Meredith Wilkins is the talented designer behind the handbag and accessories label Bizi Buenos Aires (pronounced bee zee), crafted in Argentina using colorful leathers and custom prints. We had the opportunity to learn more about how Bizi came to fruition and Meredith’s plans for future collections.
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?
MW: I started sewing bags for fun in my late twenties after seeing some beautiful bags my mom had been making. She really gave me the idea. I was still working full time in real estate and attended a couple of local Washington D.C. shows. This led to a feature in the Washington Post Style section, which helped me consider pursuing this more seriously rather than as just as a hobby.
I never considered design or fashion as a career path until much later because I really new nothing about it. Design just wasn’t on my radar, yet looking back since the age of 4, I have always had creative projects going, but because it felt easy and fun, sadly, I was unable to value it as “real work”. I graduated with a degree in Finance, worked in technology and later real estate. While I enjoyed it mostly I knew something was missing. Eventually, I figured out that missing element was working for myself in a way that allowed me to express that creative side and so I got moving.
I began getting suppliers lined up, upgrading hardware, working with more serious materials and finding a factory. But all this along with my day job, was put abruptly on hold after becoming severely ill with what only years later was correctly diagnosed as Lyme disease. So with a debilitating illness thrown in the mix, yes, the transition was more than gradual it was downright slow-as-molasses!
HR: What is the most challenging/rewarding aspect(s) of designing handbags and being in business for yourself?
MW: Having only myself to report to is a pleasure, although I can be tougher on myself than any manager I have ever worked for so sometimes not! When you have a good day, it is way better than any good day I have ever spent in working for someone else, however when it is bad, it is tougher because you care so much more. The most challenging thing for me right now is just keeping all the plates going at one time: production, sales, marketing and administrative, while leaving room for downtime and to rest as I am still not 100%. I think starting a business that requires developing a new brand with new physical products from scratch is tough, but when it finally comes to life it is just the best!
HR: Where do you find inspiration when creating each Bizi bag?
MW: I have always been drawn to bold color and I get a lot of inspiration from the mix of abstract contemporary art + decor, with a dose futurism. I have always felt energized by indigenous textiles like those in Latin America, especially in the Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru areas. So I research a lot of tribal motifs, colors and patterns. Also, Buenos Aires provides a beautiful backdrop and a very feminine classic balance to my design work.
HR: Describe the woman you design for.
MW: Bizi’s customer is a woman with an outgoing personality, sometimes playful and quirky, but tempered with sophistication. Luxury to her is a product or experience that captures her festive approach to life, that tells a story or recalls an amazing memory or experience through special design details. She opts for accessories that are unusual, and not seen everywhere reflecting her individuality. She likes to have fun, has a strong creative streak about her, doesn’t take fashion too seriously and craves accessories that are vibrant, optimistic and chic. She likes a mix of design aesthetics.
HR: Name five celebrities you would love to see rocking a Bizi original.
Lupita Nyongo’o for the global mix of cultures she represents. She was born in Mexico, returned to Kenya later was sent back to Mexico to study and then off to U.S. for college. She is as substantive and talented as she is striking.
Rashida Jones has a very sophisticated, but unpretentious style that reflects her quirky sharp-witted, and fun personality.
And of course Argentina’s or rather Amsterdam’s first Queen, Queen Máxima, who is known for having some fun with her style even within her new role. I have named a new bag in my upcoming collection after Máxima. Not sure a Queen would “rock it,” but I sure think she would look amazing with it!
Mia Maestro the talented actress in Motor Cycle Diaries about Ché Guevar,a grew up here in Buenos Aires, but also enjoys an important acting career in the US and Europe. She has great style coupled with a charming personality.
HR: What five accessories should every woman invest in?
MW: Most people are going to tell you should invest in basics and I have to partially disagree. Well made basic bags are important and everyone needs some, but I say invest in pieces that have design elements that maybe DO make the accessory more expensive, but are totally worth it because they are often wearable pieces of art. Not necessarily trendy pieces, but just special.
Invest in pieces that are well made, that say something, that make you feel good when you wear them, that create memories for you and others and that are worthy of being passed down to the next generation. I know what I loved about rummaging through my great-grandma’s closet and it wasn’t her basic accessories as much as it was her crazy statement jewelry and her colorful Pucci dresses.
So with that said, I think everyone needs a big tote bag for everyday, a light weight hands-free bag for when you are on the move, a clutch for evening, a scarf which can be used in a variety of ways, a statement necklace that will radically change your look whether in jeans or a dress and a great pair of quirky chic sunglasses. That’s six, of which some can be classic and some of which should inspire you to venture somewhere new and have some fun!
HR: What advice can you give to aspiring handbag designers?
MW: Your creative ideas and skills are obviously important, but producing those ideas are another matter entirely and take a whole different skill set. Finding the right production partners and suppliers can be extremely daunting depending on your designs and goals for your brand and the size of your company. The more complicated your designs and the less capital you have to start, the longer it may take you to find the right partners for your vision and launch. So keep that in mind, and be committed to persevering, don’t give in to the discouragement, and use your creativity to overcome production hurdles when necessary.
Start as young and as soon as you possibly can.
No matter how you are feeling about your business and especially when you feeling lousy about it, TAKE ACTION, even if it’s the most minimal step. It is the cure for your funky mood and bad news day and is guaranteed to put you in a position for great days ahead!
HR: What’s next for Bizi? Are there plans for expanding the collection?
MW: Yes, and I am really excited for my next collection to come out. For resort, Bizi will feature a knockout blue print on leather, which I developed from an abstract that I painted last year. You will want to plan a nice warm weather getaway just to wear them!
I am also doubling the number of styles offered, including some coordinating solids pieces as well, plus some complementary statement necklaces. The feedback I have had so far has been great and I can’t wait to share it with everyone.
For fall/winter I am going darker, but it will still have vibrant to brighten up your cold dreary winter days. Lots of fun, energetic prints to come from Bizi so stay tuned!