Anyone from designers to models will attest to the fact that the fashion industry is a fast and unpredictable beast. There is no telling what trends will stick, which models will reach superstardom or what fledgling brand will make it big. For New York-born brand BOYY, success came in spite of its unexpected and humble beginnings.
“I’d been living in New York for 10 years by the time Wannasiri [Kongman] moved there in 2004 to study,” Jesse Dorsey recalls. “She was taking a couple of courses at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) when we met and started hanging out. Her obsession with fashion, specifically handbags, struck me right away. We used to walk the streets of New York and she’d comment on the handbags of every woman who passed us by. She’d talk about the brands, whether she liked it or not, or how she could wear it – or simply declare, ‘Oh my god, I want that!’”
Wannasiri’s obsession quickly transferred to Jesse and it wasn’t long before he suggested they stopped talking about handbags and try their hand at designing one.
“At the time I was actually a musician, but I was also quite involved in the fashion world in New York,” Jesse recalls. “Several of my good friends were photographers and assistants, models and magazine editors, so the fashion scene was quite a big part of my life in New York.”
Despite having good connections in the industry, the duo found themselves in murky waters. Neither Jesse nor Wannasiri had any business acumen, and when it came to the actual designing, they didn’t have a clear vision at first.
“There was a lot of fighting, because two people are going to have different ideas,” Wannasiri says. “Eventually, we decided to each design what we wanted and then somehow blend our designs together. Some of my elements could go into his designs and vice versa, and in the end, we’d have a collection that’s well-rounded.”
Jessy elaborates: “I like to call it ‘the friction method’ – if you rub two pieces of coal together enough, you might just get a diamond. But the one thing we kept coming back to was ‘masculine’.”
Wannasiri maintains that it wasn’t exactly a theme they decided on beforehand. “I didn’t have to tell myself, ‘Okay I want to design something masculine’,” she says. “It was an organic thing.”
Organic growth is another theme that continues to permeate their professional lives. Nothing Jesse and Wannasiri did – or continue to do – for the brand has been by the book.
“We used to show collections in my apartment in downtown New York,” Jesse laughs. “We really started from zero, so it’s sort of fascinating that way. Our first showroom appointments were in the kitchen of my apartment, just off Bowery Street. It was funny because we’d have Japanese distributors coming and they’d just be in shock.”
The designs were unique and exciting enough to keep the distributors and buyers coming. They even had Barney’s New York and Colette Paris setting up appointments to see their first collection.
“It was sort of this miraculous thing that just happened from day one, and we never looked back,” Jesse says. “And like I said, I was in the music business… but I just had to drop everything to keep this going because it was happening so fast. Everything was happening in real-time and I had to learn the business. I had to learn everything. I had to worry about materials and where to manufacture our bags. So when we launched our first collection it was really just the one bag, in two different sizes and three different colours. This, we were able to manage.”
Perhaps it was luck that propelled Jesse and Wannasiri into the world of handbags – or it could very well have been their fresh approach to the fashion industry.
“We do things our own way,” Wannasiri explains. “We follow our instincts. We don’t like to be told what to do. For example, back in those years in New York, the showrooms wanted BOYY to sell at a contemporary mid-market level, which is categorised by a price point. Even if your bag is as good as those of high-end designers, if your price is in the middle, they’re just going to call you a mid-market contemporary brand. They didn’t think we were going to be above that level so they wanted us to keep the price at a ‘sweet’ spot.”
Fresh-faced designers might have conceded to those demands. To garner the interest of distributors in New York – one of the most fashion-savvy cities in the world – would be enough of an incentive for most, but not for Jesse and Wannasiri. They weren’t going to sell themselves short.
“We’re super organic in a sense that it’s only been us to this day running the company,” Jesse adds. “It’s only been us building up the company, so it’s not like we’re a brand with a huge financial backing or a target demographic. We don’t do that. We just keep striving to make BOYY and our products the best they can be. We didn’t want to be pigeonholed into some selling spot.”
For five years after BOYY’s first collection launched in 2006, Jesse worked in New York while Wannasiri moved back to Bangkok, where the popularity of the brand grew beyond their wildest expectation. They are now selling worldwide through select retailers along with their own retail stores in Central Embassy, Central Chidlom and Central Ladprao in Bangkok, and a store in Copenhagen’s city centre. From Thai celebrity Araya “Chompoo” Hargate to bona fide supermodels and fashion influencers such as Bella Hadid and Chiara Ferragni, BOYY has made a significant impact on the world of fashion over the years.
So, where will BOYY be in five years? No one knows – and neither do they. After all, both Jesse and Wannasiri hate to limit themselves to rigid ideas. Organic growth is more important to them. If they want to expand BOYY to include ready-to-wear collections, they will, but what we do know is that wherever the brand goes, it’s going to continue to be an international success while Jesse and Wannasiri are at the helm.