By Vanessa Voigt
A Design Duo Partners
Accessibility with Luxe Living
The refreshing collaboration behind Emily Cho springs unique-to-the market handbags that are a go-to
option when seeking high quality and sleek designs, without spending thousands of dollars on a designer bag.
For spring/summer 2012, the duo’s anticipated follow up to their smash first season collection takes their beloved
signature clutches and spins them into new forms, colors and prints, while still remaining loyal to the leather
craftsmanship that defined their early success.
Multi-colored, leather bags, in beautiful tones and prints, piled on top of a coffee table, where two young women in black blazers
and pants nestled into a love seat. The long haired blonde, who paired the business attire with chunky turquoise jewelry and a
low cut camisole, asked the girl with the jet black bob, who kept it austere with a conservative creme knit sweater, what in the
world was the word she could not think of.
Meet the unlikely pair who designed the stacked bags, all for their anticipated Emily Cho spring/summer collection. SJ Cho
(left), 28, is a quiet, refined Korean immigrant and Emily Gellis (right), 25, is an extroverted, sharp-tongued native New Yorker.
The two found one another while on the designing team for a contemporary clothing line, Torn by Ronny Kobo in 2009, where
good chemistry, along with a void in the contemporary handbag market, sparked a design pursuit all their own.
The result was a high quality, timeless and accessible clutch collection, released exclusively by Saks this past August. In the
New York City store, and in only seven weeks, 90% of Emily Cho’s have sold out. All of their genuine leather, Italian-crafted
creations retail under $700, a price point that highlights the designers’ true motivation, which is creating bags that women love
and they can attain. Even the high profile starlets are already reaching for their clutches, such as Kim and Kourtney
Kardashian, Vanessa Hudgens and Eva Longoria.
The buzz around their current FW/11 collection revolves around their roomy, neutral, exotic skin-textured leather clutches that will carry you from day to night. Rather than being true skin, such
as python, which can cost thousands of dollars, or opting for fake skin, which diminishes quality, Gellis and Cho recreate the look and feel of skin with fine leather and cutting. The results
are more affordable bags, but still high in quality, and impeccable in appearance. This is what makes Emily Cho completely unique in the market.
The release of their SS/12 collection expands the line to more than just clutches (with totes and shoulder bags), statement colors (as opposed to first season’s neutrals) floral prints, and
straw. Their sought after skin finishes come in brights and python is accented with hue. Roomy leather totes in pretty prints are supremely ideal for a student, as well as their Lady Triangle
Frame Tote in orange, purple or turquoise, which is a very sleek option for a 13” laptop.
It all seems so impressive for Gellis, who is only 25. She started her fashion career early however, as a buyer for the retail chain Intermix at the ripe age of 19. Even with her time
consuming, enthusiastic pursuits for designing and producing Emily Cho, she is a passionate stylist, who designs all the brand’s look books and photo shoots. Cho tells an admirable
personal history, as she moved from Korea, without support, ten years ago to pursue fashion. She struggled and fought her way through the industry, which resulted in an indisputable
command for construction, detail, and aesthetic, not to mention a tried and tested loyalty to her craft.
Perhaps the extreme care and
craftsmanship, along with every bag-
from its cut, its leather, to its print-
are just the natural manifestations of
what a respecting, trusting, close
partnership can bring forth when it
involves two very creative minds.
Even in a Q&A with the two young
women, their interactions reflected a
dynamic interplay for success. To
SJ’s satisfaction, Emily did almost
all of the talking, and when SJ did
comment, Emily met it with a well-
intentioned joke to make her laugh.
When it was time to get pictures of
the two, in fun, they turned towards
each other, Gellis playfully motioned
for Cho to whisper in her ear, and
they cracked each other up. Looking
at the photos said a lot about this
line on the rise and the women
surging it, and that is, at the end of
the day, it’s about doing what you
love, with a goal that others will
enjoy it, and smiling the whole way,
preferably with someone right by
SJ Cho (left) & Emily Gellis founded Emily Cho Handbags in 2010
FASHION Q+A: How did you decide on your new
statement color bags and floral prints for SS/12?
EMILY: We spent a really long time researching
what was missing in the market, to find what we
could do to be recognized as different, important
and special. The floral print, which was inspired by
water colors, has never been done the way that we
did it, to our knowledge. It takes three processes to
imprint this color to our bags, which are made
completely of leather and then hand painted.
Q+A: Being from South Korea, SJ, how does your
home country, and your education in Oriental
Painting, influence your work?
SJ: My parents did not want me to go into the
fashion industry, so they asked me to major in
business or accounting.
EMILY: (Laughs) She is not good at numbers at all!
SJ: They do not know about Emily Cho’s success,
they probably think I am sewing in a factory right
EMILY: It’s okay, she has my family, who has
adopted her, and she will tell you, she likes my dad
more than she likes me.
Q+A: Along with accessibility comes Emily Cho’s signature luxury. Any
new quality details to look forward to with your new line?
EMILY: All of our competitors, except Alexander Wang, are manufacturing in
China and selling their bags for around $300. We respect that, but we are
going to sell an Italian made bag for $500, and hopefully it will become a
staple that will never go out of style that you can always go back to. The
leather is cut by hand, and with its texture, from afar, everyone thinks it is real
snakeskin, it even feels like skin. People always ask me, ‘how much?’
(holding up a $575 bag), and real python is an easy $4,000. There are 8 1/2
square feet of leather for this bag, which means we needed to use 10
square feet. It is expensive to make these bags, we are not rolling around in
money by any means, but it doesn’t matter because our bags are at Saks
and we went to Vogue yesterday, which is SJ’s dream come true.
Q+A: You two are friends as well as partners, but with your opposite
backgrounds, how do they promote a well-rounded end product?
EMILY: I am a shark in business. SJ says the reason she works with me is
because she knows I protect our business, I protect our product, I protect our
name and I take these things very seriously. We put a lot of work into this and
we are proud of it. So, not everyone has to like it, but they have to respect that
we work hard. SJ is very detail oriented. For quality control, I inspected the
Saks collection myself when it landed from Italy and she would call me and
say, “This is so bad!” Then I get to the office and I’m looking at the bag and
am like, “What?” and she is like, “Look! No, this is a really big deal!”
Q+A: What is your ultimate goal with Emily Cho? Any thoughts of
branching out from bag wear?
EMILY: I think we need one more season of handbags to be established as
a handbag designer. I want to see Blair Waldor from "Gossip Girl" with the
lady triangle bag, it is so her. I would love to have a window display at some
crazy store, or even our own store. Or an ultimate goal is when SJ is in
Vogue, I’m going to let her do the full interview and I will just sit on the side.
Q+A: When you moved to New York City from Korea, financially, it was a struggle. Why was it
important for you to offer both luxury and accessibility?
EMILY: We are girls, we want to buy new things, we are visual people, we see things we like and we
want them, it does not matter if it’s a guy, shoes, or a bag. So we want to make something our friends
can afford. Maybe some of our friends can afford a Prada bag, but honestly, we have girls that want to
buy our bag over a Prada, which is weird. It will probably take a long time to settle in that our bag wins
over our idol’s bags.