Friends of the STEELEMyStyle blog know that I love meeting interesting, independent, creative Australian women and supporting Australian fashion and film. I am also a vintage girl at heart and love any business involved in style sustainability and upcycling, so when I came across the stunning bags from The Luxe Project, I was keen to get to know more about the creative Australian women behind it.
The talented Mother/Daughter team, Chutisa and Sharidan Bowman behind rapidly ascending Australian brand The Luxe Project spoke to STEELEMyStyle and shared their thoughts on working together, the vision for their socially-minded venture, style, their inspiration and life philosophy as well as their favourite local secrets from Melbourne.
Grab a cuppa or a glass of wine and enjoy.
Chutisa (right above) was born in Thailand, moving to Australia as a teenager in the early 70s. With an impressive resume of 25 years in Fashion buying including Senior Buyer at Coles Myer and Director of Buying for David Jones she left fashion retail to run a consulting business with her husband, but a family trip to Thailand and the Hilltribe communities in 2006 was a bit of a “light bulb” moment.
Sharidan was born in Melbourne Australia, did a BA in Psychology and Media Communications at Monash University, but had a premature quarter life crisis and decided to backpack around South East Asia with a friend. Upon her return, she worked as a Makeup Artist with Mecca Cosmetica for 3 years while doing a Marketing qualification at RMIT. During this time, she realised that her true passion was in fashion and beauty and when her mother Chutisa approached her to be part of her new venture she immediately said yes and The Luxe Project was born.
STEELEMyStyle: Tell us a bit about The Luxe Project ?
Chutisa: The Luxe Project is a Melbourne-based social enterprise that collaborates with artisans in South East Asia to create upcycled, well-designed, stylish fashion and accessories, made from fabric ranging from recycled baby carriers to vintage ceremonial gowns.
Creating a business with a real social purpose with the objective of creating “pattern-breaking social change” is our vision for The Luxe Project.
The Luxe Project is driven by two objectives:
Make a living and Make a difference.
Sharidan: Because mum is from Thailand, we travelled to visit family every year since I can remember. So we have always been familiar with these amazing hill tribe textiles. Then on an unrelated business trip to Chiang Mai we purchased some textiles for ourselves and our friends/family and thought “wow… the world needs to know about these incredible artisans… we could really make a go of this”.
Chutisa: The Luxe Project concept was inspired by our personal vision ‘doing good while doing well’ as well as our personal experiences with finding the perfect handbag.
Designing bags was never our plan. It was a serendipitous turn.
Sharidan: We originally started off designing our bags and trying to select fabrics that would work with our designs but that just didn’t feel right in the end. Now we travel to Thailand with a few loose designs in mind, but at the end of the day, we hand select each vintage textile and design the bags based on what we have selected. We want our bags to showcase the quality and craftsmanship of the textiles and not the other way around. All pieces are made with quality, style and sustainability in mind.
Chutisa: People started asking us where we were getting our handbags and purses. When we explained, they asked us to create bags for them too.We were very fortunate to find someone who treated their workers with respect and dignity (by paying them fair wages), who could help us source vintage Hilltribe fabric and produce our designs. We became really excited about the opportunities in online retail and our chance to make a positive contribution and make the difference in the world – and so The Luxe Project was born.
STEELEMyStyle: Can you describe working together as Mother and Daughter?
Chutisa: I see creating this business with Sharidan as exciting and remarkably generative. For us, running a company together, going on designing and buying trips and working closely with each other is a rewarding experience—both financially and emotionally. It has made us closer, and we love what we have created together.
Both of us bring something different to the table. I manage buying and finances, while Sharidan handles PR, advertising, marketing, and our Online store appearance. Since I have been a buyer for Retail Corporations for over 25 years, I am able to utilize my experience in the international fashion markets to design and source product with ease. Sharidan, a marketing graduate, possesses a keen market sense and she understands what others her age want.
One lesson I learned from working so closely together with my daughter is to be in allowance with each other and to be realistic with both expectations and accomplishments. I always remember to treat Sharidan as I would like to be treated by a business partner. Most importantly I make sure to acknowledge and value her point of view and to know when to be a business partner and when to be a mother.
