Pioneering sophisticated and ethical leather bags.
An in-depth look at how Jenny is pioneering PETA approved leather usage for her sophisticated and honest bags and accessories.
Jenny Hsieh is the Founder, Director, and Designer of X NIHILO. She made her fashion debut by winning the QDOS award presented by the Design Institute of Australia while she was studying a Bachelor of Fashion at QUT University. Jenny then went on to earn a Masters Degree in Fashion from RMIT University. For several years before launching X NIHILO, Jenny broadened her credentials with a dynamic fashion career from couture, ready to wear and leisure to accessories and footwear.
The brand started with the Latin phrase "ex nihilo," which means "creation out of nothing." This notion identifies the brand's aesthetics and vision to craft a sophisticated and honest range of leather bags and accessories for the modern woman with a desire to express their individuality.
Plus, X NIHILO is also PETA approved. The brand is officially on PETA's angora, wool, and fur-free list. All the leathers that are used are the by-product of the meat industry, and they as a company are also against using exotic leathers. Their accessories are not supporting slaughterhouses and factories where animals are cruelly treated for their wool or fur. X NIHILO wants to be as ethical as they can be when producing there handbag and accessory line.
Jenny works closely with suppliers to develop beautiful and quality products, she ensures that the workers are well looked after in an ethical working condition with fair wages and that the working conditions are organized and clean in the factories. And she is proud that 90% of the team is females that are truly invested in building a team. Retaining a consistent and unique signature the brand evokes the idea of strength, beauty, and independence through the exquisite material and astounding craftsmanship
As the Director of the brand, Jenny brings with her significant professional network as well as creative expertise and insight into the fashion industry. She also embraces the slow fashion movement and has a passion for restrained luxury. Keep reading ahead to the interview with Jenny and get inspired by her journey.
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Jenny Hsieh in conversation
An in-depth interview conducted at her studio in Sydney.
What is your background, how did you get started and how did you even got into handbag design?
I am a workaholic so, I have always worked in the fashion industry from my degrees, diploma, bachelors, working in couture, my master's degree, ready-to-wear, sportswear, shoes, and accessories. At one point, I was so stressed, it wasn't normal work stress but, by my expectations of myself and the limitation of what I wanted to achieve was causing me stress. Because of this, I thought that I wanted to take a 3-month break, but then as a workaholic, I could not do it. I was not made for that ,so, I started looking for a new job. This took me to Nepal for about ten months, and I didn’t feel the satisfaction I needed because I felt like I was making landfill. Everything is self-focused, and the quality and price have no value.
Since my style, personality, and fashion habits are more like a man, I would do intensive research to look for the perfect bag or top, and it wasn’t about the price because I want to be able to wear that piece for a very long time. Shopping takes me time; I don’t want to waste that time. For example, I was living without a wallet for three years, so my friend gave me a wallet, and my mom liked it, so I gave it to her. After that, I still haven’t found a wallet I wanted. But after three years, I realized I didn’t even need a wallet, I needed a cardholder because you end up paying for everything with your phone and watches. This is the habit of how I shop. Initially, when I chose leather goods and handbags, it was more a strategic plan since this was a part of the fashion world I have the least experience in. I started with number research since I am entirely self-funded, so I needed to figure out how much I could invest and how much I had to plan to earn to sustain my life. It was all about finding that niche in the market.
Where do you find your inspiration for your bags?
My inspirations are different for every collection. For the first collection, I wanted to talk about the person behind the brand and designs. For me, I wanted to reflect on the way that I grew up, which included moving around a lot. I lived in New Zealand but lived in many different suburbs, and I liked that. So, that is why the first collection of bags are named after the streets or the suburbs that I lived. The collection reflects the environment or the memory I had of that place. For example, Milford is a suburb in Auckland that is clean and crisp without getting that urban jungle country kind of feel. For the "Eight," the DNA of this style comes from the street I lived on in Taiwan when I was young. It is a luxury to have a yard in Taipei, well it wasn’t exactly a yard, it was more like a natural jungle. My dad was in the Navy so he was very good with ropes so we would build tree houses and even camp out there. The "Eight" is almost like a tent because you can shape it into different things. It was much like my treehouse, one day it would be a restaurant and the next it could be whatever so, when I came to designing the "Eight" it was supposed to give that vibe and feel. Plus I also, like to be flexible with every bag I create.
With your inspiration for each collection, how do you then take that inspiration and start your design process?
I usually spend three full days just to put together my thoughts. I will start with ten pages of work and then begin to put together the conceptual part. For example, last year, I launched two new styles. With our collection, we don’t do five seasons because it is not my value. We try to raise awareness and design slow fashion; that’s why I feel the seasons have nothing to do with me. Last year, one of the bags was a reflection of how I felt without having to tell my personal story. I wanted to tell people through the collection, entitled "Change Between The Chains,” that you can see the changes and all the chains are each an individual event. With our message, we always want to have that inspiration and encouragement kind of element to it.
