Designer Joy Gryson launched her eponymous accessories line in 2006 after an impressive corporate career that began at Liz Claiborne. There, as assistant to the Vice President of design and development, she cut her teeth in a category that would become crucial to the solvency of many a fashion house; she was then on to Coach, Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs, all the while honing her eye for smart and desirable design. I sat down with Gryson to talk about her experiences in the industry and her three accessories lines, Gryson, Olivia Harris, and IIIBeCa.
To do justice to Gryson’s words, I enlisted the gorgeous Lauren from The Marcy Stop to model designs from IIIBeCa and Olivia Harris. I styled them with vintage from Amy Yee’s bitchin’ online boutique, Maeven, as Gryson made clear in our conversation the importance of timeless appeal. Enjoy!
A New York City native (she grew up on the border of Queens and Long Island), Gryson went to F.I.T. for merchandising and marketing, but knew her passion lay in the creative process. “I didn’t want to sit there and do numbers,” she says.
She launched IIIBeCa, the youngest of her three accessories lines, in the fall of last year as a means to give back to her local community. Sales from IIIBeCa support three charities she and her husband and business partner, Peter, care deeply about: Family Focus Adoption Services, a non-profit Gryson’s mother co-founded; Memorial Sloan-Kettering hospital; and the 9/11 memorial.
The look of the line was inspired by Gryson’s first designer handbag, by Il Bisonte. “It was that yummy, grainy leather that you know is going to wear so well over decades. You still see all of these vintage ones today—they really are completely timeless.” Despite its accessible price point, the IIIBeCa line is no stranger to the level of detail typically associated with a more expensive product. Made of vegetable-tanned Vachetta leather, the bag’s interiors are left raw—taking minimalism to the max. A drawstring lining is included for customers who prefer something a little less rough. “I’m very detail oriented, that’s the Virgo-ness in me,” Gryson says with a laugh. “I’ve designed for people who are at a couture level and I’ve also designed for people who sell bags at Target, so I understand that you can make a great bag no matter what the price point is.”
When Joy and Peter first launched Gryson their most eager customers were not so close to home. The Japanese market was one of the first to express a lot of interest in Gryson’s designs, notably for their unisex appeal. “I saw a lot of Japanese men wearing Gryson bags,” she remembers. “Takashi Murakami actually ordered a Gryson bag for himself, which was a big deal for me! So I definitely feel like there’s that masculine/feminine balance throughout the collection…in China, Korea and Japan, it’s amazing—in those three countries, the men’s market is almost as big as the women’s market.”
So how does a mom-and-pop operation get to be Big in Japan? 1) Know the industry ropes and 2) Foster the right business relationships over the course of almost two decades. “I worked 24/7,” says Gryson of the early days of her career. “At those types of corporations, everyone did.” Nowadays, she and Peter have more time to focus on their family and pursue that ever elusive work/life balance—something of a challenge when you’re the face, name and brains behind an expanding business. “The economy has been such a rollercoaster [ever since we launched]…the fact that we’re even still alive really says a lot. It’s all about being versatile and being able to maneuver. You have to be creative, not just in designing things, but in how you handle your business.”
And for a brand with only one brick-and-mortar outlet (the bags retail primarily in department stores), how important is the function of e-commerce? Gryson stresses that online sales are crucial to a diversified growth strategy. “Financially it makes more sense for the customer to come to our site because we’re going to make more money—the markup is simply different. But it’s also important for people who don’t know our brand to be able to go to a website like Net-A-Porter and discover us [in the context of their favorite labels.] You’re going to get more potential customers through a website like that because they have a bigger outreach. It’s important to have both outlets and to be in balance. You never want to completely write off any venue, because it’s the whole process that’s important.”
And a few last words of wisdom: “No matter who you work for, whether it’s for yourself or for someone else, it’s about doing the best that you can. I think that’s part of what’s made us successful. So we just keep on going, you know?”
A big thank you to Joy for sitting down and chatting with me, and to Lauren and Amy for helping me tell this story a little better. Shot on location in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and at Le Gamin restaurant. Don’t forget you can shop these looks!