Sharidan: Working together has been a lot easier and more fun than I could have ever expected ! I have been so inspired by the amazing women I have met along this journey. My mother has always excelled in everything she has done and has taught me the value of hard work, self-belief and to not put limitations on my dreams and what I believe I can achieve. On the other hand, I am so unbelievable inspired by the hill tribe women who create these amazing textiles. The love and time that has gone in to each stitch blows me away every time. Their creativity and skills are unfathomable and the fact that they create all these garments for their families just shows the importance of strong female presence within the home.
I think the most challenging part of this process for me has been to slowly eliminate the bad habit of second guessing myself. I am so confident in our items and in what we are doing, that I have also had to learn how to be confident in myself! It always helps to have an encouraging mother whispering in my ear every time I pause to overthink my actions.
STEELEMyStyle: What has been the highlight so far ?
Chutisa: As a retail buyer for many years I knew first hand that most people take for granted the low prices they want to pay for items without really acknowledging the fact that other individuals may be getting the short end of the stick for their benefit. Many people choose to turn a blind eye to dishonourable working conditions (sweatshops and slavery) so that they could get what they desire for a very low price.
I had always desired to create a sustainable business system that impacts the world and various areas of people lives without serving as just another charitable handout.
I love the fact that The Luxe Project sources and creates our products with a backstory. The onus isn’t just on the quality of the design and craftsmanship but also on the raw materials used and the importance of fair trade and ethical practices. We pay a fair and respectable price for the textiles from the Hill Tribes which, in turn, helps to create well-paying job opportunities that allow artisans to earn a living wage, support their families, reinvest in communities and maximize their potential.
It’s a huge highlight that we are managing to create something beautiful that people love and carry out our personal vision for the business – Make a Living, Make a Difference.
Sharidan: Our trips to Thailand are definitely a highlight for me. Not only is it the most creative part of the job (selecting textiles and designing bags) but it’s also all achieved with the most amazingly beautiful backdrop of Northern Thailand’s amazing mountains and incredibly ornate wats. Have a mentioned food? I think I’ll mention it again. The food is AMAZING! It’s also nice to get in some quality time with mum, I don’t live at home so it’s nice to get some one on one time without the distraction of dads or boyfriends.
STEELEMyStyle: What would you love to do creatively if given half a chance ?
Chutisa: We would like to create a global lifestyle brand that is showcasing just how chic, fashionable and stunning ethically produced fashion accessories could be. We endeavour to create a sustainable business system that positively impacts the world and various areas of people’s lives.
We want our business to be making a difference around the world by helping people in developing countries to overcome the cycle of poverty and create their own sustainable business opportunities.
STEELEMyStyle: What is your work fantasy ?
Sharidan: If Nicole Richie, Jennifer Lawrence or Cara Delevingne even looked in our direction I think I could die a happy lass! But you know what, at the end of the day if we heightened the profile of these hill tribe artisans and what they do even just a little bit I would be profoundly satisfied.
STEELEMyStyle: Which other creative women do you admire ?
Sharidan: For me, I feel like there are so many strong women to admire in our own backyard. We are so lucky to have as many creatives as we do in Melbourne, and Australia in general – I am also blown away by the level of support available within the industry. When I see someone like Lucy Feagin (The Design Files), or the sisters over at Maricor Maricar doing what they love and hitting it out of the park it makes me want to keep on keeping on!
Lucy Feagin – The Design Files creator
Maricor Maricar – pic DesignFiles.net
STEELEMyStyle: How would you describe your personal style ?
Chutisa: My personal style is minimalist, practical but tasteful & polished – monochromatic and classic cut, streamlined silhouettes with androgynous approach. I love buying investment pieces that transcend trend and seasons. In my view, elegance, sophistication, and timeless style are always better than of-the-moment trends, which will date—and date the wearer.
Sharidan: We could not be more different, which I think is good actually, it means when it comes to designing bags, we can cross a broader spectrum of tastes and styles. Also as someone who has had to wear glasses since the age of 10, I have grown a massive appreciation for a beautiful pair of specs. I love colour, bold prints, thick glasses and a bold lip colour. I try to balance it out with block colours and basics so I don’t induce seizures walking down the street. For example, today I’m wearing my tropical palmtree fitted harem pants, black singlet, Gorman leopard print socks and black jelly bean sandals!
