Designer Profile: Meagan Hayes Kamerbeek of Klutch

I rarely come across a collection of handbags that’s stylish, versatile, timeless and affordable, so I was thrilled to learn about Klutch. I had a chance to chat with the woman behind the Klutch brand, Meagan Hayes Kamerbeek, and feel like we’re already friends.

HR: When did you first begin designing handbags?  How did you transition from an established career woman in the events industry to running a successful handbag company?

MHK: I was THAT girl. The twenty-something who watched countless reruns of Sex and the City and just HAD to take a bite out of The Big Apple. I was also that same twenty something who was broke and nearly out of a job post September 29th, 2008 when the stock market crashed. I was working for an Event Firm living in an almost 200 sq ft apartment in Hell’s Kitchen above a butcher shop, attending high-profile events at The NY Public Library and The Harvard Club to promote our luxury event rentals. These events required the right outfit and, while that little black dress was versatile, I relied on my accessories to spruce up my “it’s been two weeks since it’s seen the drycleaner, LBD.”

I had no business even perusing the shops on Fifth Avenue so, I did what any resourceful, Southern gal would do. I hit the flea market for my accessories. A single gold handbag purchased for $1 would carry my necessities from one event to the next commanding compliments from some of New York’s most well-dressed women. I knew there were more like me. More women who longed to tote the latest it-bag without breaking the bank and so I vowed to start a line where nothing would ever retail for over $100. A line where even the broke, twenty somethings living off of cheap red wine and cans of soup could afford to feel fashionable. When life took us to Thailand I decided it was time to cut ties with the world of weddings and turn my attention toward building a brand.HR: What is the most challenging/rewarding aspect(s) of designing handbags and being in business for yourself? 

MHK: Two words: time management. I’m also mom to a darling 18 month-old boy we lovingly call Wild Willie so managing my time is my biggest challenge. I spend a lot of nights at the computer long after my family is tucked into bed dealing with our manufacturers. Some of my greatest inspiration occurs around 2 am, standing in front of the open refrigerator door guzzling my son’s chocolate milk. 

HR: Shopping for textiles seems like a fun part of the design process.  Where do you find inspiration when creating each collection?

MHK: I tend to draw on things I see in my day-to-day. We travel as often as possible so I’m always taking note of what I stumble upon in foreign places. The Blue rooftops in Santorini, Greece perfectly mirror the Blue Textile in our Wanderlust Cross-body and I designed our Faux Snakeskin bags to mimic the epidermis I saw on actual reptiles at the flea markets in Bangkok, Thailand.

HR: Describe the woman you design for and three celebrities who embody the Klutch brand. 

MHK: The woman I design for has a classic and somewhat practical sense of style but still likes to make a statement. She would likely never spend a fortune on a colorful bag but if it can be edgy and still affordable she’s all in! I feel like Houston-born Jennifer Garner, mom of 3 Mila Kunis and Southern Belle turned Broadway star, Sutton Foster embody the Klutch Brand. Comfortable in their own skin and not afraid to have a little fun.

HR: What five accessories should every woman invest in? 

MHK: My belief is that you invest in your staple, wardrobe pieces…accessories should bring the fun + flare without the price tag! If you’re spending too much money then the guilt sets in (for most of us) and you wind up talking yourself out of something you love. How many times have you said “oh I love it but I’d never spend THAT on a {bag, bracelet, belt}?” When those statement pieces are more accessible you tend to treat yourself. I personally try to always support my fellow designers when I accessorize. On any given day I’m going to be seen wearing a long, gold necklace (or two) by BB Lila Jewelry, a stacked arm of bracelets by Erimish and a statement ring or earring from a Give-back Brand like BelJoy HaitiHR: What advice can you give to aspiring entrepreneurs? 

MHK: BE your brand when it comes to customer service. There are hundreds upon thousands of emerging brands out there and some of their stuff is likely cuter/better/trendier than yours. Set yourself apart by being kind and honest. If you are unable to accommodate a customer’s request, tell them. Always offer a solution and remember “no” is never an acceptable answer. Mind your manners and always treat others the way you would require being treated before you give that five-star rating on Trip Advisor. YOU should be what sets your brand apart. Anyone can make a handbag but I want to be the reason that they prefer to continue buying mine.

HR: What’s next for Klutch? Are there plans to expand the brand? 

MHK: At this moment we are happy to keep doing what we’re doing in the lower 48. We are beginning to see a following in the UK and UAE so there is always potential to take the #travelingklutch across the pond! 

Check out the Klutch collections {here} and connect with Klutch on Facebook, Twitter, IG and Pinterest.

