A former marketing director for Vogue and the founder of coveted bag brand Bembien, Yi-Mei Truxes lives and works in Greenpoint, Brooklyn—a neighbourhood she describes as magnetic, filled with hard-working creatives who are building businesses, challenging the norm and making things happen. Her office and home are actually just a block apart—an arrangement conducive to a slower pace of life and an inherent sense of freedom. We are so excited to share our conversation with Yi-Mei and learn a bit more about the inspiration behind Bembien, how sustainability is woven throughout the business, why Greenpoint is the perfect backdrop to build the brand and of course all of her inside tips to explore Brooklyn like a local (we promise you’ll want to save these for all your post-pandemic travels).
Describe Brooklyn in three words or less.
Energetic, optimistic, evolving.
As a business owner and creator, how has living and running Bembien in Brooklyn inspired you creatively?
It’s all about the people. Being surrounded by hard-working, creatives making things happen, building businesses, challenging the norm, being scrappy… It makes all the difference for me as a business owner. Last winter during the height of COVID quarantine, my husband and I isolated at our cabin in the Catskills, and I really felt a downward shift in my creative energy. Upon returning to the city I realized that there is something magnetic about being in Brooklyn that I had previously taken for granted. And I think it has everything to do with the people!
What do you love most about living and working in Brooklyn?
Brooklyn (especially Greenpoint, where I work and live) is one of those places where you feel like anything is possible. We’ve been able to renovate a warehouse into Bembien’s studio / showroom, my husband is able to build furniture on the street, things like that. There is a certain freedom that comes with living and working in this neighborhood, which is really hard (perhaps impossible?) to find in Manhattan. Having a “the sky’s the limit” feeling in our day-to-day is something really special and unusual that we’re extremely thankful for.
“During the height of the quarantine, my husband and I isolated at our cabin in the Catskills and I really felt a downward shift in my creative energy. Upon returning to the city I realized that there is something magnetic about being in Brooklyn that I had previously taken for granted. I think it has everything to do with the people!”
Tell us about the inspiration behind the Bembien brand; how did it all begin?
I launched Bembien while I was still working at Vogue Magazine, and it was actually inspired by a woman I saw while walking to work—she had an effortless elegance about her (very 1970s coastal France), and she was carrying the chicest, most disheveled straw bag. It launched me onto a hunt to find something similar, and I quickly realized that you can’t find quality woven goods from mainstream retailers, but that they best come from small weaving villages around the world. I had never intended to start a brand (and never considered myself much of an entrepreneur), but I was inspired to put my six years of working in marketing at Vogue to good use and start a brand that helped promote the incredible work of these artisans.
How is sustainability woven throughout the Bembien brand and the way you operate your business?
Sustainability has been a priority from day one. Our bags are made from materials that come from the earth, are sourced locally, and regenerate naturally (the majority of our bags are made from Ata leaf, which is a reed that is grown on and around Bali). The production process is extremely wholesome and low carbon footprint— the bags are handwoven by artisans in their homes, using no artificial chemicals (the method we use for disinfection and durability is smoking the bags over coconut husks in the final stages of production). More recently, we have been focusing our efforts on ways we can help protect and bring awareness to the living conditions of our artisans, who are battling overwhelming plastic pollution which threatens their ecosystem. We recently introduced our Jolene collection, made entirely from recycled plastic picked up on the beaches of Bali, to help bring awareness to this issue. Not only does recycled plastic produce nearly 80% less carbon waste, it can make for a sturdy handbag that can be cherished for years!
Playlist that captures the vibe of your Brooklyn studio.
YOUR BROOKLYN ESSENTIALS:
Ovenly or Bakeri
Five Leaves, Café Mogador, Café Colette, Milk & Roses
A quick bite:
Paulie Gees Slice Shop, Littleneck Outpost
Dinner with friends:
Oxomoco, Chez Ma Tante, Greenpoint Fish & Lobster, Rule of Thirds
After work drinks:
Achilles Heel, Pencil Factory, Torst, Greenpoint Beer and Ale, Brouwerij Lane, Hotel Delmano
Our cabin in the Catskills that we rent out when we aren’t there; three hours from the city, it’s the best place to reconnect with nature and gain some perspective on life in the city.
Skinny Dennis, Miss Favela (only on weekends), St. Mazie
Gallery / Museum:
The Noguchi Museum (located 1 mile north of Greenpoint in Long Island City)
Homecoming, McNally Jackson, Concrete + Water, Bird, Mociun, Home Union, Dobbin St Co-Op, The Break
Best place to sweat:
Favorite place to take in the local scenery:
Transmitter Park on the Greenpoint waterfront (one block away from Bembien’s studio/showroom—come say hello!)
Brooklyn’s best kept secrets:
ACME Smoked Fish offers the local Greenpoint community wholesale pricing on their world-class smoked salmon on Friday mornings from 8am – 1pm! You can access products only available to NYC specialty stores—but watch out; sometimes there is a line around the block (especially leading up to holidays), so get there early! Also, She Wolf Bakery drops off fresh loaves of sourdough at Dandelion Wine (the local wine shop) every day at noon. Call in advance to reserve one!
“Having a small spatial footprint in the city has been game-changer for my mental health and energy, and has essentially eliminated any stress felt from living in—what is by all accounts—an extremely busy and bustling city.”
How do you embrace slower, more conscious living in the city?
I have an unusually small footprint here in Greenpoint… My office is one block from my home, and a lot of my daily go-tos are located nearby. Not needing to hop on the subway, get in a car, or really travel in any meaningful way on a day-to-day basis has led to a significantly slower way of living (I walk to my office with an open coffee mug, and then return home for lunch everyday!). But for the first ten years of my time in the city I was commuting 45 minutes in and out of Manhattan, and at times had 3+ locations I needed to be at in a given day. It was a life very much on-the-go, and I think in a lot of ways it wore me pretty thin. Having a small spatial footprint in the city has been game-changer for my mental health and energy, and has essentially eliminated any stress felt from living in—what is by all accounts—an extremely busy and bustling city. It is not something I take for granted because I spent so long on the other side, and is something I recognize to be a true luxury.
A daily walk with my husband at the end of the day to decompress and work through any little things that may have come up throughout the day. If not a walk—a wine at one of our local watering holes. But either way, something that signifies that the work day has ended and it’s time to unwind.
What is your daily uniform?
I tend to keep it simple—jeans + a t-shirt or button down.
Describe your perfect Sunday.
A day without plans, but one in which you might serendipitously run into friends on the street.
Where are you dreaming of traveling when the world opens up again?
I am dying to go back to Bali to visit the artisans we work with! I had to cancel a trip in February, and have been really wanting to get back there as soon as I can. And for something more vacation-related… I’m not really sure! I have really shut down the temptation to dream about traveling, because who knows when it can happen safely again! But maybe a road trip along the western coast of Ireland?
How do you / will you make an effort to travel a little lighter and more consciously?
I think we all will travel more consciously when the world opens up. Plan fewer trips, but really make the ones you take count. The pandemic has really put a spotlight on how fragile the world is, and we need to approach traveling with a new level of respect and gratitude.
Philosophy to live by.
Treat every person you meet as if they (could be) the most important person in your life. You never know what the future holds.
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