Stephanie "Nunu" Oh Haley's love of design was cultivated by her craft-savvy mother, who taught her eager daughter to crochet and paint at a young age. "I knit hats and a couple of amazing pastel tube tops," says the Ohio native, who relocated to New York to cut her teeth at Macy's while taking design courses at FIT. "We also made a strapless dress together in high school that I still wear, and she taught me how to sketch and oil paint."
At Macy's, Haley became interested in handbag design while overseeing product development for Etienne Aigner. "I learned first-hand the construction and production of bags and jewelry," she explains. Inspired, the young designer enrolled herself at the Kellogg School of Management, where she "took full advantage of the opportunity to travel to Japan and Italy to learn luxury goods business management, and environmental and social considerations in design."
With all that knowledge in hand, Haley knew precisely what would distinguish a new venture in the crowded handbag market when it came time to launch her collection, Atelier Nunu, two years ago. "There was an opportunity to create a women’s bag line that was based in the U.S., was classic and interesting, and utilized materials and leathers that are beautiful not only in their high quality, but also in their minimal impact on the environment," explains Haley, who also drew inspiration from the clean lines and seasonless shapes of men's bags. "Many American men's brands focus on process, which often leads to higher quality products."
As one might expect, uncompromising quality has been a key consideration for Atelier Nunu bags, all of which are manufactured in France and Italy using vegetable-tanned leathers, which, Haley says, are "significantly better for the environment."
Though the shapes appear fairly minimal -- the sleek "UNO" tote, for example, with adjustable gussets and slightly rounded corners, was the first bag Haley ever made -- complex design details reveal themselves upon closer inspection, like pointed handle attachments, industrial screws, handcarved brass beads, and handstitched accents.
"I want to make things that last for a long time, are useful, and will be worn often," says Haley. An obvious goal for a born crafter, certainly, but a rare objective in the frenetic fashion industry.