Belinda Yu create wicker handbags using traditional methods learned from her Chinese grandmother.
Belinda Yu, alongside her brother, James, launched accessories brand Wicker Wings in 2014 in honour of their grandmother, Yue Yao Li, who made handwoven wicker baskets in her native China before she moved to England in 1990.
The wicker handbags are made using natural rattan grown in China, which is woven by artisans to create the baskets. The bags also feature vegetable-tanned leather from Italy.
The Manchester-based brand has eight international and UK stockists including Selfridges and Net-a-Porter, as well as independents in the US, Shanghai, South Korea, Taiwan and Ukraine. Wholesale prices range from £130 for the Mini Shou small handbags to £168 for backpacks. Belinda Yu tells Drapers how the sustainable brand draws on traditional craftsmanship.
What is your career history?
I worked in interior design for a small property company after studying international business and Mandarin at Liverpool John Moores University in 2001, graduating in 2005.
What inspired the brand?
We found out our grandmother used to hand-weave wicker baskets in China before she moved to the UK. Wicker Wings is our way of shining a light on her artisanal past but with a modern-day design for today’s woman.
How would you describe the ethos of Wicker Wings?
It is all about family culture and design. Knowing the back story and understanding the process is at the forefront of our business. But also our love for design, structure and sustainability are key elements we incorporate into every design. We wanted to redefine what a wicker bag can be, and showcase how the art forms of wicker weaving and leather craftsmanship can complement each other.
What are some of the challenges you face in your role on a day-to-day basis?
Since the very beginning we’ve only been a team of two, managing everything in house. It has been a tough journey but we’re moving in the right direction and starting to expand our team. We now have 10 weavers in China and another staff member in the office, as well as an external PR team.
What is the best part of your job?
Seeing the process from start to finish. Working with our small but dedicated team, creating products that customers buy and love and starting a meaningful brand with my brother – it’s a real family business. Our grandmother always helps out at the studio, whether that be quality control or packaging parcels. She loves it. I still don’t think she understand why we started Wicker Wings, but we tell her all the time everything we do is because of her story.
How do you keep yourself motivated and creative?
By taking a break – not that we stick to this! We all get burnt out from time to time but taking a break, whether it’s a long weekend away or for a week definitely keeps the mind fresh.
Is there anyone in the industry you particularly admire?
Angela Ahrendts (former Burberry CEO, currently senior vice-president of retail at Apple), Dame Natalie Massenet and Phoebe Philo. On a day-to-day basis, as we are involved in every single aspect of the business, we have met so many local talented, hardworking and inspiring people with a strong passion for their craft and industry.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Persistence. Learn to enjoy the process.
What advice would you have given yourself at the start of your career?
Be ready for the bad times as well as the good ones, and work with someone you trust and whose skills complement yours.
Where do you see the brand progressing in the future?
In the next five years, we see Wicker Wings making wicker handbags a real staple in the modern woman’s wardrobe. We want to create a brand that resonates with people, showing the diversity of wicker weaving and how crossing two types of art can create something really beautiful.
Favourite clothing brand
Favourite places to shop
Mango, Net-a-Porter and Selfridges
Last fashion purchase
Last book you read
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Last film you watched
Retail assistant at Principles
I spend most of my time at the weekends being a mummy to my two girls, as that is when I get the chance to spend real time with them