At Fashionkind, we believe in connecting you to the people behind the pieces you purchase. In this designer spotlight, we sat down with SOÜF's founder and designer, Sofia Avila, to learn what led to the creation of her signature handmade wooden handbags.
Fashionkind (FK): In a paragraph, can you tell us your brand’s unique story? Who are you, and what do you strive to do?
Sofia Avila (SA): The idea for SOÜF came to me in 2012 in my Parsons Accessories Design classroom. I designed what would later become our first wooden bag, at the time thinking of using the wood from coffee plants that had been cut down from old age, & lack of coffee bean production, which is common practice in successful coffee farms. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to use sustainable wood & support the talented artisans in my home country of El Salvador, it wasn’t until I moved back from New York in 2015, that SOÜF was officially born.
We work with raw materials such as reclaimed wood, metals, and natural stones. The reclaimed wood used in our handbags is sourced from antique columns and pillars in Salvadoran colonial houses that are torn down. Every piece of wood is over 100 years old, and is repurposed into SOÜF handbags, making them sustainable and filled with stories from the past.
Amadeo Medrano and his vast experience with woodwork, combined with a very skillful team of craftsmen, both aid in the creation of SOÜF’s exquisite wooden handbags. Nelson Mejía sources our leather locally and produces our impeccable leather goods with his small team. The handles & hardware for the collection are created with the help of talented Salvadoran jeweler, Carlos Rauda.
Each handle is individually handcrafted in aim to preserve the traditional artisan techniques that have been passed from generation to generation in Carlos’s family. His grandfather established the workshop where our team currently works in the early 1920s.
The semi precious stones that adorn your handle are cut by expert gemologists in New York City, and simply add to the magic and power of your bag.We strive to continue to grow, inspire, & empower our team of artisans, providing more jobs, & teaching more craftsmanship in El Salvador. We are committed to strengthening our sustainable practices & finding more ways to support our community.
FK: What has been your biggest success to date? What has been the biggest challenge/hurdle?
SA: Putting together an amazing team of incredibly talented Salvadoran artists, who take pride in their detailed work and are empowered by seeing the products they have crafted in an international market, has been so rewarding. My talented friend Eduardo Schonenberg recently shot a video for us which reveals our behind the scenes process. When we first started SOÜF some of our artisans were hesitant of me taking any images of them working on our products because they were afraid of the potential risks they could face with that sort of ‘exposure’ at home where most deal with the reality of El Salvador’s problem with gang violence. Our artisans, Lito, Arturo, Tomás & Alejandro, all have brief cameos in the video, mostly close shots because they are a bit camera shy, seeing their enthusiasm and well deserved pride when they saw the finished video, has been our biggest success in my book, it goes to show how far we’ve come.
FK: What does Fashionkind mean to you?
SA: What sets apart Fashionkind from other retailers is their genuine interest in changing the consumer mindset to a more sustainable & ethical retail experience. The fashion industry is still the second largest industrial polluter in the world. Fashionkind supports brands that strive to influence a positive change in our planet.
The focus given on telling our story, and how each of our products is handmade by artisans in El Salvador, is the essence of what SOÜF stands for. I feel honored to be a part of this movement, and so grateful that Fashionkind is committed to this change.
FK: If you could tell aspiring designers one thing, what would it be?
SA: Be kind, be original, be patient, allow your passion to drive you forward
... as long as you’re moving forward, even with small steps, you will get to where you aspire to be.
FK: If youcould have a dinnerparty and inviteanythree guests, who would they be and why?
I would love to host a ladies only dinner party. Three women who are strong, inspiring, and love shaking things up in the world. Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, & Carolina Herrera... gives me chills to think how much could be absorbed by merely being in the presence of such powerhouses. Each has changed the world, in their own way, for the better, and continue to do so. Their invaluable experiences through successes, failures, & fabulous life stories would be so incredible to hear over some wine & fine dining.