Meet Sunny Woan: Lawyer, Editor and Now Handbag Designer Behind Label Taryn Zhang

A handbag is one of the most versatile accessories a young woman can have. Some would prefer them to be roomy and spacious, with many pockets and zippers, while others something small and easy to carry. For entrepreneur Sunny Woan, however, the answer could be no clearer.

“A handbag,” she said, “that can defy the laws of physics would be ideal. I could throw in five textbooks, a laptop, a pair of shoes, a makeup bag the size of a small watermelon, and it would still look slim and feel weightless on my shoulder.”

Though such a product would be, regrettably, impossible, Woan nevertheless manages to weave creativity and imagination into every one of the handbags she designs for her company, Taryn Zhang. Inspired by acclaimed designers such as Shiatzy Chen, Kenji Ikeda, Twinkle by Wenlan and Vera Wang, as well as her passion for art which manifested in the form of doodling during elementary school, Woan conceived of the idea of designing handbags while sitting for the New York bar exam in 2009.

“The biggest challenge,” she reflects, “was doing everything from scratch, and having to reinvent the wheel over and over. I had no background in design… I am not kidding when I say I had no idea what I was doing. However, from those beginnings, I was able to build a network of support. Now I know many designers, manufacturers, factory owners, pattern-makers, fabric suppliers and fashion journalists.”

As a result Woan and her husband James Zhang launched Taryn Zhang, a label they named as they would a daughter. Its debut Alpha Collection is designed for “the type of woman who would need to carry a briefcase to work,” with handbag names ranging from “The Ambitionist” to “The Workaholic.” Alpha women are her muses, as Woan’s inspired by “the stories and lifestyles of women who dominate in their professions.”

It’s no surprise that Woan’s designs cater to the workingwoman, since she herself is quite the career woman. On top of starting Taryn Zhang, Woan works full-time as a corporate lawyer and is also the founding editor of Kartika Review, an Asian American literary journal.

“I guess what I’m doing now might be seen as having two careers, but it’s better compared to women who work 9 to 5 and have children to care for at home,” Woan said. “Only my baby isn’t human; my baby is a company.”

Though Woan’s plans to pursue designing as a full-time job remains tentative, she is hopeful about Taryn Zhang’s future. “I hope the people behind Taryn Zhang and our stories can inspire a young girl to realize her own dreams and ambitions,” she said. “At bottom, that’s what any of us want—to have made a difference. “

Photos courtesy of Sunny Woan