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Kao Pao Shu designer Naida Begeta is building a ribbon-filled empire.

Naida Begeta of Kao Pau Shu

Situated on a sunny corner of Santa Monica is the modern day atelier of Kao Pao Shu, a veritable treasure trove of handbags, clothes and accessories made mostly out of ribbon. While the fabric is typically the culmination of a gift, it is here that ribbon is the essence of founder Naida Begeta’s whimsical and avant-garde womenswear brand.

A native of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Begeta began her foray in fashion when she was in need of a handbag. In a moment of genius, she sewed her first ribbon bag in 1997, quickly garnering attention from her friends who wanted the same item.

“The concept of the bags is that it is just one long line folded into a shape,” says Begeta, “so it’s very clean inside and the construction of it is very clean.” True to form, the ribbons on the handbags join together without a single visible seam.

Kau Pau Shu Ribbon Bags.jpg

Begeta then went on to earn her degree in product design from the University of Sarajevo and then eventually married Italian commercial director Marco Schillaci. After the two decamped to Milan, Begeta started selling her ribbon bags in Japan. The pair then decided to head west to Los Angeles after Schillaci fell in love with the city during a shoot. As the demand for her goods grew, Begeta began to expand into accessories and then eventually into clothing.

“It all started from what I want to wear,” she says. “What I felt good wearing and then transferring the forms and shapes. That’s really what keeps me going even now. I’m on a constant exploration of the forms and what you can create from just using the line of something.”

Kao Pau Shu Ribbon Jeans.jpg

Utilizing the same concept as the handbags, standout pieces from the clothing collection include a multicolor floor-length ribbon dress and a snug LBD. Each piece is one-of-a-kind and appears almost architectural in form. While each item is conceived organically, Begeta does draw inspiration from architects like Antoni Gaudí and movements like Bauhaus, as well as her everyday life and the materials she utilizes.

“I do a lot of research of fabrics and experiment with forms,” explains Begeta. “For Spring/Summer 2012, we are using specialty fabrics that have metal in them. For Fall/Winter, we are going color crazy.”

In addition to her clothing and accessories, Begeta launched a denim collection at the end of January that features her signature ribbon detail on Japanese selvedge denim. Styles consist of boyfriend, skinny, relaxed and shorts, each in an array of washes. The denim ranges in price from $240-$372 and can be purchased at her atelier. Customers looking to shop the entire Kao Pao Shu collection are welcome to drop by the Santa Monica space, where Begeta can be found on a daily basis. Also for those interested, Begeta is available to make custom pieces. “It’s another level of inspiration to know the face of the person that I am making this for,” she says. “I enjoy that.”

Naida Begeta in her Kao Pau Shu ribbon room.jpg

After a few years in this industry, Begeta wants to impart some words of wisdom for aspiring designers. “Don’t let go. Have a lot of patience—especially now—because the business and industry is really difficult. It’s even depressing in certain moments because you are like, ‘Okay, I’m never going to get through. I’m never going to get to the point I want to get to.’ And it really just takes a lot of patience and hard work.”

As for that name, Kao Pao Shu, it was a blissfully fated incident. While styling for a fashion show in Sarajevo one evening, a film by legendary actress and Kung-Fu film director Kao Pao-Shu came on the television. “I was sitting with a few friends and we were brainstorming names, and the TV was on,” says Begeta. “One of the people was like, ‘Oh, it says it was directed by Kao Pao-Shu. That sounds really good.’ So it just stayed…At some point we did get an email from her daughter that found us on Google, and said she was excited that the name continues to live.”

And so it does.