Class And Substance: Stuart & Lau

It’s one thing to come up with an idea to create an exceptional accessory brand that exudes class and stands apart in the cluttered menswear arena. But it’s quite another to execute this lofty vision. About a year-and-a-half ago, the co-founders of Stuart & Lau, Matthew Stuart Janney & Jimmy Lau embarked on a mission to create exquisite briefcases and luggage that excelled in both function and design. It was also important for them to source the best materials possible for the manufacturing process. In a short time, their new brand has made great strides and the accolades are rolling in. See our interview with the founders and learn more about this promising new brand …

“The inspiration for design comes from the timelessness of the crisp, perfectly tailored blue blazer …” 

Can you briefly explain how and when Stuart & Lau first started? 

We were both living mobile lifestyles in large, hectic cities – Matt in Hong Kong and Jimmy in New York – and at one time or another had carried all forms of bags and briefcases to get us from A to B. Yet, we were perpetually unsatisfied. It proved impossible to find that lightweight, weatherproof, versatile briefcase that could transcend location and style with simple, classic lines and small touches of individuality – an everyday carry, regardless of weather, occasion, or contents. Both being enthusiasts for product design and men’s style we had that eureka “let’s do this!” moment over coffee 16 months ago in New York, and haven’t looked back since.

What role do the individual founders play in the designing of the goods and running of the company?

We each wear multiple hats and have built a structure that works for us, playing off individual interests and backgrounds as well as where we each live. Jimmy focuses primarily on the creative facets of the business, leveraging the resources New York has to offer, and spends his time on design and the story-telling that drives our branding and marketing. Based in Hong Kong, Matt looks after production, logistics, and the general operations of the business. Now having done this for a little while, we’ve struck a good balance wherein Jimmy sculpts the aesthetic character of the products, and Matt – the frequent traveler – pressure tests construction and functionality through the rigor of daily use.

What would you say are the major inspirations behind your luggage and briefcase designs – Also who is your target customer?  

The inspiration for the product design comes actually from the timelessness of the crisp, perfectly tailored blue blazer – always appropriate, equal parts function and form, and never too much or too little. In essence, we wanted a bag that mirrored those qualities and even shared aesthetic elements, which you can see in the fabric and hardware selections.

Our target customer is urban, carries a briefcase (naturally) and finds himself on the move throughout his day. Hence, he values the features we’ve built the collection around: lightweight, weatherproof, and functional. We believe this profile constitutes a major market globally.

Where are your goods made and where do you source your materials and hardware? 

Our goods are made at a factory in Southern China that has been working with the biggest brands for over a decade now. We’re very fortunate to call them a partner and are excited about ramping up production with them. The materials really come from everywhere – waterproof 100D nylon from Taiwan, rubber-backed lining from Korea, full grain vegetable tanned leather from Horween in the USA. We wanted the best ingredients and took our time to source them correctly.

Being that you’re based in both Hong Kong & NYC, how exactly does that factor into the daily operations of the brand? 

Firstly, it allows us to fully utilize the best resources each city has to offer – specifically, New York as a fashion and design hub, and Hong Kong as the global center for production. Having instant, daily access to each makes much of what we do a lot easier. And secondly, it means that we operate on a 24hr clock, with each of us picking up tasks where the other left them at day’s end. This equates to lots of morning and evening calls, but we’ve gotten used to it and find it works for us now. Lastly, both of us travel between each city quite frequently – with one of us being in the other’s city almost monthly – so we still manage plenty of face time and this is when we often coordinate bigger events that require both of us, such as photo shoots or reviewing major events in the production process.

What has been the most positive and reinforcing compliment you’ve received so far about your creations?

On quite a few occasions we’ve seen people re-order almost immediately after receiving the first package. To us, this is really the highest compliment – they’ve gotten to touch and feel the product, they’re happy with it, and they want to order more (usually gifting it to friends). Honestly, nothing is better than that.

What do you think sets your brand apart from all the menswear accessory/bag companies on the market?

We started Stuart & Lau because we felt other accessories and bag companies weren’t fulfilling on the promise of style with substance. And to that effect, we can promise that we are trying to do that – we care just as much about how the product performs as how it looks when carried, each is equally important.

Looking back, what has the biggest business obstacle you’ve faced so far and how did you overcome it?

Just before starting production, China temporarily restricted the importation of foreign leather. Our leather is a full grain, vegetable tanned skin that comes from Horween in Chicago and is the most expensive and delicate piece in the product. We sourced it because it’s the best, but we did not foresee the difficulties of getting it into China – admittedly, we were completely blindsided. After several weeks of delay, we did eventually work out a solution wherein the leather could be legally imported but it was not without cost and complexity, to say the least.

Do you plan to expand into other menswear categories? 

We really believe in sticking to what do you best, where your passion lies, and where you have something unique (and competitive) to offer. To this effect, we will focus solely on creating the best luggage, bags and briefcases possible; but that said, we do have concrete plans in 2016 to start carrying complimentary brands and their products in a curated corner of our website dedicated to what the man-on-the-move might carry.

Lastly, can you share any new Stuart & Lau projects you have coming up in 2016? 

We can! There will be a second collection coming out in Q1 2016, which features several new styles as well as the launch of the multi-brand concept mentioned above, which will play an increasingly larger part in the brand’s identity moving forward. Additionally, next year we will add offline to compliment our online channels and partner with key stockists in cities such as New York, Hong Kong, London and Shanghai. All in all, it’s shaping up to be an exciting year ahead.

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