Designer Profile: Sara Sozo of Sozo United Handbags

SozoUnited1While shopping on Etsy, I discovered Sozo United Handbags, and was immediately drawn to designer Sara Sozo’s concept of repurposing items in your closet to create beautiful, one-of-a-kind bags. I can’t tell you how many times I have bought an item because I love the print, fabric or color combination but never ended up wearing it. Naturally, I was excited to learn more about the talented woman behind Sozo United and her mission to help support refugee women in the Atlanta area.
HR: When did you begin designing handbags?
SS: I started designing bags when I was 18 by cutting off the tops of jeans and embellishing them, and have been playing with repurpose concepts ever since. I didn’t turn handbag design into a business until late 2013, however. 
HR: Did you always want to become a handbag designer or did you transition from a different career path? 
SS: I always wanted to be involved with fashion and style design.  I started off by redesign and modernizing vintage pieces and moved into wardrobe design in my early 20’s. 
HR: What is the most challenging/rewarding aspect(s) of designing handbags and being in business for yourself?
SS: The most challenging thing is having an idea (or a million) and actually seeing it happen. Having a design concept in your head seems so easy until you actually face the demands of machinery, fabrics, etc.  There are so many rewarding things, including seeing the final product being a favorite of a customer’s wardrobe! But most of all, I get excited about all of the refugee women I help empower through training and employment. 
SozoUnited2HR: Choosing fabric seems like a fun part of the design process.  Where do you find inspiration when creating each bag?
SS: I love texture, color and culture. Meaning, I love prints that are inspired by different cultures – tribal, exotic skins, tusk and global inspired hardware.
HR: Describe the woman you design for.
SS: She’s consciously chic. She loves to mix and match her classic pieces with her unique pieces to express who she is with her wardrobe.  Yet, she is aware of world issues and wants to be part of positive change all while looking super chic. 
HR: Tell us more about your efforts to help support refugee women in the Atlanta area. 
SS: Sozo United partners with Peace of Thread, which is an organization that trains refugee women how to sew. We help give these women the ability to be self-sufficient through the skill. The women are contracted to make handbags and other sewing projects with Sozo United and other companies, allowing them to be able to take care of themselves and their families.
HR: Name five celebrities you would love to see rocking a Sozo United original.
SS: Nicole Richie, Solange, JLo, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kortney Kardashian (I know that’s 6!) 
HR: What five accessories should every woman invest in?
SS: Of course, a few handbags including: a clutch that can be worn with a more formal look (preferably in leather) which then could be dressed down. A larger, carry all tote, satchel or hobo. Simple jewels that can be worn alone or layered for a little more drama, a pair of pearl earrings, and a watch that you love every time you look at it.
HR: What advice can you give to aspiring handbag designers?
SS: Have a creative and business/financial strategy. Sometimes it’s difficult for creatives to focus on the business aspect, but extremely important.  Stay true to your personal taste, but also listen to your customer – what they want and need from their handbags.
HR: What’s next for Sozo United? Are there plans to expand the brand?
SS: We are starting to move into a larger production. We will still offer handmade bags, but we are also looking to move into larger boutique and stores.  We are also currently campaigning in partnership with Peace of Thread to raise funds for a new training and  production center for refugee women in the Atlanta area. If you would like to support or learn more, click {here}.
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Shop the entire Sozo United collection {here}. Bags are made to order and can be custom made upon request.

Designer Profile: Cortnie Elizabeth of Love,Cortnie

Cortnie ElizabethI learned of Love,Cortnie through Washingtonian’s 2013 holiday gift guide {15 DC-Made Gifts for the Locavore}, and had to learn more about the talented woman behind the beautiful, handmade statement clutches.  Cortnie has a chic, effortless style that I love.  I visit her blog StyleLust Pages daily for inspiration (my favorite outfits are pictured above), and to see what new Love,Cortnie creations she has in store for us.

HR:  When did you first start designing handbags? Did you always want to become a handbag designer or was it a gradual transition after studying at FIDM?

CE:  I first started designing bags when I was in between jobs during the summer of 2011.  Which was after graduating from FIDM in 2007.  I never imagined or dreamed that I’d be making bags, but sometimes the way things work out is just what you need.  I majored in Merchandise Marketing and also received my first degree from the University of Maryland, College Park.  I thought I was going to be a physical therapist.

I had always wanted to learn how to sew.  It was important to me that my grandmother taught me.  She knows how to do everything.  Since I had the extra time on my hands I was able to learn.  While teaching me I had mentioned how it would be cool to make a clutch.  Clutches were not a major accessory at the time and I could never find an oversized one that I loved.  So I figured that I would make them.  I learned to sew and made my first clutch, but a week later I opened my Etsy shop with 3 styles of clutches available.  I’ve now done over 100 different styles with the hopes of expanding into totes and bucket bags over the next few weeks.

Love,Cortnie

Love,CortnieHR:  What is the most challenging/rewarding aspect(s) of designing handbags and being in business for yourself?

CE:  Time management!  There’s so much to be done when you’re in business for yourself and doing it alone.  The best part will always be seeing my customers on Instagram or Facebook, etc styling one of my bags.  The compliments, the encouragement, the emails about how much they love their new clutch will always be the most rewarding part.

HR:  Shopping for fabric seems like a fun part of the design process. Where do you find inspiration when creating each clutch?

CE:  Everywhere. I usually don’t shop with anything in mind.  I’ll usually just find fabric I love and go from there.  I’ve been inspired by current trends and color combos to name a couple.

HR:  Describe the woman you design for.

CE:  The woman who loves Love,Cortnie likes to stand out.  She likes being unique and it often translates into her style.

HR:  Which Love,Cortnie clutch is your best seller and which is your personal favorite?

CE:  The best seller is hands down, the Ashleigh.  It’s hard to keep it in stock sometimes.  The ladies love leopard!  It’s way too hard for me to pick a favorite.  I’ve made so many!  It has to be between the Spotted II calf hair clutch, the Pumpkin Spice clutch, the Midnight Hour clutch and I’m really loving the new Stud Muffin clutch.

Love,CortnieHR:  Name five celebrities you would love to see rocking a Love,Cortnie original.

CE:  That’s hard!  I’ll give you three.  Beyonce, of course.  She’s just amazing.  Oprah and June Ambrose.

HR:  What five accessories should every woman invest in?

CE:  Statement jewelry, dainty rings, a light weight scarf or 5 (I have over 30), the perfect little studs and a Love,Cortnie clutch of course!

HR:  What advice can you give to aspiring handbag designers?

CE:  Do the homework, learn as much as you can, keep learning and perfect your craft.  I’m always looking for ways to make my products better.  Just go for it!

Stay connected with Cortnie via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and her blog StyleLust Pages.