STEELEMyStyle: How did your childhood in Thailand influence your sense of style and creativity ?
Chutisa: I would describe my childhood as ‘idyllic’ since I had a privileged upbringing in Thailand, with personal maids and lovingly pampered by my mother and grandparents. I was raised in an aristocratic way, paying attention to etiquette, custom and simple pleasures of life and living. My mother was extremely imaginative, very resourceful and remarkably creative. She introduced me to literature, jewelry, textiles and fashion of other cultures, which initiated my curiosity and imagination. So I developed an interest in design aesthetics and fashion from a very young age. She instilled in me a strong inquisitiveness as well as the spirit for innovation and creativity.
When I was younger my style was ….
I seem to have a lot of ….. in my wardrobe
Sharidan: red and yellow
When I wear ……… I feel ……
Chutisa: Giorgio Armani suits … confident and stylish
Sharidan: the perfect pair of jeans … 5kg lighter and ready to take on the world!
STEELEMyStyle: As bag designers, what do you look for in a handbag ?
Chutisa: A Hand Bag is the key accessory for me, it adds polish to my outfit.
I always carry an oversized bag from The Luxe Project collection; because it is beautiful and functional item that make the largest statement. It makes an eye-popping statement accessory with any of my outfits.
Sharidan: I look for something that is pretty but also super functional. I need lots of internal pockets and a strong strap to handle all the crap I carry around on a daily basis .
That’s why I always carry around our Pahwanaa bag (pic of Pahwanaa 2 below $120 – others click here) . It is deceptively big but still appropriate for everyday use.
I hate seeing people use plastic shopping bags or supermarket bags as handbags… what a waste of an opportunity!
STEELEMyStyle: What importance do you place on style and interior decor?
Sharidan: At the end of the day, what I wear and what I am surrounded by affects my mood. I love the way these things can make you feel. If I’m having a bad day, I’ll do my hair and slick on a bold lip and I find I’m half way to feeling better! I am super guilty of spending crazy amounts of money on bed linen, candles, flowers and misc. home décor but every time I walk in to my flat I smile so I think it is money well spent!
STEELEMyStyle: Whose style in the public eye (past or present day) most connects with you?
Chutisa: Audrey Hepburn– She wasn’t swayed by trends and her sense of style came from her belief in quality before all else.
Giorgio Armani’s signature style of relaxed yet luxurious and elegant, demonstrated that stylishness and elegance doesn’t mean uncomfortable and complicated. His signature androgynous designs for women made trouser suits chic, both in and out of the boardroom.
Coco Chanel for her modernist thought, practical design, and pursuit of expensive simplicity.
Sharidan: Nicole Ritchie has always been a style icon of mine, people like Jennifer Lawrence, Michelle Williams and Adele have always inspired me because not only are they beautiful, powerful women at the top of their game, they handle all things with a grace and style that I admire.
I also draw a lot of inspiration from my friends, we have very similar styles and constantly share ideas and things we’ve seen in our daily travels.
Summer Style tip – When it hots up I ……
Chutisa: wear a simple cotton white dress.
Sharidan: Slap on a tinted moisturiser with a good SPF, a loose fitting tank, fitted harem pants and a pair of jelly sandals.
Night-time style for me is ……..
Chutisa: A Classic Black Dress paired with diamond and pearl earrings
Sharidan: Shift dress and clogs or maxi skirt and sleeveless top.
Which designers do you covet from afar and where I actually shop.
Chutisa: Giorgio Armani and Giorgio Armani when in Florence.
Sharidan: Elie Saab – I think he is AMAZING. I shop at Gorman (pic below), local boutique shops, op shops/savers.
STEELEMyStyle: Do you have any Makeup/Beauty Tips ?
Sharidan: As a makeup artist myself, I think I can speak for all MUAs when I say it all begins with beautiful skin. It does not matter how fantastic your foundation is – if your skin is not right, it will not look right. I have used many, MANY forms of skin care over the years and have found that keeping it simple is always the best. That’s why I use Cetaphil cleanser and moisturizer.
As far as foundation goes, I will ALWAYS love Laura Mercier Silk Crème foundation. And I can’t go past a red lip – my favorite is Nars Velvet Matt Lip Pencil in Red Square.
