Interviewed by: Candice C. Smith
Meet the woman behind luxury handbag line Moni & J, Manar Laktineh. Manar launched Moni & J in 2012. Handbag design has been a lifelong passion of hers. Her infatuation with designing leather goods started when she was a little girl in Syria. Customizing leather bags with her mother from a young age, she knew even then that design was her true calling in life. Manar chats with our contributing writer Candace Smith and gives us the details on how she chose the name Moni & J, also what inspired her to start designing. PYNK will also be releasing a new hang bag photo, including description, specs, and where you can purchase. Read full interview below.
C: Who are Moni & J? (Is it just yourself? Do you design or do you have others who complete that task for you?)
M: I am the designer of Moni & J handbags. My name is Manar Laktineh and I started Moni & J based on my nickname growing up, Moni and J is the first letter of both my husband and twin girls. My husband and twin girls are my biggest support and often inspire my designs.
C: What is your role for the Moni & J brand and what does that entail?
M: I am not just the designer of Moni & J, I have a 360 role where I am involved in communication with the team that is producing the handbags, the suppliers where we get our leather, to the customers, the local bloggers/celebrities, and down to the pricing structure and business development. As the owner of my brand, I have my hands in all aspects at all times.
C: What led you to creating the Moni & J brand?
M: I have had a passion for designing and creating things since I was young. I love creating something special that people feel happy about.
C: Who is the quintessential Moni & J girl?
M: A girl who wants to have the attention with an eye-catching look but in a classy, luxurious way, she is a trendy woman but comes across as very classy with her image.
C: Who/what are your creative and business inspirations/mentors?
M: I am always looking for inspiration daily and throughout my travels. It is when I travel in which I can really get inspired. I also am on the lookout for practicality when I am designing a bag, something that is unique and also can work day in and day out. Karl Lagerfeld is definitely an inspiration as he is really the leader in the fashion industry.
C: Your designs appear to be very bold, luxurious, and yet still What materials have you sourced?
M: We use high-‐quality leather sourced from Italy, chrome, and gold-plated accessories with pragmatic designs.
C: What goes into creating a Moni & J handbag?
M: A lot of love! 🙂 -I start the process with an idea, a sketch and a design. I take this to my factory and it is here that we begin to source the materials and create a sample piece. I will start to wear the sample piece in my everyday life to find out where we need to amend the bag. There is a lot of trial and error to create the perfect bag for both the overall aesthetic and practicality.
C: Who would you love to see rocking one of your bags around town?
M: Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez -all style icons for various reason.
C: What are your plans for Moni & J within the next five years? Do you have any plans to expand into clothing or other articles of fashion?
M: For those that follow me very closely -I have a strong passion for eye wear, sunglasses. In five years’ time I would like to have successfully added sunglasses to our product line-up.
C: Did you face much opposition from others as an Arabic female entrepreneur in the luxury handbag business? Were you expected to follow a different career path when you were younger?
M: Female Arabic entrepreneurs are increasing in today’s world and it is great to see Arabic woman really rising to the top as businesswomen. I was expected to follow a different career path, but I followed my passion and what I was good at and that has led me to where I am today.
C: Did you always see yourself as having a career as a fashion designer from an early age?
M: Yes, I would always design my own clothes with my mother as a child. I loved the idea of design, creating something new.
C: Who have been your biggest supporters?
M: Without a doubt, my J’s; my husband and my twin girls.
C: Where can we find your luxury handbags for purchasing?
M: We are currently sold in NYC at In Support Of Boutique, in Qatar at Per Lei Couture, in Kuwait at Designers Lounge, and online through Handbag Designer 101’s website, and our own website.
C: Your 2015 collection looks superb! What is the inspiration behind it?
M: We wanted to create something different from the Marshal which is our iconic bag but still mixing high quality leather with hardware, which is where we started using chrome for our new Grip bags, which are available in two sizes, both the baby size and regular size. Our iconic marshal bag comes in some exciting new colors and skins for the 2015 season.
C: Moni & J was recently featured in the August 2014 issue of Vogue UK! How was that experience? How did they contact you?
M: They contacted me immediately after my exposure as a finalist at the InStyle Handbag Designer Awards in NYC. To be nominated as a finalist for such a well-‐known awards event was a true pleasure for me and to see the exposure and recognition that followed behind it was very exciting.
C: For future creative directors/fashion designers who may want to follow in your footsteps, what advice can you impart to them?
M: Never give up and always stay positive. There are days when you will get frustrated and feel down, but the key to success is to always stay positive, surround yourself around those that believe in you and never give up.
Photo cred: Tommy Thomas
Handbag: Grip Bag, Genuine leather, metal chrome handle, detachable shoulder strap