When ‘it bags‘ come up in fashion circles, it’s usually referencing a must-have from a luxury designer with a price tag to match. The Gabbi Bag, a vegan leather shoulder bag by direct-to-consumer label JW Pei, doesn’t have quite the same background—but it’s the purse that’s taken over our feeds in 2021.
The Gabbi’s silhouette is simple: Its croissant-like shape has a single, ruched top handle and a curved base. It comes in black, white, and bold colours like “grass green” (a Kermit shade) and “Nutella” (a warm brown). Over the past few months, it’s found its way from global fashion Instagrammers to chic women on the New York City subway. More recognisably, Hailey Bieber, Gigi Hadid, Irina Shayk, and Emily Ratajkowski have all worn the Gabbi this summer. With Emrata carrying the style in various hues no less than four times.
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All those recent sightings belie a curious time stamp: Gabbi actually made her JW Pei debut in January 2020. Stephanie Li, cofounder at JW Pei, tells BAZAAR.com the Gabbi evolved from another shoulder silhouette, the Eva. “We were just so obsessed with the nineties trend and especially the scrunchies,” she says of the Gabbi design process. “So I [wondered], ‘would it be fun to make the scrunchie as a handle?’ So that’s how we did it.”
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While the bag was already gaining fans last year, Li says a return to “normal” life—and an upswing in re-entry dressing—helped the Gabbi take off in 2021. Supermodel sightings pushed awareness of the bag further. But it’s the Gabbi’s chic simplicity that helps it win over discerning women the entire time, Li tells us. “It’s very minimal and never too showy, but at the same time you can have fun with so many different colors,” she explains.
Scroll through JW Pei’s Instagram tags, and you’ll find as many variations of styling the bag as there are women wearing it. (So many.) “It’s so easy to wear and it goes with everything,” Li adds. Her favorite styling example? “If you see how Emrata styled the bag […] she wore it with a formal, evening little black dress, and then she also goes on the street… wearing a white skirt with the Gabbi bag.”
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The Gabbi’s marquee summer also has a practical side. It’s hard to miss a price tag that hits under US$100—and for a bag made with vegan leather, no less. “If you look at the market, you either get really cheap fast fashion like Zara or Forever 21, or you get Stella McCartney—who is also vegan but over $1,000,” Li explains. “We can provide chic bags that are affordable, but sustainable and vegan. So I think that’s what really sets us apart.”
Li is already thinking beyond the Gabbi: She’s interested in exploring more streetwear-inspired bag silhouettes, as well as vegan footwear, in 2022. But the designer knows her breakout bag will always be available as her brand expands. “I think Gabbi is going to be one of our classics,” she says.
Add Gabbi to your handbag collection at the links above or by shopping at JW Pei.
This article originally appeared in Harper’s BAZAAR US