Poorly matched foundation and the over use of bronzer hurts me when i see them- it’s so easily avoidable. Also, lip liner needs to match your lipstick colour, I don’t know what happened along the line for people think that this was not a fact.
Any advice for those seeking their Inner Style ?
Chutisa: Avoid following trends. eliminate the superfluous, emphasise the comfortable and the grace of the uncomplicated
Sharidan: You don’t need to follow trends just because they are in style at that time. Buy what you love and know you’ll wear time and time again.
LIFE OF STYLE & SUBSTANCE
STEELEMyStyle: How would you describe your home style ?
Chutisa: Minimalist style. Art Deco inspired.
Sharidan: Eclectic! I have lots of weird and wonderful nicknacks around the house and things hanging off my walls. I am not one to keep my home style sleek and simple… I don’t have it in me!
STEELEMyStyle: What are your favourite pieces ?
Chutisa: Art Deco sideboard and Dining setting that I got from Phillipe’s auction last year
Sharidan: I LOVE our danish bedside tables and vintage map top desk.
STEELEMyStyle: What art works do you own & love ?
Chutisa: A recent acquisition, a huge painting by Dawn Sime (1932-2001) called Black Apple, oil on canvass
Sharidan: I have a huge Salon Des Ensembliers print that I want buried with me.
Where do you shop for furniture/decor ?
Chutisa: At an antique shop or Auction house
Sharidan: As someone who only moved out of home 2 ½ years ago, our lounge room looks like an Ikea show room. I will always love Ikea and I’m not ashamed of it! But as time goes on, I’m picking up beautiful old pieces from vintage furniture shops and markets.
STEELEMyStyle: Where do you go when you need a gift for someone ?
Chutisa: Brisbane Antique Guild
Sharidan: I always shop small and local – there are so many amazing little boutique shops around us that I find it hard to justify buying anywhere else! Naughts & Crosses, The Woodsfolk and Little Shop Of… are just some of the amazing stores around Melbourne.
Name your 3 favourite local MELBOURNE spots …
Chin Chin in Flinders Lane for lunch or dinner, authentic Thai cuisine.
Victoria Markets for fresh food and experiences
The Point restaurant in Albert Park, near the lake, best steaks in Australia
Waverley Bazaar (for great second hand clothes, furniture and home wares) in Glen Waverley
Antique Bar (for great cocktails and fantastic atmosphere) – Elsternwick
Easy 15 (our local place for great breakfast, coffee and friendly staff!)
Books I love and one I have read recently …
Sharidan: I’m not ashamed to say I love Harry Potter and the Hunger Games. I LOVE The Princess Bride, The Rosie Project and the Land of Decoration. Also I’ve just finished “The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” and it was fab!
Best exhibition I have seen or one that has connected lately …
Chutisa: Out of Hand Exhibition at Museum of Arts and Design in New York. The exhibition explores the many areas of 21st-century creativity made possible by advanced methods of computer-assisted production known as digital fabrication.
Richard Dupont untitled #5 – Out of Hand
Dinner party for 8 guests at your house - who is coming?
Chutisa: Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, Audrey Hepburn, Giorgio Armani, Coco Chanel, Hugh Jackman, Graham Norton and Heston Blumenthal
Guilty pleasure or daggy secret ?
Chutisa: Love Scotch whiskey, especially Monkey Shoulder from Scotland
Sharidan: I have been guilty of walking around the house in a onesie. Also I’ll always watch Wipe Out when it’s on TV
If I could tell my 14yr old self something it would be ….
Chutisa: It’s important not to take yourself too seriously, and to recognize and enjoy the quirkiness of life.
Sharidan: don’t worry so much about what other people think.
What is your perfect night in ?
Chutisa: Takeaway and a movie in with my husband
Sharidan: Quiet night in friends and a bottle of red.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Chutisa: Being totally present and at peace in the moment
Sharidan: As above!
The Luxe Project
Range includes keychains,nappy bags, yoga mat bags, weekenders, totes, shoulder bags with home furnishings to come and varies in price from $12 – $490 AUD.
Cross body bags
Yoga Mat Bags
Sally Steele, owner of STEELEMyStyle is a Personal Stylist, Shopper, Wardrobe Consultant, Life & Style Coach based in Brisbane with Clients all over Australia.
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