Fascinated with the simplicity of a paper bag, Bangkok born- and Munich-based graphic designer Ploi Malakul knew that the first collection of handmade bags for her company would somehow incorporate this simple inspiration. Read on to learn how she balances the digital design world with the hands-on work of creating handbags from scratch.
Tell us about your background, and the background of twelvetwelve . How did you get to where you are today as a creative?
I’m Bangkok born and hail from six generation of artists. Fifteen years ago, after I graduated from Munich’s Blocherer Schule with a degree in graphic design and then received a master’s of product design from Domus Academy in Milan, Italy, I started my own graphic design studio in Munich. In 2015, I decided to follow my heart and create my own product line.
Since childhood, I have always loved to make bags and accessories. Designing and folding paper bags was my passion, so I turned it into twelvetwelve handmade bags and accessories.
What was the process behind starting twelvetwelve? How did you decide to make the leap to start this product/line/project? What motivated you to start?
Given my passion for bags and accessories, twelvetwelve happened naturally. It began with the idea of doing something with my own hands, and learning how to using a sewing machine was always on my list. I taught myself how to use it from how-to books, tutorial videos and many good tips and tricks from professional colleagues. I’ve gone through the so-called “learning by doing process” — using a sewing machine, making patterns, fabrics, working with leather, etc.
Soon after, I started working on the design concept for my handmade bags. Design and function play a major part in twelvetwelve’s concept, as well as my belief in sustainable textiles and leather productions and ecologically and socially responsible manufacturing. Thus, finding, using and mixing natural fabrics, organic textiles, vegetable-tanned leather, recycled and eco-friendly materials wherever possible for the products is an additional challenge but essential for my collections.
As a result, I recently released my first organic Denim Collection of Miss Tote and Baby Tote, which is an homage to the paper bag, and our accessories line, called pinpins.
Why is design so important to you, and to your brand?
It transfers the idea and the philosophy of the product. A good design is not only the image or packaging, but also the balance of design and function.
When something is both beautiful and functional, it becomes a part of our experience, and that well-designed item now earns a place in our lives. In a way, design is all about solving a problem — it comes from necessity and creativity — and makes our live simpler.
Has your experience of living in different countries and such different environments informed your design process?
Since my father is Thai and my mother is German, I grew up bilingual with Thai and German cultures. This helped me understand both sides of the world. It makes me open-minded, broad-minded and tolerant, which are very important for doing art and design.
I combine the German way of being well-organized and streamlined with Thailand’s artistic culture, turning them into my own language of design interpretation.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in this process? Anything you would’ve done differently?
Learning that following my heart and intuition is the right thing. Sometime I have to go through many difficulties, but at the end, when I see the result, it made me smile and very happy. And, most importantly, being courageous and having the self-esteem to push through are important. You are never too old to start and learn something new.
I don’t think that I would have done anything differently. All my experiences gained from this process — no matter how good or bad — now help guide my problem-solving skills.
(Our interview was edited slightly for length and clarity.)
Ploi says Tiziano Terzani’s “The End Is My Beginning” is “great food for the soul. It’s a touching father-and-son portrait about a man in search of truth, love and the art of letting go.”
“Especially for a one-woman company, it would be an honor for me if the DesignGood readers and community would help spread the good news about my startup collection of handmade bags,” Ploi says.