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Meet Katrina Espiritu of LUPA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Katrina Espiritu.

Katrina, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
12 years ago, I worked in the footwear industry as a product manager. We traveled the world to get inspiration from various markets. One of those trips led me to Ipanema in Brazil. Every weekend they had a market for local makers. I bought this rectangle bag with cutout handles and loved its versatility but also did not like a lot of things about it. I got rid of the bag before moving to California as it started disintegrating. Stitches came out, and the lining was a cheap synthetic material that cracked and fell apart.

Fast forward ten years and I quit the footwear industry, took two years off to explore what I wanted to do with my life and joined a women’s gathering where I met my friend Madelyn who reintroduced me to leather sandals and leather. Went home after the gathering and bought a hide of buttery leather. Thought of my Ipanema bag and asked myself what I’d do to improve it. I wanted to: 1. Make it more structured 2. Make it multi-functional 3. Make it without a lining. I made a beautiful bag, and I used it, loved it, posted it on IG.

Then friends started asking if I’d sell it. Not just close friends, but friends of friends. I then decided to build a brand and asked myself these questions: what are my brand beliefs? What are my design elements/aesthetics? Who am I inspired by? I wrote: I believe in being rebellious and bold, and standing for originality. I wanted to stand for minimalism and utilitarianism. I wanted to own basic shapes and re-introduce it in a bold yet minimal way.

My inspirations are architects, artists, industrial designers, innovators, and minimalist designers. I don’t look at other makers, other bag designers, pop culture for inspiration as that’s not how I like to ideate. I’m in love with Dieter Rams (inspiration for Rectangle bag), Yayoi Kusama (inspiration for the circle bag), Steve Jobs (square bag), Charles Eames (diamond bag), Ray Eames (triangle bag), Barbara Hepworth (credit card holder), Martha Graham, Isadora Duncan (tassels), Pablo Picasso (cube necklace), and Piet Mondrian (rectangle clutch).

I have more ideas and shapes that tie back to my personal idols and inspiration. Those will come to life in future seasons. I also named a bag we will produce after a friend’s baby named Marly! She inspired me to make a bag with sculptural chunky handles after seeing her ignore a toy I gave her and focused more on the paper bag that came with it. I had a vision of her loving a bag with big handles. And lastly, you’re probably wondering what LUPA means?

Well, it ties back to what we are passionate about: the land and earth we live in. Lupa is earth in Filipino. Every six months, we donate a chunk of our sales to environmental causes to help protect our land and environment. If we are not donating money, we are volunteering for beach cleanups, trail cleanups or any earth initiatives. We use vegetable- tanned cow leather for 95% of our products as it does not contain chromium which is not good for the environment.

At some point, we may get stuck with having to use chromium dyed leathers, but we do our best to know what’s in the materials we use. Each piece we make is either handmade by me in Ojai or crafted by artisans in Los Angeles. We are proud of what we’ve accomplished the past few years. We are thankful for our loyal following and welcome our new fans and customers.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It definitely has not been a smooth road. If owning a business is easy, everybody would be doing it. Some of the struggles have been pricing and wholesale. I have had inquiries for wholesale, but they do not mesh with my brand, so I have had to say no.

In addition to the wholesale, it is finding the proper price that would help pay for the cost of goods on top of making a profit. Lastly, since our shapes are so basic, it is so easy to copy our designs. It’s a typical part of the industry, but it’s disappointing when your designs and ideas are copied and diluted down just to make a profit.

Please tell us about LUPA.
LUPA focuses on minimal, utilitarian, and basic shaped handbags made out of vegetable-tanned leather or chromium-free leather (95% of our products have no chromium.) Each bag is made by me in Ojai, CA and sometimes when we do need help, artisans in LA help us with production. We are known for the cutout bag, especially the circle one we named Yayoi.

I am most proud of starting this organically and being able to use my experience from the footwear industry and transfer that into handbags. From the thickness of leather to the details inside and outside of the bags, and the cutout handles is what sets us apart from everyone.

Are the bags made for everyone? No. Only a few confident, rebellious men and women can pull off our handbags, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. LUPA is not for the mainstream.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
If I were to start over, I would have carefully looked at my pricing so that my mistakes of underselling myself, in the beginning, would not have happened.

Pricing:

  • Our core handbags range from $340-$390
  • Bangles/Bracelets $55-$65
  • Other Accessories and bags $150 and below

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Erick Thomas, Theo Banzon, Lisa Aileen Dragani

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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