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A Very Baggu Friendship

BY jiayi ying 01/19/2012

It started with two: Emily Sugihara and her mom, Joan, hatched the idea behind Baggu in 2007, made a prototype, and put off worrying about the overall look and feel of their line-to-be. When it came to doing all that branding stuff, they enlisted the help of Emily’s childhood friend, Ellen van der Laan, who, armed with a graphic-design degree from RISD, became the third musketeer and has been shaping the line’s aesthetic ever since. Here, Emily and Ellen take us back to the first day they met and the American Girl doll-loving crafts club they ran—all with the kind of humor that comes with knowing someone since before she can tie her shoes. 



Seven-year-old Ellen (left) with Emily and her pet bunny Velveteen.

Ellen: “We’ve known each other since we were three. We are both from San Diego and met at this cooperative nursery school at UCSD where half the students were kids of international visiting faculty, and the other half were kids from the community.”

Emily: “My parents and I just moved back from Japan at that time. I’m a quarter Japanese and born in Tennessee, so I’m not international by any means. But I have a Japanese last name—so my parents didn’t really say what was going on, and I got in with the international group.”

Ellen: “That picture is from around second grade. I got a bunny for my seventh birthday and named him Velveteen.”



Sewing away at their American Girl extravaganza.

Emily: “In third grade, one of our moms organized a sewing-based crafts club. I remember really being into tiny, OCD stitches—my mom would be watching me and going, ‘Smaller! Smaller!’”

Ellen: “I think half of mine were half-finished. I was into getting distracted. For our holiday craft, we made clothes for our American Girl dolls—”

Emily: “—while wearing matching clothes.”

Ellen: “We were very into dressing like fancy period activists.”

Emily: “And we had relatives weird enough to buy us matching outfits with our dolls. But my mom was really gung-ho about helping me make stuff—she taught me how to sew in kindergarten. We sewed this quilt that I designed for nap time—it had pastel flower pebbles everywhere. I think Ellen and I were both raised to value making things as a great thing to do, and a great way to spend your time.”



In their Brooklyn-based office today.

Emily: “After college I got a job designing for J.Crew.”

Ellen: “I worked at Laird+Partners—this ad agency that had mostly fashion clients. When Baggu started, I was at MAC Cosmetics, designing windows and in-store graphics and doing lookbook and product photography. I designed the Baggu logo for Emily in trade for this coat she had that I wanted. Still have the coat.”

Emily: “It’s a good coat. I still have the logo. The first creative disagreement we had was on whether the logo should be uppercase or lowercase. Ellen thought it looked more expensive in uppercase. She was right.”




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