Blake Van Putten (@blakevanputten) is a Los Angeles-based fashion designer whose collection of colorful handbags from his clothing and accessories brand, CISE, puts the “statement” in statement bag. On this episode of In The Know: Style Changemakers, Van Putten shares how he infuses personal expression, community support, and anti-racism awareness into his designs.
“Fashion means expression,” Van Putten tells In The Know, further explaining that fashion and style are ultimately about donning an outfit or accessory that means something to the wearer. “If you’re sporting a handbag, you really feel as if you’re part of the community and the family we represent.”
Van Putten’s core values regarding fostering community and anti-racism awareness are at the forefront of his design process. “There’s been a lot of thought that’s put into the products that we create and the different collections that we come out with,” Van Putten illustrates. “We want to make sure that we’re cognizant of everything that’s happening within the community.”
Providing an example, Van Putten shares that the murder of George Floyd was a catalyst for CISE to make a statement and provide support through their handbags and accessories. “We started to evolve, and we started to find different non-profit organizations within the community,” Van Putten says, clarifying that CISE handbags are not only well-crafted and eye-catching, but their proceeds also “impact other communities.”
The brand’s first initiative was a line of structured, box-shaped handbags with the words “Protect Black People” embossed on both sides. The enthusiastic response to the bags sparked requests for another line displaying the phrase “Protect Black Women.” The demand for further iterations of the bag resonated with Van Putten. “A lot of women on my team are Black women. A lot of people in my life have been inspired by Black women,” he mentions.
In tandem with these statement-embossed handbags, Van Putten says that one of CISE’s current priorities is helping children. “Protecting Black kids [is] something that is very prevalent for us. Same thing with ‘Protect Black Men,’” Van Putten notes.
With his principles in tow, Van Putten’s scope as a designer has widened since the brand’s inception. “We originally started with t-shirts, and then it evolved into cut and sew, [then] it evolved into embroidery, and then it’s embossing,” he relays. “It’s really assembling different styles of fabric or assembling different pieces to make something unique and all your own.”
The joy and purpose Van Putten derives from designing and developing CISE products challenges the fashion industry’s appraisal of a designer’s success. “I see myself as a hopeful creative,” Van Putten says. “I just really want to make something that, at the end of the day, makes me feel good. Success to me was just being able to produce something like that.”
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