Monday, September 21, 2009
When the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers shook the world, former employee Caroline White decided to take the chance to launch a lifelong dream
Text by David Hellqvist | Published 21 September 2009
On Monday 15th of September last year, the world looked on in horror and disbelief as American investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, making thousands of employees redundant and culminating the financial recession we still live and work in. Now, people mostly look back in anger. A year has passed and high-flying bankers are being hounded down to reduce pension funds and to surrender other economical benefits they picked up on our expense.
But Lehman Brothers’ staff was also victimised. Television images of fired bankers carrying cardboard boxes with their personal affects were beamed out all over the world, and in today’s tough employment market, they surely suffered as much as anyone else. But not everyone despaired. Caroline White, a one-time Lehman Brothers employee who also packed her box that day, took advantage of her newfound freedom to launch a life long dream. Her brand, Suki Shufu, used the first anniversary of the collapse to showcase two art/fashion pieces, all in anticipation of next year’s fashion collection debut.
A carefully hand crafted laptop bag in green crocodile leather with a Lehman Brothers logo lining, and a photo of one of those legendary cardboard boxes testified to White’s transition from calculating banker to fully fledged designer. Of course, merging the scent of bank notes with the sweet smell of creative flow is about a lot more than White’s change of profession – it’s at the very core of our consumer and fashion crazy society. But all of that just makes Caroline White and Suki Shufu even more interesting and relevant.
Dazed Digital: You worked as a banker for 13 years. Did the contrast between the financial world and creative industry hinder or help you when starting Suki Shufu?
Caroline White: From a business start up and structuring perspective, it has definitely helped me. Being very experienced with financial, accounting and legal matters are all extremely useful at this very delicate and cost conscious stage.
DD: In hindsight, do you think what happened to Lehman Brothers was the final push you needed to pursue a design career?
Caroline White: Yes I agree. It was definitely the catalyst that made me sit back and really assess where I was at and then address whether I wanted to continue with my banking career or pursue my other interest and fascination with fashion. It was not a difficult choice for me to make!
DD: You’ve worked with an art collective called WITH on this project - can you tell us a bit about them?
Caroline White: I was introduced to WITH through a close friend of mine and I have been a keen follower and collector of their work for a few years now. I love their dark humour, sense of intrigue and the bespoke nature of their creations. They’re an elusive contemporary art collective, who rarely give interviews or reveal their identities. They provide 'Life Enhancement Solutions' and document their findings in various mediums for your viewing pleasure!
DD: This exhibition is a fusion between art and fashion. Would you like to continue working with art projects, along side the fashion line?
Caroline White: That is most definitely part of my plan for Suki Shufu. Not only art along side fashion, but as an integral part of my design work. I want to create coveted pieces and I hope to find exciting illustrators to work with who may just be starting out and want to create and express themselves through fashion.
DD: What does the name mean and where did it come from?
Caroline White: The brand name Suki Shufu has real relevance and meaning for me. Suki is a Japanese word that can be used to mean ‘I like’ or ‘favourite‘ and it is also a person’s name, which is how I’m using it in this instance. Shufu means ‘housewife’. Suki Shufu is in a way my new alias. After being made redundant, I found myself in the new role of homemaker and housewife and it was in this role that I began generating ideas for my new brand. I was intrigued to find articles online about today's housewives in Japan who are quite entrepreneurial, setting up their own businesses and moving markets by day trading from home. I love that spirit!
DD: Why did you choose to start with a laptop bag?
Caroline White: The decision to start with the banking branded laptop bag was made intentionally as I wanted to design a piece that reflected the transition that I am making from banking to bag design.
DD: Will it be available to purchase?
Caroline White: The laptop bag was crafted not with the intention to sell it, but more as an initial launch piece that was not only cathartic to make but controversial and timely in its unveiling. It's an exclusive one-off piece that is a great memento of the catalyst to one of the biggest financial meltdowns across global markets of our time. I'm happy to keep it!
DD: The bag is lined with Lehman Brothers emergency kit fabric – will future clothes and bags be Lehman Brothers related?
Caroline White: No, definitely not. This is a one-off and represents a closure on my banking past. I want to start designing edgy, driven pieces that make a stealthy appearance on those who are dedicated enough to seek them out.
DD: The cardboard box photo insinuates a rogue agent being involved in the bank’s fall – do you like the conspiracy aspects of the demise and do you want Shuki Shufu to be equally mysterious?
Caroline White: I love the whole conspiracy vibe most definitely and I want Suki Shufu to be a label that has some of these elements within it - conspiracy theories are always exciting!
DD: Tell us about the plans for a Suki Shufu clothes collection!
Caroline White: I have very firm plans for a clothing line and I am working on ideas as we speak. I am keeping my ideas for this range under wraps whilst I prioritise and focus on my first product line.
DD: Is the financial crisis coming to an end and, if so, would you consider going back to banking?
Caroline White: Not in the immediate future, although we have seen some positive indications in the market of late. I wouldn't expect to see any major change in market outlook possibly until mid 2010. No, I am moving on from banking, it's been great but I am so enthusiastic and excited about my new direction that there is no looking back.