Bags of Style: A CHAT WITH DESTI SAINT

Expat Living (Singapore) - - Travel -

Tell us about your back­ground – you’ve had quite a no­madic up­bring­ing!

My dad was born in New Zealand, and my mum is English, but was born in Africa. Af­ter they got mar­ried they moved to Lon­don, where they had my two broth­ers. They ended up in Hong Kong for my fa­ther’s work, and that’s when I came along. Once my broth­ers were old enough for board­ing school, my fam­ily moved back to New Zealand, when I was around 12 or 13. It was a pretty in­ter­est­ing time for a teenager!

Do you call Hong Kong home?

To be hon­est, I just love Asia. I feel so com­fort­able in this part of the world, and in that sense it’s home. I grew up here. I sup­pose you could say I’m a global cit­i­zen!

So, how did you end up in Sin­ga­pore?

I met my hus­band-to-be in New Zealand (he hap­pens to have a sim­i­lar, mixed-up back­ground to mine!), and af­ter a few years he got the op­por­tu­nity to move back to Hong Kong. Of course, I jumped at the chance; I couldn’t wait. We spent around 15 years there, and that’s where our three kids were born. Our move to Sin­ga­pore came about when he was of­fered a role here.

And where did Desti Saint the brand start?

Well, I had quite a big job in Hong Kong; I was work­ing in the fi­nance sec­tor, sup­ply­ing sys­tems to banks. Af­ter hav­ing two chil­dren, how­ever, it be­came clear that some­thing had to give – ei­ther my job or my hus­band’s – so I re­signed from work to fo­cus more on the fam­ily. I found that I wasn’t the best stayat-home mum, but I couldn’t do any­thing full-time.

One thing led to an­other, and I took up an op­por­tu­nity to be­come the New Zealand dis­trib­u­tor for an ex­ist­ing hand­bag brand. Un­for­tu­nately, that brand didn’t take off. With hind­sight, I think the colours were a bit too bold for the mar­ket.

Af­ter that ex­pe­ri­ence, I felt in­spired to make my own hand­bags. At Sham Shui Po mar­ket, I found a re­ally nice gold leather, and it was there and then that I de­cided to cre­ate my own de­signs. It took me six months to find a man­u­fac­turer who would ac­cept a smaller or­der – that’s a com­mon is­sue for an in­de­pen­dent brand – but I even­tu­ally found some­one, and pro­duced a clutch and a gold bag; my mum still has one of those first pieces! To put my­self out there, I took up a booth at the Con­rad ho­tel’s Christ­mas fair, and, in­cred­i­bly, my bags were sold out by lunchtime. It was at that mo­ment that I thought my hobby could re­ally be­come some­thing.

At the time, the brand was called “Dee.” Desti Saint is my real name (well, it’s Desti Rus­sell, I mar­ried a Saint!), and it was a re­tailer in Sin­ga­pore who sug­gested the change. Ac­cord­ing to her, my full name was catchy and sounded like a chat show host! And that’s how the “Desti Saint” brand was of­fi­cially born.

To be hon­est, my work was more of a hobby in Hong Kong. But soon af­ter I landed in Sin­ga­pore, I was con­tacted by Ex­pat Liv­ing who were in­ter­ested in my de­signs, and this sparked a new­found mo­ti­va­tion to work on my brand. My bags were still in stor­age at the time, and I wasn’t sure if I was go­ing to con­tinue with them, but the at­ten­tion gave me an en­cour­ag­ing push in the right di­rec­tion.

Tell us about your de­sign process.

I start from the de­tails – a stone, a type of leather, or even an im­age – and work out­wards. I don’t be­gin with a sil­hou­ette or the shape of a bag, be­cause I’d rather see where the ma­te­ri­als take me. I’ve been at­tracted to cer­tain de­tail el­e­ments over the years. I love tas­sels in par­tic­u­lar; they feel so play­ful, which is why they of­ten fea­ture in my de­signs. I’m also into bold colours and metal­lic fab­rics.

An­other es­sen­tial part of my process is that I al­ways try out my bags as sam­ples first to make sure that they are func­tional. I don’t want to pro­duce rub­bish that doesn’t wear well. This can mean a slightly longer pro­duc­tion time, but it’s worth it to en­sure the qual­ity.

How about the the carved sym­bols you’re known for, and the names of your col­lec­tions – what do they sig­nify?

Most of my col­lec­tions have some sort of emo­tional con­nec­tion. I’ve named quite a few of them af­ter my kids, ac­tu­ally! Last year I lost my dad, so for one of my re­cent col­lec­tions I chose the sym­bol of the dragon – which is, of course, con­sid­ered very strong and pow­er­ful in Asian cul­ture – and the love knot, which sym­bol­ises never-end­ing love. Both sym­bols re­mind me of my fa­ther, his per­son­al­ity and val­ues. I called it the Poppy col­lec­tion, be­cause his nick­name was “Pops”. I find it very hard to de­sign with­out a pur­pose; ev­ery­thing has a mean­ing.

Who is your in­spi­ra­tion?

I’d def­i­nitely say my par­ents. I’m thank­ful that they both taught me from a young age that I could do what­ever I put my mind to. When I first started my busi­ness, peo­ple would tell me that I couldn’t do it be­cause I didn’t have any de­sign ex­pe­ri­ence. I al­ways ques­tioned that, and didn’t let it get to me.

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