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Created by sisters Kimberly and Nancy Wu, Building Block combines industrial design with luxurious materials, where utilitarian resources and processes translate into minimalist forms. Drained of what they describe as "fast trend-based goods”, the Tokyo-LA duo decided to launch a luxe line of bags that were the complete opposite of the disposable, up-to-the-minute offerings of big chains. As a result, they created an amazingly successful minimalistic collection of leather bags literally based on their concept of “going back to the square one”. Minimal yet playful, with accents like oversize wooden dice and leather tassels, BB bags are surely unique.

METAL spoke with the designers to learn more about their creative process, the production of affordable good design, and what’s like working with your sister.

Tell us about Building Block, how did it start?

Two years ago Kimberly was working as a concept car designer for Honda's Advanced Studio and I was working as a footwear designer for Nike Inc. Building Block began as an exercise in editing all those things around us that meant excess. We were both growing increasingly tired of fast trend-based goods and the accumulation of fast fashion, so with BB we’re looking to go back to the drawing board. We've always been interested in fashion though we were educated as industrial designers. Blurring the line between luxury and utility was something we began to experiment with as a means to re-establish a new design philosophy. Though the project began with bags, ultimately Building Block was founded as a way for us to restart and thoughtfully re-consider what surrounds us.

How would you describe the essence of the brand?

Building Block is an exercise in editing excess. We believe that when at its best, good design is uncomplicated and can complement space without effort. In virtue of this, our project seeks to clear away aesthetic assumptions of luxury and return to a sense of purpose through the exploration of form.

BB is originally from Tokyo. How did you guys end up in L.A? And how do you think your background reflects in your work?

We had always talked about branching out and starting something we could call our own while at our corporate jobs. Kim was living in Tokyo and I was living in Portland, so we decided on coming back together where we grew up, in LA.

Your description as a brand proclaims to be an industrial design-multi medium project. Can you tell us a little bit more about what this concept means?

The goal when we started Building Block was to always keep it an open-ended project with no restrictions on subject matter or materials. Although it is currently focused on bags, the brand seeks to clear away aesthetic assumptions of luxury and return to a sense of purpose through the exploration of form. The brand name is quite literal and embodies our goal to start the design process from the square one.

BB pieces merges different materials such as leather, rubber and wood, creating beautiful silhouettes with great unique details, like a wood building block or an over-sized leather tassel to contrast. How do you work it out to make such a unique piece and still carry an affordable price?

We believe good design should always be accessible.

How do you approach a new collection? What's your design philosophy?

There are many different ways to approach designing a collection, we simply believe that in today's throwaway society, it is more important than ever to avoid being fashionable and come back to what is already known. What feels right are designs that are self evident in their construction and beautiful simply because of the honesty of their material and form. The goal always being to offer what is known to the surface and to emphasize the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

Over the last few years you received much press noticed, and your peers and retailers consider the line as one of the most creative’s and well-made products out there. How that recognition make you feel?

It feels wonderful and we are continually humbled at the positive response we receive!

What’s BB iconic piece?

We'd like to think that all the bags are iconic in their own way. Each bag’s almost a reinterpretation on a classic bag archetype and a symbol for a single need.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Learning how to build a small business and plan for future growth.

What is it like working between sisters?

It's an intuitive partnership. There's no one we trust or respect more than each other.

What inspires you?

Observing how things work is the biggest everyday inspiration for us and helps to inform our process. Inspiration takes a lifetime of seeing and seeking, so revisiting humble everyday details is another way we can access new ideas easily. For example, looking at public park equipment or post modern office parks with fresh eyes can be very renewing.

What are you currently working on?

We are currently working on finding a new studio space in Los Angeles where we can have room to explore larger scale projects.

What comes next?

Our next plans include expanding with different accessories such as footwear, watches, furniture while continuing to offer bags. Eventually we would like to get to a point where we have a very recognizable language and can exist as a lifestyle brand that embodies a mentality of living for men and for women.


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