I first met Melanie in NYC (thanks to BagServant founder Lenka Gourdie), and have been inspired by our brief encounter ever since. Melanie is the Founder and Creative Director of luxury handbag company, Mel Boteri. Naturally, I had to get the scoop on how Melanie launched such a successful business in a relatively short period of time.
HR: When did you first start designing handbags? Did you always want to become a handbag designer or was it a gradual transition from a different career path?
MM: At the start of my career, I honestly had no idea that I would one day become a handbag designer. With an undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia, my first job out of college was as a Compliance Officer for a financial institution here in Atlanta. Although this experience was educational, I knew it was not the career path I was meant to pursue. I decided to go back to school to receive my MBA, and during my studies at Emory’s Goizueta Business School I had the opportunity to work with the Marketing & Business Development team for Zac Posen. It was during my time living and working in New York City that I had my “aha” moment after seeing a clear void in the marketplace for custom fashion. I specifically saw an opportunity for made-to-order fashion unique to each woman’s individual style and personality versus one-size-fits-all, mass-produced goods. I laid the groundwork for this new way of shopping during my last semester at Emory, which is when I also began teaching myself the process of designing and constructing handbags. It was about a year and a half of planning and designing before I officially launched Mel Boteri with my first line of handbags in the fall of 2009.
HR: What is the most challenging/rewarding aspect(s) of designing handbags and being in business for yourself?
MM: There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of handbag brands out in the world, so one of the most challenging aspects is standing apart from the competition and convincing individual clients, retailers, press, etc. that you are the best of the bunch. The most rewarding is when these individuals, retailers and the press actually acknowledge you as such and they begin to share your brand and story with genuine excitement.
HR: Where did you find inspiration when creating each Mel Boteri bag?
MM: It is hard to pinpoint one source of inspiration. I think Coco Chanel said it best: “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” So as long as I am living and breathing, I am receiving inspiration.
HR: Describe the woman you design for.
MM: I have fashioned a muse for myself, and this woman I have created, my ideal client, dictates many of the business decisions I make and inspires many of my new designs. She is an independent, confident woman, a natural trendsetter with discerning taste. She is passionate yet practical, and prefers to wear fashion that is a true extension of her unique personality and style. She stays up to date with what’s “on trend” and the next “must have,” but strictly uses this as inspiration to be the best-dressed version of herself.
MM: All of the handbags and accessories you see on my site, www.MelBoteri.com, are customizable to meet your specific needs – meaning you can select your leather, hardware finish, handle strap length, add pockets, take away pockets, the list goes on and one to create a one-of-a-kind, luxurious piece. Through our bespoke service, you experience a full level of personalization. From sketch to finished product, you work one-on-one, with me through all of the details to create the handbag of your dreams.
HR: Name five celebrities you would love to see rocking a Mel Boteri original.
MM: Jennifer Lopez, Natalie Massenet, Michelle Obama, Rachel Zoe and Beyonce
HR: What five accessories should every woman own?
MM: An everyday statement bag, a day-to-evening perfect clutch, black power pumps, shades to complement the shape of your face, a signature piece of jewelry.
HR: What advice can you give to aspiring handbag designers?
MM: Fashion is a business first and foremost, so unless you have a very trusted partner who will handle the day-to-day operations, educate yourself on every aspect of business that you possibly can.