You start at one point, and you might go down a different road, but eventually, you will always go in the right direction. This is how I wanted the collection to look and feel, so you have that elegance and complicity but, there is also a grunginess and powerfulness about it.
I fell in love with the "Earnest" bag when I first saw it on your website and knew I had to have it.
"Earnest" and "Hardy" are the two new bags featured in "Change Between The Chains" Collection. "Hardy" is strong, bubbly, and active. And then "Earnest" is named after one of my employee’s little boy. I love him! And "Earnest" also means happiness, so I want to be able to run around and carry this bag.
Also, the word "Earnest" in America can mean stubborn.
"Earnest" is a bit like me. When you see this bag, you see a workingwoman’s bag. You know she is stubborn, running around, and knows what she wants. Plus, she is happy. I believe that you should have a job that you love so much that it becomes your life. This is where I'm a bit stubborn. For example, last year, I didn’t have many amazing design ideas for new bags. So I only produced two new bags and one new color-way. I always get people telling me that “you need to launch more stuff." But if it isn’t perfect, I am not going to add a bag to the line because all I am doing is creating more landfill.
I have always looked at a handbag as a woman’s armor or what makes her confident or even that a handbag can change your mood. Is there a particular kind of woman you see carrying your bags?
At a very early stage of our launch, a customer bought an "Eight Mini," and our logo is very small and discreet. The client received the bag and immediately contacted us and asked, “Is this a genuine X Nihilo because I can’t find the logo?” I helped her to identify where the logo was, and she said, “Why is it so small?” I took this as the perfect opportunity for me to tell her why. I told her, “We want you to wear your name, not out name.” We want our women to appreciate themselves more than the bag. We are targeting for a woman who knows who they are; they know what they want, and they see the values in themselves.
Does your brand reflect your personal style?
Yes, it’s very straightforward and not fussy. I’m very OCD and very particular, and everything needs to be perfect. We do 100% quality control checks three times before we send anything out. I often tell people this a sample or decide to put a piece in the sample sale because of a defect. But 99% of the time people don’t see it but, I know it’s there so I can’t deal with it.
Do you see your brand expanding to small leather goods and accessories?
Yes. This year we have so many styles launching. In March we will have two designs launching. In May we have four cross bodies, and then in October, we are planning small leather goods. Plus, we are going to start targeting the more unisex market.
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I think fashion is trending to more gender-neutral lines so quickly.
We do have a lot of male customers, too and many of them or either buying for themselves or someone special. Initially, I wanted to do men’s because I feel that men are more loyal, and they see more value in the quality. For example, there is a brand that makes the same work trousers at the same price for men and women, but when you look into the detail, you can see more work in the men’s trousers where it is made to last. But the women’s trousers will only last you one season, as the stitching of the trousers start wearing and start coming unstitched. This is where my strategy comes from because I want to produce straightforward and quality bags. And men understand my line.
When it comes to sustainability, are all your bags made in Australia?
Our bags are all designed in Melbourne, but they are produced in China from a very reputable supplier that focuses on the product. The owner is a bit particular like me; he understands where I am coming from when I am talking about the tiniest details that matter.
How do you feel about luxury brands coming out and saying they are not going to use exotic skins anymore? Especially because the exotic skin companies came back and said, “Now wait a minute, we are actually a sustainable company.”
I think the brands are doing this because it’s not cool to use exotic skins anymore. I think sustainability has different meanings for different people. Nowadays, brands and marketers are using that story to sell more which I feel is a bit sad. A lot of customers are well aware but not well informed. What does it mean when they actually say sustainable? At X Nihilo, we try to embrace sustainability by embracing slow fashion. I don’t think our customers need to wear exotic skins. They should feel comfortable because that’s not the core of our message. For X Nihilo, we make sure we don’t use exotic leathers, we don’t use fur, angora, and all the leather we do use is a by-product of the industry.
If you could change one aspect in the fashion world, what would it be?
I would not change anything just because I am not that kind of person who would go and tell people what to do, what is right, and what is wrong. We have been working with charities, and they are not your mainstream or Australian charities, they are more international. They are all focused on supporting girls with a strong focus on education. To be honest, in my opinion, it all starts with how you look after yourself and being educated on how to take care of yourself. So you need to start with education to have a mind of your own. I don’t what to change anything; I want to be the change.
Describe your brand in 5 words.
Particular, Organized, Clean, Me……Me, as is Me, Me.
What does Chic mean to you?
Chic is a positive word that means anything that you want to be.
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