Otiumberg we always ask what women have inspired you along the way, past or present - and how they have contributed to your success.
Our moms, of course, but outside of that, I can't say I have any heroes or women that I look to in ardor or for inspiration. I just believe in women and am lucky enough to be surrounded (both here and overseas) by some fairly impressive female friends.
What four pieces would you select from the Otiumberg - perhaps items that would match beautifully with a Truss bag this summer! Let us know your curated selection.
I'm all about stacking diamonds and Gemstones...