We have been getting asked a lot lately about what inspired my starting the line and how the styles of our launch collection were created, so I wanted to take a moment and share some of my honest thoughts on the how and why F E R A L began. I hope you enjoy the read:
I love handbags. I began my fashion career in apparel, but once I made the leap into leathergoods I never looked back. There is something so incredible about shaping leather into a piece of wearable art that really inspires me, even thousands of handbag designs later.
I spent over a decade grinding away in offices all over the world helping private label handbag brands thrive. By grinding I mean 60 hour work weeks, and a lot of time spent traveling. I loved the life for many years, and didn't mind the sacrifice of personal time, but eventually I wanted to start a family and that required a big re-assessment of my priorities. I could have continued working after my last child was born, but to be honest, I wanted to soak up every second with him. My husband and I looked at our options and decided I would stay home for a few years. When I left a corporate career and my family became a one income household, I had to seriously re-adjust my shopping habits (I am still a work in progress, tbh). Suddenly the handbag brands I used to shop seemed really expensive, but my high-end taste hadn't changed. I felt (and still feel) like there was a large gap in the handbag market between designer brands like Celine and high street retailers like Zara.
I feel like we're all hyper-aware consumers these days, myself included. Instagram has given us such insight and high expectations into the kinds of companies we support and purchase from. I wanted something practical & made for everyday life, but that still was incredibly well made, looked polished and kept me organized (sorry no unlined, pocket less bucket bags for me). The bag also needed to be versatile so that I wasn't swapping bags all the time and misplacing my wallet (but that never happens, right?!). Why is it so hard to find a modern handbag design that isn't just a knock off of a big designer label? And when you add in wanting something made ethically and responsibly, forget it.
The hunt began. I looked online, I looked in local boutiques, asked friends what they were carrying. Do you know what I discovered? Most women can't find the perfect bag. Many of us settle for "whatever is the most basic/easy design, of decent quality and fairly affordable" or "I hate this bag but it's comfortable". Neither option leaving the wearer feeling good about the thing they carry every day. That made me kind of sad. Why are so many people walking around wearing things they don't even really like? As I mentioned before, I love handbags, and I have a strong sense of personal style - so settling for wearing something every day I wasn't proud of seemed.... just wrong. Luckily for me, I happen to have 10+ years of professional handbag design and manufacturing experience to substantiate my whim for the perfect bag. After having sold my design services and elevated aesthetic to big brands for years, and feeling like I had a pretty good idea of what works in retail, I decided to do something kind of crazy for a part time freelance designer and full time stay at home mom: launch a brand. By myself. And design and manufacture said brand ethically in the USA with my own money. Yolo, right?
The process from deciding to build something from nothing to having handbags on a functioning, decent looking website and a handful of customers all over the world took about 2 1/2 years. I get asked most often how I came up with each handbag design, so here is a breakdown of what drove the vision behind our 5 distinct launch collection silhouettes:
I began by designing something to keep me from setting my phone down and forgetting where I put it, which was a very common occurrence in my design studio. I really liked the idea of making a leather pocket for my phone, so I could have my hands free as I worked but be able to grab it when I needed it quickly. I started wearing my prototype out of the house, then quickly realized it would be a lot more versatile if it also held a few credit cards or cash (completely eliminating the need for a bigger bag). Boom. Genius. Threw a ring on the bottom so my glasses had somewhere to hang out when I was in a dressing room or at brunch. And just like that, the No. 4 Handsfree Phone Sling was born. I wear mine almost every day, and it continues to be one of my best sellers. Since inception I have added an adjustable strap so it can be worn as a belt bag, making it just that much more freaking awesome. It is the Ginsu knife of the handbag world, it practically does it all.
