Every few months the fashion industry sees a new brand erupt onto the scene, typically charged by the buzz from a popular celebrity sporting its latest products. With its eye-catching handbags seen on the likes of Kylie Jenner and Gabrielle Union, Aupen is the newest brand in the sustainable handbag space that is set to make waves this year.
At the helm of this up-and-coming bag brand is fashion photographer Skye Tan, current creative director and head of product design. “Aupen started quite organically actually. I never thought I would have my own brand,” admits the Singaporean fashion photographer. Currently based in New York City, Tan works with PS169 Sunset Park School, an institute in Brooklyn that specialises in individualised education programmes for children with special needs. Through that experience, he has gained a profound understanding regarding topics surrounding mental health.
This led to Tan’s eventual interest with how shapes and colours affect a person’s psychology, specifically for the better. Having lived through the recent pandemic, surrounding oneself with beneficial mental health stimulus seemed to be at the forefront of mind. He explains:“I started toying with feel-good colours and asymmetry for our first collection, and I’m so happy with the response so far.” As a result, Aupen was born in Brooklyn. Its name is a combination of the words ‘authentic’ and ‘open’.
“My inspirations come from my surroundings, during my daily commute in New York City.”
Elaborating on the creative process behind the brand, Tan shares that he looks to daily interactions with his friends and family. He also pulls inspiration from the streets of New York City, a melting pot of bold styles and unabashed self-expression. “During my daily commute in New York City, my inspirations come from my surroundings such as the colours of the subway seats to the shape of the benches in Central Park. Some of the curves in our bags were sketched referencing the slopes that I take walking through Sunset Park in Brooklyn,” remarks Tan.
Aupen’s brand codes revolve around the Japanese design principle Fukinsei, which is based on the idea of beauty within asymmetry. The design aesthetic is extremely prevalent within Asia, and is reflected harmoniously within all of Aupen’s products. Tan considers the idiosyncratic shape of the bags as an apt personification of life. “Having an asymmetrical bag is a constant reminder that life isn’t meant to be perfect, life is not linear. When you truly accept all the imperfections and mishaps, your mood would be so much better.
“Aupen aims to be part of a revolution in the industry away from animal sources, showing the world that eco-friendly options can be cute and fun too.”
Apart from its distinctive shape, the bags are constructed entirely from vegan leather. Tan explains: “The impact of regular leather is immense when it comes to land use, greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. Aupen aims to be part of a revolution in the industry away from animal sources.” This was not without its own set of challenges, however, as certain production techniques are unachievable through the use of vegan leather. “I keep hearing from buyers that many customers still prefer cow leather, but I hope to show the world that eco-friendly options can be cute and fun too.”
Besides the fabrication of the bags, Aupen prides itself on ethical labour practices as well. “We stay true to high workmanship standards without compromising on quality or craftsmanship, and pay all workers good wages on time,” highlights Tan.
“Bags are an extension of your personality and style, and I hope to design new styles to represent different girls everywhere.”
This month, a new series of bags will be unveiled. The Mini Fearless—an extension of the brand’s bestselling Fearless line—is an exclusive collaboration with Vogue Singapore inline with April’s print theme ‘Pop!’. The bags will be available in three different colours—namely jet black, powder blue and matcha green—and will feature the brand’s trademark asymmetrical cut in bold reimagined shades. Each colour has a meaningful connotation to Tan, with the brand’s boldness very much in line with the ‘Pop’ issue for Vogue Singapore: black signifying the “power, status and allure of New York”, green embodying the brand values of sustainability and mental health, and blue symbolising hope.
As for what he hopes to achieve with Aupen in the future, Tan responds: “I hope that our products can bring joy and happiness to everyone. Bags are an extension of your personality and style, and I hope to design new styles to represent different girls everywhere.”
Pre-order your copy of the April ‘Pop’ issue of Vogue Singapore online now.