Emm Kuo: No man is an island

Emm Kuo was founded in 2012 by designer Emmaline Ranzman, a Parsons School of Design alum. Upon launch, Emmaline, who was born in Taipei and raised between Hawaii, New York and Hong Kong, first focused on everyday bags which then developed into evening designs.

Emm Kuo’s evening bags are handmade in specific studios in the Philippines which follow stringent sustainability practices such as the full cycle usage of materials, water and energy conservation as well as natural dyeing processes. All bags follow traditional techniques, showcasing the beauty of the handmade.

In this interview, Emmaline Ranzman discusses her favorite places and sources of inspiration, her admiration for sculptor Brancusi, and the significance of travel in her creative process. She also shares insights into the sustainable practices behind her brand, the intricate craftsmanship of her pieces, and valuable lessons learned throughout her career.

What is your favorite place in the world? What do you like about it?
One of my favorite places is on the island of Oahu. I grew up in Hawaii, it's not only  breathtakingly beautiful, but it’s also a constant source of inspiration for me. From the sea, to the mountains to the tropical flowers and plants, there is natural beauty everywhere in Hawaii. 

If you could collaborate with any artist or creator, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I love the sculptor Brancusi, I’m constantly inspired by his forms and use of materials. I would love to design a collection using his artistic sensibility and my sense of design.

Tell us about your creative process. Where do you get most inspired, what materials you like to work with, or your favorite techniques.
Travel is a huge part of my design process. I’m often inspired by the places I go, whether it be Japan or Italy. I love working with materials such as crystals and unexpected fabrics such as Banana Leaf or Mother of Pearl. 

What actions do you take in your work process to make it more sustainable?
Seeing the importance of community living through travels, it was important for our brand to work with suppliers that could produce ethically made products and work with artisans to help grow their local communities and pass down traditions.

Tell us something special about the way your pieces are made.
All of our mother of pearl clutches are handmade by artisans, and each bag takes on average 500 hours to make. 

What's one lesson you've learned from a challenge you faced in your career
To always stay true to yourself and have perseverance. 

What advice would you give to someone starting in your industry?
It’s important to remember that no man is an island. Help others as they will help you.