My next style to tackle was my round cross body, named the Double-Take. I had been obsessed with the clean round shape since 2015, and like the stubborn Gemini that I am, I was STILL going to have this shape in the line even if we weren't launching until 2018. I loved the idea of a circular bag, playing off the concepts of vintage hat bags and modern geometry, but it had to be practical. I can't stand a bag that looks cool and won't open easily. I won't name any names here but seriously *insert big brand here* how do you keep selling these shapes that I can't get my hand into? Anyway, I tackled my round bag with the same practical angle as my previous style, made a strap that came completely apart so it could be worn around the waist, included a much-needed exterior slip pocket for phones/keys/metro cards/parking stubs and the piece de resistance...two, separate interior compartments. Each with its own chunky top zipper for easy access while walking. Did I mention I love functionality? So if you have a multi-faceted day, and want to keep the contents of your outwardly minimalist bag organized, this one is for you. Each compartment has its own pocket, so I can have my kid's hot wheels cars, wipes and pouches in one half, and look like I'm a "have it together" adult with my wallet, glasses and lipstick in the front section. Have fur babies instead of human ones? Same rule applies, keep the pup's stuff in one half and yours in the other. A wool beret also fits nicely in one half if you need to carry a hat for potential layering (PNW I am looking at you).
The other three styles followed a similar design suit - need in the market led to thoughtful consideration of what adds value to your everyday life:
I saw a need in the market for a medium, ladylike cross body bag that was sleek and sculptural, but that still had lots of functionality built into the design. I looked to vintage shoulder bags for their proportions, blended with my appreciation for artful details, and created a modern shoulder bag that looks like a high-end designer bag for under $800. That's how the Halfmoon joined the collection. This is a great bag for the office and transitions well to weekend. I like to carry it when I commute because the large size accommodates a tablet and my notebook with ease.
There was a huge lack of innovation in the backpack arena - no one was pushing the envelope toward new shapes with great functionality. I scrolled through page after page of the same round top zipper style or drawstring flap bag and was bored to tears. I love a good backpack, but there wasn't anything stylish or innovative to be found, and thus the Curve Backpack was born. The Curve was one of the trickiest patterns to execute, due to the seamless, one piece draped leather body panels. The flat bottom panel allows it to hold an impressive number of items, and the pockets keep the contents in order. This is another style I wear almost every day, it is a real head turner and is another one of our most popular styles (with both men and women) due to its versatility and elevated look (and also priced under $800!).
I have a tendency to carry more than I need if I am given too much space, and wanted a sleek minimalist wallet to round out the assortment, thus Link came into play. Deeply influenced by the 90's (all forms - minimalism, industrial vibes and urban street style) inspired the asymmetrical corner details and long link chain - which can be worn on your belt loop for some modern chain swagger or clipped on your wrist as a wristlet. I love having this with me when I want to go out or to dinner and don't want to lug a bag around. The style is unlined, but has 3 credit card pockets to keep your most important cards handy. Once again, form follows function. A common theme in the F E R A L brand.
So that's the short answer as to how each style came to find its place in our launch collection. I really wanted each piece in the collection to fulfill a need or solve a problem in the lives of modern women. I try to stay focused on this vision when I decide what styles to introduce next. It is important to me that they are artful and sculptural, but grounded in practical functionality and premium craftsmanship.
I get asked a lot if I make the bags myself. I don't. This is why: I do not have decades of high end leather finishing experience. If I made the bags they would not look like the high quality premium craftsmanship I admire in designer labels. I have always believed in having the experts do what they do best. I design the bags, because that is what I do best (By "design" I mean that I illustrate them to provide a mood or gesture, then draw them to scale, provide full technical specifications, often provide first patterns and mock ups of the bags/straps/details). Then I pay the BEST pattern and sample makers in the US to hand cut, mold, stitch, polish and finish every piece. This partnership allows me to leverage the skills I have, with those of others to bring my ideas to life. We work very closely, and communicate often, and this is a very involved process - but I wouldn't have it any other way.
If you have any other questions about me or the collection feel free to ask. I truly love your questions and curiosity about our brand. It is humbling to see the positive reaction to something I feel so passionate about. Thank you for supporting my vision for a more beautiful handbag and our American small business. Together we can invest in US communities and strengthen our network of slow fashion mavens, making the world a more mindful place, one ethical handbag at a time.
Shannon from F E R A L