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(4): Totem Collective

An international collective developing a collection of refined essentials.

Edited by Robin Douglas Westling Written by Jimmy Guo

Copenhagen, Denmark / Hong Kong, China — Tasked with the mission to create the perfect leather tote bag, Bohan Qiu, David Andersson Sahlin, Johan Christian Chen and Daniel Ekström assembled from across Scandinavia, Europe, and Asia to form the Paris-based Totem Collective. With various experiences and expertise in different creative areas, this cross-cultural collective is determined to make a product that is both practical and customisable with seasonless longevity. After launching their first product with the late Chinese art photographer Ren Hang, the group aims to continuously operate at the intersection of fashion, art, culture, and music.

Bohan, you’re one of the Co-founders and Creative Director of Totem Collective, how did it start?

— We all had a lot of ideas we’ve wanted to realize, but something about creating a perfectly sleek and practical tote bag stuck in our heads. On top of that, we wanted to create a product that would stay relevant, instead of being washed away every season.

Today, you’re all based in different places around the world. How did you meet and what is it like to work across the globe?

— The four of us got to know each other separately in different cities. We all grew up in different environments with different experiences. When we decided to start the project, we naturally became a team, as we are all good in our own areas, with connections globally. Because we have connections across the world we can simultaneously throw parties, organize events and initiate collaborations, yet we always gather in Paris. It’s in Paris where all of us work and live for the big, resonating moments each season.

Tell me about your first product, Tote 01.

— The tote 01 embodies our belief in an everyday essential product redesigned in a refined form. From the adjustable strap lengths, through the inner pockets to the top zipper to ensure the safety of all your items, it is a bag that both men and women, diplomats and artists can feel comfortable using while adding a stylish touch to their lifestyle and outfits. Versatility and exchangeability are important aspects that we had in mind while designing it. The four press buttons on the front of the bag allow you to attach patches made of different materials. This personalization is the small touch that always keeps it relevant. We have both permanent and seasonal patches, made of natural materials like leather, canvas, aluminium, and feathers. On the canvas patches, we encourage artists to create something absolutely true to themselves and what they want to express. From a small leather pocket to a hand-painted art piece, anything is doable on the patch.

You’ve expressed that Totem Collective aims to incorporate art, culture, fashion, and music. Why?

— The four of us have always been exposed to different cultural expressions and totem collective is a platform where we can bring these together. So in every aspect, we’re not just a bag brand. We believe in collaboration to form a community of people, from different creative sectors. A range of creatives like graphic designers, musicians, product designers, artists, and journalists have participated in this project, creating a platform for global creative exchange. Exactly what we want to achieve.

You’ve collaborated with the late Chinese photographer Ren Hang, what was it like?

— I had known Ren Hang for more than three years before he left us and we often worked together. He was a true inspiration for many people of my generation and he was a genuinely amicable soul. His work brought us so much beauty and perspective in life. I had spoken to Ren about Totem Collective ever since its very formation and shooting something together was always the plan. The shoot happened in Beijing with some of our closest friends and was just like a fun afternoon. We’re immensely thankful for the breath-taking pictures he took for us and for the beauty he’s left for coming generations to keep getting inspired by.

What’s the future like for Totem Collective?

— We want to create a community that feels inclusive and approachable. The products are just a medium for the lifestyle and culture we live. We’d like to do more things around the world, throw more parties and do different kinds of collaborations. So in the future, we want Totem Collective to be both something people feel excited to be a part of and a product you’re proud to own.

David and Daniel, you are based in Copenhagen and Stockholm respectively. What’s your opinion of Scandinavian fashion?

— Scandinavia is good at making high-quality, sleek design pieces at a fair price point, but we feel that it has entered a phase where people have stopped pushing creativity. Sometimes we get stuck in the frameworks of ”Scandinavian fashion”.