Steven Ma, the Leather Goods Designer Rebelling Against the Classics

The London-based designer introduces his namesake label, which offers an innovative new take on the idea of “timeless” luxury

  1. Who is it? Steven Ma is a Chinese-born luxury leather goods designer based in London.
  2. Why do I want it? Superbly crafted unisex bags and shoes that are challenging traditional standards of luxury with their novel designs. 
  3. Where can I find it? Steven Ma will be available at MACHINE-A in London.

Who is it? London-based leather goods designer Steven Ma has always been inventing. “As a child, I was constantly sketching,” he remembers. “[I imagined a] wheelchair that could go up and down stairs to help my godmother who had leg surgery, or clothes that she could easily wear while she was recovering.” Years later, with his eponymous label, Ma is inventing timeless luxury for a generation questioning the familiar tropes that have sustained the leather goods world until now. 

As a student in the BFA program in Fashion Design at New York’s Parsons School of Design, the young designer naturally gravitated towards accessories as a way to give structure to his expansive creativity. “The technical part – being able to create shoes you can walk in, bags which are comfortable and functional – was good for me because my brain usually goes everywhere,” he says, with a laugh. Savvy to the commercial pressures of being a designer, Ma relocated to Paris to complete his MA in Fashion Management at Emlyon. However, he quickly realised that the best way for him to learn was by doing: he swiftly dropped out, and Steven Ma was launched.

Entering the luxury goods market as a first-time designer is a valorous enterprise: it’s a market commanded by traditions established by the big fashion houses. But instead of competing with the heritage these brands have behind them, Ma drew on his personal story. “I want to establish a legacy, but from my history; my background, my friends, and the community I am surrounded with,” the designer explains. It is his extraordinary talent to translate this history – the emotions, the experiences, the network – into luxurious designs that anchors his brand. 

Take, for example, the Carry Bag, a design developed from Ma’s graduate collection at Parsons. Spliced in two – two different colours, two different prisms – and solidified in one body, it is more than just a deft deconstruction of traditional bag structures: it is a translation of the designer’s relationship with his mother, who passed away. “The cut-in-half means we live in different worlds right now,” elaborates Ma. The hard, angular casing was construed as a “safe place to preserve all the memories of us.”

Why do I want it? Having honed his craft through internships at The Row and Elizabeth and James, Ma then manipulated the traditional shapes of leather good design with the aim of “offering new ideas with the same craftsmanship of the luxury houses, creating a new community who would inspire each other.” Bags with seven corners, twisted straps, double-heeled shoes – the engineer-like precision with which Ma approaches each product has allowed him to innovate novel structures of luxury design that are unconstrained by gender. “A very low-key rebellion against the classics,” he adds playfully. 

Ma bucks seasonality, preferring to create timeless and durable designs that respond to his generation’s demand for responsible fashion. Each product is crafted from 3D moulds meticulously developed by the designer himself, and every detail, down to the hardware, is customised. For the production, Ma was connected by his business advisor, MACHINE-A founder Stavros Karelis, to suppliers and tanneries in Italy who “follow all the protocol such as reusing wastewater and working with the highest quality materials” that will stand the test of time.

Key to his design process is the connection with other like-minded creatives. He enlisted Ellie Grace Cumming (AnOther Magazine’s fashion director menswear) as art director, and together they had the idea to collaborate with musicians, make-up artists, filmmakers and photographers to see how his designs would be received within their worlds. Thus far, his creations have been interpreted by the likes of Chloé Le Drezen, Rei Nadal, Valentina Li, and Eddie Whelan. “After I saw their work I cried, because you really do have that connection even though we’ve never met each other,” says Ma. “But that comes back to the underlying ideas of my designs. The difference in people’s ideas is beauty.” 

With his superbly crafted innovative designs, Steven Ma is set to cement his own legacy within the universe of luxury leather goods.

Where can I find it? Steven Ma’s pre-launch collection will be available at MACHINE-A boutique in London.