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Women Designers Series: Debora Crichton
Our women designers series is an on-going project to highlight innovative designers across the world that incorporate YKK products into their unique creations.
We were first introduced to Debora Crichton’s designs at the American Craft Show in Atlanta, GA a few months ago. Her unique cork origami handbags are the perfect marriage of functional design and beautiful art.
Debora’s Art Bags line of handbags is carried by museums, boutiques and high-end galleries all over the US, Canada and Japan. They have been featured on “Eye on LA” and ABC News in Los Angeles. She is trained in silversmithing and has worked as a toy designer and maker. Her felt animal line has been featured on the HGTV show “That’s Clever.” The first 20 years of her working career were spent in the aerospace industry where she learned the value of simple, beautiful and lightweight designs that result in products that soar.
YKK: Tell us a bit about your background, where you grew up, your hobbies, where you went to school, etc.
DC: My background is a bit unusual. I grew up in a small logging town in Washington State, where I learned to sew through my mom and 4-H. My “school clothes” budget was spent at the fabric store, and I made most of my own clothes (and many for my brothers and sisters). Making things, sewing, knitting, and crocheting were my hobbies, as well as reading and pet-oriented activities.
I went to school at the University of Washington, earning a Bachelor’s in Economics and a Master’s in Business. From there I spent 20 years in Los Angeles, working for Douglas Aircraft. I loved seeing the huge commercial and military jets being built and was fascinated by the process.
YKK: What inspired you to start a career in fashion design?
DC: My career in fashion design, if you can call it that, started when I married a man who had bone cancer. He needed care, and I needed to make things to keep myself sane. I started with a small toy business and got a booth at NYC’s Toy Fair, a premier show for selling toys to stores. From there, I went to handbags, as competing with China selling handmade toys is very challenging.
YKK: What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered in your career?
DC: Selling my toys was challenging, but it taught me a lot about having your own small business, marketing, etc. I picked up several toy design gigs and also learned from that. I still make toys for myself and friends and find that they bring joy to people of all ages. This makes me smile.
Another challenge I had was learning how to build a “line.” I learned that one has too many varieties of a handbag, one needs lots of space to stock the different “ingredients” needed to make the bags. So I try to limit some things (for example, I have only three styles of zip up bags and they all use black zippers and handles), while offering variety in areas that count (my bags can be made in hide, leather, vinyl, cork, etc.).
YKK: Tell us a little bit about your creative process… what inspires you?
DC: I am inspired by nature and its simplicity. My aerospace/ engineering background has led me to value function, and then form. The intersection of both form and function is of course where I want to be, but I strive to make something that is as functional as it is beautiful. I love the surprise nature of my zip up bags – the point at which customers really “see” what my origami bags can do: go from two dimensional to three dimensional with a simple zipper.
YKK: What is your advice for young people who want to pursue a career in fashion?
DC: For young people who want to pursue a career in fashion I would say this: First, work for someone else and learn the ropes. Everyone makes lots of mistakes, and if you have a group of more experienced people to learn from, it really helps. Secondly, I would say, don’t get discouraged!!! You may need a day job to pursue your passion, but I know from my own experience that being a maker has gotten me through so many hard times in my life. Thirdly, the ability to sew, and make your own samples, cannot be underestimated.
YKK: What is your favorite part about being a designer?
DC: My favorite part about being a designer is having a new idea come into being. Sometimes I will see something, and turn it around in my head for months before I start working on samples. It can be frustrating when you have to go through an iterative process to get things just right, but at that point where you can see that the design is going to work, it is a wonderful feeling.
YKK: What are some of your favorite YKK products and why do you choose YKK products?
DC: Fave YKK products are zipper tape yardage. I buy hundreds of yards of zipper tape. Also the long handbag pulls, and the reversible pulls that can add a new surprise element to some of my bags.