Published in Helsinki Times 27.3.2014
There’s a new brand in town. Insjö is the result of Chinese-Finnish cooperation and their first product, bagINbag, has just come out. The purpose of it is to make women’s lives easier by helping them keep their handbags better organised – a simple, yet challenging task.
bagINbag is a so called inside bag. It is to be kept inside your actual handbag, with all the everyday essentials in it. The idea is to make finding a certain item easier and quicker: there are several small pockets helping to keep the contents in order, and its brightly coloured lining makes spotting the desired item easier. With the help of bagINbag, switching bags in seconds without forgetting anything important is also easy.
Chinese May Huang is the founder of Insjö. She also designs the bags, with a part-time designer helping her. The final outcome of a product is, however, a result of cooperation with a testing group who try out the products.
“I would rather call it co-creational co-design.”
Huang became a bag designer almost accidentally. Her educational background is in chemical engineering.
“Before this bag business, I had a very good job in China. I was employed by an international corporation, dealing with consumer gadgets. It was pretty cool to play with high-tech devices, and I was the only girl in the team at R&D, too. But in the end, the high-tech world wasn’t really for me. Six months before deciding to quit my job in China and come back to Finland I got the idea of starting to make these bags. I like the fact that I can help ordinary people make their life a little bit easier with handy solutions.”
Nordic calm in hectic lives
The idea stemmed from Huang’s own struggle with the combination of disorganised bags and busy lifestyle.
“My job in China involved a lot of travelling between the factories. I would always have to carry with me samples, computer, personal items, and got frustrated with constantly wasting time rummaging in my bag for something. Switching between bags was also a pain in a hurry. I would always need to double-check that I had moved all the important items from the bag I previously used to the one I was taking with me.”
Eventually, Huang gave up her high-flying career at R&D to become a bag designer. She says that the most common reaction from women testing bagINbag has been that they didn’t realise how much they needed something like this before using it.
“I like the practical approach we have at Insjö. I thought: if we can make women happier and their life easier, why not do it.”
The whole process started only nine months ago, and the company was officially founded in December 2013.
“It took about four months to design the products and build a team around me. With luck in finding two co-founders and an in-house designer, Insjö’s bagINbag started its journey. Recently, we secured a seed investment from two star-investors from the IT sector. As a result, the Insjö website store was opened earlier this month.”
Despite being originally founded by a Chinese person, the brand, as well as the products, has been named after Nordic nature.
“Insjö means lake in Swedish. The idea behind the name is us wanting to bring a bit of that beauty and calm of Nordic lakes into people’s hectic everyday lives. To follow the theme, the larger bag from our collection was named Saimaa, and the smaller Inari.”
Global brand in the making
The bags come in two different sizes, and in three different colours: brown, yellow and Nordic blue.
“The fabric used in these bags is really good quality. In Finland, people really value that. They don’t want cheap materials that will be worn out after six months.”
If the business really takes off, next step would be expanding to retail business.
“Our focus during the first year is on Finland. Later on, we would like to expand to the rest of the Northern Europe, and further. We would also like to see the collection growing.”
The inspiration for making bagINbag, Huang says, is purely practical.
“I’m not a designer, I’m an engineer. My inspiration comes from the data and information that I gather from our panel. So to me it’s not as much a creative process but a solution to a problem.”
Contrary to the common belief, Huang says, Finnish people like bright colours.
“Marimekko is a good example of that. Finns might generally dress in quite dark colours but I find that they want to add some colour too, to add the fun factor to their style. I guess it reflects the typical Finnish personality: although people might first seem quiet and shy, after a few drinks they open up and reveal that they’ve actually got a really funny side to them, too.”
In their future plans, the sky is the limit.
“Our aim is to make Insjö a global brand. But it all started in Finland and we would be very happy to represent this country all over the world.”