Russian-born handbag designer Katya Komarova didn’t plan for a career in design. She graduated from Moscow State University of Culture and Arts with a degree in acting before becoming a model. But after a chance encounter with a local artisan on a trip to Thailand in 2010 – who taught her how to make a leather bracelet – she decided on a career change.
Komarova followed her passion, studying handbag design at Accademia Riaci in Florence. By the time she moved to Australia in 2013, her handbag label ByMosquito was already well-established.
“When I moved to Australia, I realised that the business model – and the bags that I was making back in Russia – wouldn’t perform as well [here],” she says. So she launched a new, eponymous label in 2014 specialising in minimalist leather goods.
“What it was back then [compared to] what it is now is a completely different story,” Komarova says. “I’m very proud of what it was, but we were producing in China, now we’re producing in Australia. We’re using refined Italian vegetable-tanned leather.”
During lockdown, Komarova and her husband decided to move back to their home in the Adelaide Hills after a stint in Sydney, which meant saying goodbye to her studio in Surry Hills. “Since moving here, the business has been actually doing pretty well considering the crisis and everything,” she says. “I started growing my team and I couldn’t work from home [anymore], and I started looking for space to work together.”
And so, in early October, Komarova opened her studio in Adelaide’s heritage Epworth Building. One corner of the cosy space is dedicated to assembling bags, the rest is made up of display shelves and mirrors. The walls have a fresh lick of white paint, in perfect contrast to the dark, hardwood floorboards. In keeping with the label’s use of natural materials, the furniture is made of rattan and leather, and the room is adorned with dried plants and flowers.
A solid-wood work bench is one of Komarova’s most treasured items in the space. “My husband found it on Gumtree a few years ago. We were living in Sydney and we took our car – which wasn’t a big car – so we had to put it into pieces,” she explains. “The guy especially made it for me, because he knew I was going to bang quite heavily with a hammer on the bench. And from Sydney we brought it here to Adelaide. And then I moved back to Sydney. It’s been moved a lot. It cost me like $80 – I spent much more moving it around,” she says, laughing.
Leather comes from an Adelaide supplier, who sources it from Italy. “We produce on demand. So, business-wise, it makes it more sustainable and healthier for us just to buy as we go from local [suppliers],” she says. The supplier laser-cuts the leather, which is then assembled by her team in the studio. A Japanese press that Komarova recently purchased sits atop the sturdy wooden bench. It works by piercing studs into the leather – a means of constructing the bags without stitching.
Many Katya Komarova bags are takes on classic styles – the bucket bag and shoulder bag are each available in black, brown and tan. Sizes range from the tiny mini mono to the oversized shoulder bag. Straps and handles (in materials such as leather, fur, chunky chains and woven handles) can be purchased separately to create new looks.
Katya Komarova bags have been snapped in street-style shots at international fashion weeks and have appeared in global fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. “It’s amazing how from a teeny-tiny brand it has become such … I can’t call it a sensation, it’s not a sensation yet, but it’s getting there,” Komarova says.