Last week, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) president Ingrid Newkirk made a brief stop in Dallas to honor a local designer and philanthropist celebrating a major milestone. Nikki Duong Koenig (pictured below) recently marked the 10-year anniversary of her eco-friendly and ethically fabulous company, Cykochik Custom Handbags.
Cykochik (pronounced psycho-chick) started as a creative outlet for Koenig in her SMU dorm room in 2003, and has since grown into an internationally-recognized vegan handbag and accessories brand. The company philosophy supports “responsible manufacturing and not endangering people, animals, and our planet in the process.” This means that Koenig’s bags are 100% sweatshop-free, BPA-free, animal product-free, and biodegradable. What’s more, the company practices the classic 3 R’s – reduction, reuse, and recycling. For example, unused bags are repurposed to create new carryalls. Community support is also an important goal at Cykochik, with a large percentage of its sales donated to emerging artists.
Back in March, we reported the news of Koenig’s Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 for products and manufacturing, an effort to turn her ethical side project into a full-time job. With just hours left to reach her goal, Koenig’s dream came true in April. Now, Cykochik is ready to hit the main stage.
We caught up with Nikki Duong Koenig to get the details on her recent honor, philanthropy, and what lies ahead for Cykochik.
DFW Style Daily: First, congratulations on your successful Kickstarter campaign to make Cykochik a full time gig! Where were you when you learned you reached your goal, and what was your reaction?
Nikki Duong Koenig: “I was working in my studio on April 4, when all of a sudden my phone started going off with texts and Facebook messages congratulating me on reaching my $10,000 goal! I was shocked, happy, excited, and humbled by the support of my family, friends, and fans. It was surreal, and I felt like I’d won the lottery to pursue my dream!”
What first inspired you to launch Cykochik? Were the animal- and eco-friendly aspects of the business always part of the plan?
“Cykochik was my screen name in 2003, so I started using it as a label for my art and designs while I was a student at the SMU Meadows School of the Arts. Designing and making handbags was a creative outlet for me, and not a business at first. It organically transformed and launched into a business when others started requesting custom made Cykochik bags.
“I’ve always believed in the freedom of self expression while not harming others, our planet, or animals in the process, so being animal- and eco-friendly has always been a part of my ethos. Cykochik naturally reflects this, from the materials to the manufacturing of the handbags. We’re always going to strive to be a more sustainable company each and every day.”
Cykochik was honored by PETA last week for its commitment to socially-responsible manufacturing practices. How does it feel be contributing to a kinder, more compassionate world?
“Cykochik is a proud member of PETA Business Friends, and it is such an honor to be recognized for doing our part (though small) in being a socially-responsible and cruelty-free business for 10 years.”
What ethical and environmental impacts should people know about the leather industry?
“Unfortunately, the ethical and environmental impacts are gruesome, so I’ll spare the details. We should be educated consumers and learn about the global impacts of our purchasing decisions. Tanneries use toxic chemicals to soften and preserve [skins] so that they’re wearable and don’t degrade. These toxins are extremely harmful to the environment, to the workers, and to the people who live near the tanneries.
“There are compassionate alternatives to leather. We use a 100% polyurethane (PU) fabric that is both animal and eco-friendly. It’s manmade and does not contain PVC (plastic) or toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, cyanide-based oils and dyes, and chrome in its production, unlike leather. It’s just as soft, supple, and durable [as leather], and it’s more stain and water resistant. Not all animal-friendly materials are eco-friendly. It takes more time and effort to source and work with materials that are both.”
In addition to your work at Cykochik, you serve as vice president of Against The Grain (ATG), a nonprofit organization that aids orphanages in Asia and promotes awareness and unity of Asian American culture. How do you juggle your time between ATG and Cykochik, now that it’s a full time operation?
“Cykochik and ATG are my passions and they both share the same mission in supporting the arts, so my work for both is seamless at times. I’m very fortunate to work with an amazing team, because it does take a village to make a difference!”
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
“I spend time with my family and friends, trying new restaurants, attending arts and cultural events, visiting museums and art galleries, and other happenings in Big D.”
Do you look to any designers or business leaders as role models? If so, who and why?
“[I look to] Stella McCartney and her company for their fashionable and compassionate commitment to being a sustainable and ethical brand.”
What goals do you hope to reach in the next 10 years? Do you have plans to expand your line beyond vegan handbags, totes, and other carryalls?
“My vision is to grow a global creative community of artists, artisans, and art patrons online and off-line. Cykochik will expand beyond handbags and accessories to be a creative and compassionate lifestyle brand.”