I while back I wrote about a trip I took to the Unique LA Market with my friend. It was an afternoon of discovery, one where I met so many creative vendors with each stroll down the packed aisles. When I rounded the corner on my tenth or eleventh row I came upon a vendor selling the softest leather bags, wallets, and baseball caps all in bold solid colors. I wasn’t able to meet the owner at that moment, but the minimal logo “TONI” stood out among the other offerings, so I made sure to remember the collection. A few months later when I was reintroduced to the line I had the opportunity to sit down with the talented designer behind the namesake brand, Toni Truong. We met at Zinc Cafe, one of Downtown LA’s newest all purpose cafes, which includes an olive tree lined patio, hidden back bar, and a small home goods section that could make anyone forgo food in exchange for one of their enamel pots or linen cloths. Meeting someone for an interview is a little like a first date; what should I wear, how official should I be, what if I run out of questions, what if, what if…? Luckily, those thoughts quickly dissipated the moment I was greeted by a smiling Toni, clutching one of her perfectly worn bags. I soon realized that this girl was exactly the type of person I imagined the Popover reader to be, someone who was interested more in the stories and inspirations of life, not a cookie cutter approach to creativity.
Toni has a business background and a history in energy trading, but being a creative person she wanted a change in scene and decided to pursue a life in Los Angeles focusing on the fashion world. Luckily, she never lost her corporate background which explains her technical approach to design and businesswoman-like qualities when it comes to effectively branding her company. We then chatted about her adventures traveling, snorkeling in Australia, and learning how to surf the cold waters of the Pacific. She told stories of sourcing the finest hides for her hats and bags and how she hand makes every bag along with one pattern maker. The entire conversation felt like a morning with a good friend, discussing our career goals and remarking how exciting it is to meet new people that you instantly connect with. Of course, the topic drifted into her incredible line of handbags after seeing her bright blue “Chris” bag perched casually next to the delicious thin crust pizza that appeared on the table. The bags are minimal, no hardware, and meant to travel with their owner everyday. The color palates are relate-able hues like camel, blue, and red, but the leather is where her craftsmanship shines. The natural fabric changes with age and the beautiful patina of a well-worn bag isn’t something you can buy, it’s earned by the individual owner after multiple water stains, smudges, and drops on the ground. To top everything off, she names her pieces after the conversations she has with friends and family; a crossbody for her goddaughter Charlie, leather baseball cap for friend Puno, and a wallet for Max. The androgynous names reflect the versatility of her products. Hearing Toni describe her work was like being absorbed into the world of a really great book, one you can’t put down, one where you picture yourself as a character in the author’s world…one where you imagine a bag being named after you.
Toni is a hands on girl and she wants to share her work and passion with others. She holds a series of workshops where she picks a project then instructs students how to make their own version of the piece, but what she finds exciting is seeing how the student interprets their own end product. A wallet may be a step by step process, but how do you turn it into something personal that no one else has? She holds these events in the ever-expanding Arts District of Downtown LA, an area packed with independent designers and artists, all connected through the industry to form a small network of artisans. Toni is embedded in this world and much like the connections she builds with her workshop students, she thrives off of similar encounters with friends. It doesn’t hurt that those friends are designers, artists, business owners, and independent thinkers alike. As our leisurely morning wrapped up I tried to pinpoint the things that embody TONI and its owner, Toni. Her customer is a specific person, one interested in well-made work, not logo emblazoned goods. The company is built on spontaneous interactions with those she holds dear, but most of all, this is a brand built on good design and a dedication to keep it that way.
Photos of Toni Truong by Shanna Fisher