Kayu accessories and homeware are a happy combination of a flawless modern design approach and traditional Asian artisanship
Growing up in South East Asia, Jamie Lim loved the natural beauty of the items around her: rattan chairs, straw fruit bowls and the hand-painted batik kaftans her mother wore. When she moved to California, these artisanal products were getting difficult to find. “Artisans were moving to different work and people were buying mass-produced goods,” she explains. In 2011, to help reverse this decline, Jamie founded Kayu. “The impetus for the company was to provide jobs for artisans, promote their work and preserve their crafts.”
At Kayu, traditional methods combine with modern design, emphasising simplicity and timeless style. The brand’s fashion accessories include straw bags, sandals and hats, and homeware such as cushions and vases. The pieces are sold through Kayu’s own website, as well as Bloomingdale’s, Net A Porter, J Crew and independent stores both in the US and worldwide.
Kayu products are also designed to last. “So many consumer goods are disposable, while a lot of the things I had when I was a child are still around,” says Jamie. Accordingly, her bags and hats are made from natural straw that is harvested, stripped and dyed by hand. “It is a long, elaborate process that can take four months,” she says.
The team mostly work with seagrass, a fast-growing plant commonly regarded as a weed. The straw fades over time and can eventually be composted and sent back to the earth; by contrast, most of what is labelled as straw in stores is made from plastic and is not biodegradable. Kayu sandals are made from vegetable tanned leather, which contains no chemicals. “We always seek eco-friendly materials where possible,” says Jamie.
Sustainability and ethics are central to the company ethos. Every supply-chain step is considered to minimise environmental impact, ensure fair-trade practices and build long-term relationships with workshops that have been in the same family for generations.
And there is more to come. “I want to work more with zero waste, using the factory scraps we produce to make small accessories,” says Jamie. “Going forward, not only in fashion but in everything, we are seeing this push towards sustainability. I want Kayu to play a leading role in that.”