Purse & Clutch Adventures into Artisan Production
I started Purse & Clutch back in 2011 when a dear friend from grad school had moved to Northern India to help start an organization that worked with locals to make handbags designed with Western customers in mind. The stories she would tell me of the transformation that employment would bring completely captivated me. She shipped me a box of assorted handbags & as they were being made I researched everything I could about how to start an online shop. It really is incredible how much of an impact employment can have on an individual’s life as well as on her community!
We expanded to partnering with other brands, curating high quality, well-designed & ethically made handbags. We're passionate about long term partnership with artisans in developing countries who create their products with an emphasis on design & quality. These artisans are treated with respect & are paid a living wage for their region.
This spring, we’ve just made the big transition from a boutique curation of fair trade finished products to designing & producing our own line! This will allow us to know our artisans intimately by name therefor making a deeper impact as well as incorporate design input from our community.
This transition to becoming our own brand started a year ago in April when I received an email from an Ethiopian woman who said she was going to be in the area for a wedding & would we like to grab a coffee. Our 30-minute coffee easily turned into a few hours as we talked all things community development. It turns out her needs & our needs perfectly aligned! She was looking for a small brand wanting to design products for her six leather workers to produce. As we would grow, she could grow – offering more men & women a life giving jobs in a country where very few employment opportunities exist. They have recently expanded to include three more leatherworkers in their workshop.
I had the privilege of visiting the workshop this past November & got to meet each one of the men & women on the team.
As this was in the works, one of the brands we were partnering with out of Guatemala found themselves struggling a bit with the operations. The founder, Angela, was interested in home schooling her boys & wasn’t sure how she was going to balance that along with running her business. We had been selling their beautiful clutches for about a year & I had given a bit of business advice throughout our relationship (since I totally geek out about the business side of things!)
She approached me to see if I was interested in taking over operations & acquiring her brand. I said yes without hesitating, which I think surprised her quite a bit! This was perfectly in line with the vision I had for Purse & Clutch becoming our own brand & the woven Guatemala textiles paired perfectly with the Ethiopian Leather handbags we were having produced.
Angela has stayed on at Purse & Clutch as the Guatemala fabric designer & the rest of the team has transitioned beautifully to P&C. Lindsey lives in Guatemala & has developed really beautiful relationships with the ladies on the team. She oversees the production on the ground level & assigns weekly tasks to the weavers, Veronica, Maria, Evilyn, & Rosella & seamstress, Cata & Sylvia. Melissa continues to oversee all of Guatemala production, meaning she calculates the cost of each design, projects the amount of thread needed per season, coordinates colors with the Mayan women who botanically dye the thread, & overall keeps everything running smoothly.
Since this conversation last summer, I’ve been able to see what production really entails – and wow has it been eye opening! We’ve had to make tough supply chain decisions & have had so many bumps along the way.
About a month in we learned that the one woman who was producing the fabric at the time decided to stop weaving. No fabric means that our seamstresses don’t have any work - not to mention what that did to our preliminary Fall Collection. We learned that we always need redundant workers – our new weavers weave the same fabric for the season so if anyone needs to step down it doesn’t de-rail the entire supply chain.
We began working with a co-op to botanically dye the threads for the fabric instead of purchasing thread at the local market. This allows us to ensure that the women hand spinning & dying the cotton were fairly paid for their work & we can feel confident that there are no toxic chemicals in the dyes. It also gave us the opportunity to develop the perfect color for Spring… or so we thought! Month after month we were told that they were “so close” to nailing the peach color – we just needed to wait until the moon cycle was right. And then when we were WAY past our deadline to launch our Spring collection on time we received what our team has described as “highlighter orange.”
We learned that however long we think something will take, triple it. That with botanical dye, we needed more of an artistic approach than a scientific one, and that we needed to dye the entire batch of thread at one time because botanical dyes simply can’t be duplicated. Oh, and that the color will differ significantly before & after the rainy season!
The Mayan women ended up totally nailing the soft peach color & even throwing in an unexpected blush into the mix – we loved it together and added in a buttery yellow at the last minute to complete the look.
While this Spring Collection is nothing like what we were planning on when we started, I’m unbelievably pleased & proud of the final looks that we have. There’s something truly amazing about working with artistic, driven, & passionate women – we’ll get it done no matter what!
Written by Jen Lewis at Purse & Clutch
Shop their Spring Collection here