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}.
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,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.

Designer Profile: Meredith Wilkins of Bizi Buenos Aires

Bizi Buenos Aires

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!

Visit to view the current collection and connect with Bizi Buenos Aires on Facebook and Twitter for more updates.