Inspired by the streets of New York City and the modern women that walk it, sportswear brand Caraa is breaking down the boundaries of function and fashion. Co-founders Carmen Chen Wu and Aaron Luo create their bags with one thing in mind: the customer. The women’s accessories brand is looking to create a seamless, and stylish, transition from work, to the gym, to drinks. Each bag is crafted from high-quality material to create a luxury finish for a compartmentalized bag that separates gym clothes from work items and even technology. We spoke with Carmen and Aaron to find out more on their start, inspiration, and their plans for the future.
When did you first become interested in the world of fashion?
Carmen Chen Wu: Always. Since I was a kid, I always wanted to go to fashion school but my parents pushed me to study economics so I could come to the United States. But it has always been on my radar. I first studied economics at Bryn Mawr College, a women’s liberal arts school. And after that I transferred over to fashion.
Aaron Luo: My family has always been into fashion. But I spent ten years with General Electric; GE owned many things—banking, locomotives, healthcare, and all kinds of stuff. There was tons of innovation happening in the industries like oil and gas. I always wondered why in fashion—retail specifically—why it was so antiquated. There has to be better things we can do. I came from the angle of bringing innovation, disrupting and improving the industry. But in terms of interest in the industry, it has always been there.
What initially sparked the idea for a modern gym bag?
Carmen Chen Wu: The studio bag was created to not look like a sports bag, but instead, a casual and chic bag. It was for day-to-day New York style. It can hold your gym stuff; it is very functional and chic. Our goal is to make better-shaped bags that are also functional. Usually, any designer bag that you get is geared toward style more than function–there is no middle ground. The goal for us is to find the perfect balance between functional and stylish.
How do you find balance in creativity and business?
Aaron Luo: I like to think of it like this, creativity always drives business. It cannot be the other way around. Businesses or brands that let their business drive creativity either will fail or become in-genuine. You have to create a connection to your customers. At the end of the day, customers come to the brand because of the product and the experience they get by interacting with the brand. That comes from creativity; that does not come from business or metrics or finance. For us, I always say no profit, no mission. We have our healthy amount of conversation and discussion. But creativity always drives the business.
What sets Caraa apart from other sportswear brands?
Carmen Chen Wu: I don’t think we view Caraa as a traditional fashion brand. We don’t sell to a consumer with an ideal image. We are selling a function; we are selling something that is needed. The consumer chooses Caraa because they need a bag that will do all these things for them. And it is not necessarily because of the brand logo. Caraa is very down to earth; it is a product that consumers choose because they like it and they need it.
Aaron Lu: I like to think of us as more ‘grassroot.’ We are getting as much traction because we are hitting the mark with our consumers. We are not just emphasizing the design and the aesthetic, the beauty and craftsmanship, but also the functionality. I think a lot of designers miss that.
Where do you find your inspiration in designing?
Carmen Chen Wu: From everyday life. My inspiration comes from New York City, because I live here. It is part of watching people and their lives, seeing where their needs are. From watching people sleep on the subway (that led to the Cloud Collection) to walking down SoHo seeing girls carrying two or three bags. The inspiration comes from the necessities of women, especially watching women who work, and go about in New York City.
What do you think the future of the fashion industry is?
Aaron Luo: I think technology will educate brands in different areas about better service. A lot of brands are missing the boat by not incorporating technology as part of their products. We think about ourselves as problem solvers, we certainly want to be at the front end of including technology as part of the product. I think more brands will do that. The second thing is, it will be sustainable. Sustainability is a huge part of fashion. It is hard—sustainability has been talked about for a decade now. In theory, everyone wants to be sustainable and green, but the reality is they don’t know how to implement it. Or the technology for the product is not there yet. We certainly want to be on the front of the sustainability aspect of it. That could mean using greener fabric and materials.
Where do you see Caraa in five years?
Aaron Luo: There are a couple things we can do. We started off selling to women, but we will be introducing men’s products. In the next couple years, we will have to make decisions about sports or if we want to tap into adjacent spaces—like travel. Travel is definitely on our radar. It is an exciting space for us since a lot of our customers use our bags for travel. We get consumers saying they bought our bag, they love it, but they live right above their gym—they don’t need to carry it to the gym. But they are bicoastal; they live between New York and LA. It is a perfect carry-on bag. I think travel is a very exciting stage for us.
Learn more about CARAA and browse the new collection at caraasport.com.