Student Starts Line of Sustainable Handbags

by Sophia Sakellariou, Staff Writer

Seated at her desk with papers and books littering its surface in an “organized chaos’” a bamboo sprig resting in a vase on the corner, and the afternoon sun shining in through her top floor dorm window with a view of Van Cortlandt and much of the Bronx below, Alexandra “Lexy” Xuan was relaxed and poised, methodically filing her nails as she spoke:

The Quad: Where are you from?

Alexandra Xuan: San Francisco, Calif.

TQ: That’s pretty far from N.Y. What made you choose Manhattan College?

AX: I was gonna go to arts school, but I didn’t get into the one I wanted. I still wanted to be on the East Coast and I received a good scholarship from here so it seemed like fate.

TQ: What are you studying?

AX: Management and Global Business Studies with an Arabic minor

TQ: Arabic is an interesting minor choice, why did you choose to study it?

AX: The environment I come from is predominantly of Jewish and Asian culture, so Arabic is an untouched and unfamiliar culture to me so I saw it as an opportunity to explore something new and get out of my comfort zone. It’s helped me understand more about Middle Eastern culture and I’ve realized how important it is to focus on something that’s so foreign to me and work toward understanding it. It’s even made me consider switching my career to focusing on a location of Arab descent.

TQ: So you mentioned a career shift, what path are you leaning towards?

AX: I’ve always been kind of more of a creative person I guess and I always wanted to be in the creative field. O-PAQ is my start-up right now with sustainable handbags and fair trade production. I’ve always wanted to go into a creative field and for me for the past two years I always thought that fashion was going to be my thing and it still is, don’t get me wrong, my co-founder and I are still very connected with it. We still want to work on our start up and that’s always something I want to see happen and become an actual thing, but recently understanding what’s going on in the Middle East and seeing climate change happen and global warming you know, domestically and  internationally, I’ve kind of realized how much of an impact I can make besides fashion. And not that fashion isn’t a huge issue, too, we can see tons of clothing being thrown into landfills each year. That’s such a big issue and that something I’ve always wanted to change and we can see the unfair wages in the fashion industry. Fashion is a big deal, but I’ve kind of realized that I want to make an even more direct impact on the world through sustainability.

TQ: I’d like to hear more about this start-up, O-PAQ, you mentioned. What does this company do?

AX: So there’s kind of a stigma behind things being made in China, right? Like you think of products that are made in China and you think automatically that they are just poor quality, but a lot of the bigger brands like, not to bring them down, but Michael Kors, Prada, Gucci, they import their stuff from Europe and then they bring it into China and the artisans in China construct them. So then you would get a bag that’s like maybe made of poor quality materials and then it’s made in China and then people would automatically associate the poor quality item with “Made in China” products. We want to get rid of that stigma but that’s been a little bit difficult especially with politics recently with the trade wars and everything and the taxes and tariffs. It makes things really difficult and at the worst possible time because we were just thinking about launching. We also want the product to be fair trade and we want to prove that the artisans in China are not just producing poor quality. We also stand against animal cruelty so none of our bags are made of animal products. We wanna eliminate the stigma of poor design with sustainable products,  especially with handbags because there’s such a limited market right now. We also wanna bring in smaller artists, so this is kind of including a social entrepreneurship into it as well. That’s what O-PAQ is.

TQ: Why the name, O-PAQ?

AX: Long story short, my co-founder and I were trying to describe something and the word “opaque came up as in “it’s a very opaque color” or something like that. And then it just sparked that the word looked cool, this was completely over text by the way so we were able to see the word “opaque” written. We played around with the word and came up with O-PAQ.

TQ: So you said you want to make an even more direct impact on the world through sustainability. Do you think you can incorporate O-PAQ into your newfound interest in Middle East involvement?

AX: I’m still kind of questioning where I want to go with sustainability and Arabic. Maybe I’ll work in urban planning in a metropolitan area in the Middle East or an Arabic country, but I also speak Chinese so maybe urban planning in China, but I don’t really know exactly where I want to go with it. I just think that it’s kind of obsolete to educate myself for a career when I can know more and then create my own career. Does that make any sense? Like I kind of want to just be a well rounded person and understand the world more rather than know exactly what I want to do and stick with it when so many jobs are being taken over by technology. It’s scary to me, but I think for me right now that’s the best way to go, especially since I’m young, to just explore and then figure it out when something truly sparks.

TQ: Any advice for people who want to start their own company?

AX: I guess it’s not really my advice, but life goes really quickly and I don’t see why not, just do it. It was scary for me, but if you really want it you’ll find a way to do it. For my co-founder and I it was simple because we knew that we wanted to do it and that’s why we went through the entire process. We went through so many difficulties, but because we wanted it we kind of just let go of that mindset of “oh we’re too young to do it.” We just went ahead and did it and when we showed that we were really passionate about what we were doing, the people in China we communicated with took us seriously. All it is is realizing that you really want it, then going out and proving it.