What’s in a Name: Behind the Valletta
It was a glorious sunny day in July of 2014. Our ship glided gently into Malta’s Grand Harbour, and I fought every urge to pull a Rose from Titantic and pretend to fly. I was greeted immediately by salty winds, a panorama of the Mediterranean, and the sounds of church bells ringing in the distance. ((Exhale))
The stunning island nation of Malta bursted with culture and history. Colorful banners adorned the streets to celebrate the summer festivals, and homes boasted freshly painted doors in preparation.
I fell in love instantly.
With its Mediterranean cuisine, perfect climate, and relaxed way of life, Malta was paradise. But what drew me in wasn’t the luxurious lifestyle, but rather the richness of its history, manifested by the splendor of 16th century buildings and structures that have been so carefully preserved within an urban environment.
Beneath its centuries-old cracks were layers of histories, ranging from Roman to Norman to French and British, all shaping what Malta is today. For example, its language is a linguistic cocktail that sounds Arabic with half of its vocabulary coming from Italian and mixes of French and English.
I strolled through its capital, Valletta, pausing inside the famous St. John’s Co-Cathedral, an impressive treasure of Baroque art and architecture. Built in the 1570s, the interior is extremely ornate and designed with intricate carved walls and painted figures that appear three-dimensional through shadowing. The most important masterpieces by Caravaggio are centrally displayed. But my favorite part were the eight chapels, each one dedicated to a patron saint of the langues (regions). Here’s a photo of the Chapel of Italy, dedicated to Saint Catherine.
I also learned that because of its strategic location as a military and naval fortress, Malta was one of the most heavily bombed countries during WWII. Valletta’s streets and buildings, including the Royal Opera House, were left in ruins. And yet, despite having survived battles for hundreds of years, Valletta has remained strong and victorious.
I decided to name our first collection of backpacks after this historical town of Valletta. There’s something powerful and alluring about its resiliency and colorful riches. Our Valletta backpack represents the strength and beauty that comes from understanding ones roots and fighting for what you believe in.
That’s who we are. We celebrate each other’s cultural diversities, and we stand unafraid and unbridled by what tomorrow brings.
How to Look Business Chic with a Backpack
We had the pleasure of snapping some shots with our friend, fellow bosslady and blogger Cheryl. She’s the definition of business chic—managing communications at a global investments organization while curating fashion on her blog Haute in Cali.
Who says you can’t pair a backpack with a crisp blazer? Look no farther ladies. Cheryl shines in her monochromatic outfit that’s exudes power and confidence. The jacket paired with her shift dress is a perfect balance of work appropriate style.
She chose to offset the white-on-white ensemble with pair of heels that added a pop of color. Add a classy leather bag to the mix and you’ve got the a sleek look that’s ready for the boardroom.
Ready, Set, Launch!
What a whirlwind! With the support of amazing friends, family, and fans, P.MAI launched its Kickstarter campaign on June 1st and officially tipped the campaign in less than 60 hours—making our dream of stylish, functional women’s backpacks a reality!
We are nearing the halfway point of the campaign, and I couldn’t be more grateful and proud. I wanted to share some new photos of the Valletta backpack that we took around San Francisco. From structured silhouettes to more casual looks, our work bags are versatile enough for any style.
Nichole from Who Goes Wear looks sleek and sophisticated pairing her long, tuxedo style blazer over a midi slip, creating a black beauty look. She makes carrying a laptop bag look so effortless. Definite boss lady status.
I also had fun toting around our gorgeous cognac backpack around San Francisco in between meetings.
That’s it for now. As always, please give a shout if you have any questions or comments. And please share the campaign with friends, family, and coworkers. We hope they’ll love our leather bags as much as we love designing them.
Dieter Rams: Ten Principles For Good Design
The ten commandments of design.
- Is innovative - The possibilities for progression are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for original designs. But imaginative design always develops in tandem with improving technology, and can never be an end in itself.
- Makes a product useful - A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic criteria. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could detract from it.
- Is aesthetic - The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
- Makes a product understandable - It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
- Is unobtrusive - Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
- Is honest - It does not make a product appear more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
- Is long-lasting - It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
- Is thorough down to the last detail - Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
- Is environmentally friendly - Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
- Is as little design as possible - Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.
I Quit My Job, Ma!
“So we came to America for you to make backpacks?” That was the quizzical look my Vietnamese mother gave me when I told her that I was leaving my company and pursuing an unknown path to design women’s backpacks.
Of course, reaching that decision wasn’t easy. The soul-searching process doesn’t usually happen with the fanfare of epiphany, but rather through a bit of introspection, a heap of courage and a dash of craziness. I always wanted to start my own business and create something from scratch. If not now, then when?
For the last five years, I spent most of my time problem solving for companies as a consultant. Now was the time to be selfish. I decided to tackle a personal frustration that I’d experience for many years: create a functional and chic solution to carry my stuff.
The idea first came to me when I had a conversation I had with my doctor years ago. “You know, your collarbone is a bit misaligned…I think it’s because of your shoulder bag,” she said. Appalled, I realized that wearing a backpack with two straps was better for posture and equal weight distribution.
Fast forward a few years, and I found myself quitting a stable career and saying goodbye to client calls and cross-country commutes. I inhaled a renewed sense of freedom and clarity, as delicious as a Sunday afternoon nap. I started talking to friends and industry experts, organized a focus group of women, and began creating sketches and mood boards. I moved from research, to designing and testing concepts, to finally creating a product that I’m proud of.
The journey is only beginning—punctuated with moments of doubt and small victories—but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. So here’s to the women who dare to ask “why not now?” Here’s to the thinkers and doers. Here’s to building tomorrow, today.
Phuong, founder P.MAI