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

Designer Profile: Nikki Henry of NKHenry

NKHenry bagsI have been following Nikki Henry of NKHenry for many years.  I appreciate her beautifully crafted handbags because they are timeless, chic and easy.  It appeals to my bohemian side, and for that reason, I am always checking to see what Nikki will come up with next.

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?

NH:  Spring of 2007 was when I first began designing handbags.  No, I could have never dreamed this in a million years— about becoming a handbag designer.  It initially started as just a manifestation of my creative abilities.  The “taking it seriously” and “it a real business” aspect came much later.

HR:  What is the most challenging/rewarding aspect(s) of designing accessories and being in business for yourself?

NH:  Most challenging aspect is staying motivated, especially when sales are not what you would like them to be.  Most rewarding aspect is building a legacy for myself, the feeling of pride in myself for sticking with my business through the highs and lows.

HR:  Where did you find inspiration when creating each piece of the Spring 2014 collection?

NH:  I get flashes of inspiration. Typically , I’m not the type of designer who can sit at a desk and just start sketching out a full collection.  I can start with a general idea of what I want to do like I may have a color inspiration or be inspired by a certain texture.

For the nouveau Kelley bag (purple bag pictured above) I was inspired by our Kelley bag from 2012, which I have since retired.  It had a classic silhouette, similarly unlined with raw edges,which I wanted put a boho twist on it.  This is where the wood handles came in.  I was dying to use wood handles on a bag.  I love the “earthy” look it has.  I pictured an effortless chic woman perusing open air markets in Spring and Summer carrying this bag.  And as always, I try to find rich leather colors that stand out, so in a way the color itself becomes a focal point of the bag.  When I put the magnetic snaps in the interior to attach to the removable pouch insert, I realized that when the snaps come together the bag takes on a trapezoid shape.  Two silhouettes in one!  What’s not to love?  The bag is drool worthy alone, but adding the mismatched Kelley double tassel was like the cherry on top.  This turn inspired me to create other bag charms to compliment any bag.  I plan to roll out more charm styles over the course of the Spring and Summer.

NKHenry handbags

Bag B was inspired by a net fishing bag that I saw in the window of a fabric store that I visit often.  Giselle bag (denim bag pictured at top of post) draws on many inspirations.  We have been using denim for our bags for the past few seasons, which I love.  Not everyone wants a leather bag, so denim has been one of our go to secondary fabrics, especially for our warm season bags.  The combination of the denim with the wood handles is a perfect casual look for Spring and Summer. for the leather lovers we will make this style in leather too for late summer.

HR:  Describe the woman you design for.

NH:  Women that exude an unpretentious, natural sort of sexy– they don’t need too much to hit the mark.  My bags and other accessories are an extension of that philosophy.

HR:  Which NKHenry bag is your personal favorite? Do you carry other brands aside from your own?

NH:  My personal favorite is the nouveau Kelley and the NikkiGirl clutch.  Yes, of course I carry other bags.  I have a few old school Coach bags, and a Chloe bag.

HR:  Name five celebrities you would love to see rocking NKHenry.

NH:  Tika Sumpter, Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry, Olivia Palermo, Jessica Alba

HR:  What five accessories should every woman have in her wardrobe?

NH:  A fly, fabulous neutral color handbag; a pair of cool, timeless sunglasses; large, thin gold hoop earrings; and an infinity scarf in a bold, pretty shade.

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

NH:  If this is for you, stick with and accept both the criticisms and raves with equal ears.

Visit NKHenry.com to view more of her Spring 2014 handbags and accessories.  Also follow NKHenry on Facebook and Pinterest.

Brand Spotlight: SK Wilbur + Donate to Before the Label Campaign

SKWiLBUR-tote

Wilbur Pack, Jr. stands by his commitment to provide bold, classic, and modern designs for today’s woman. We caught up with the fashion design veteran to find out more about SK WiLBUR and his Before the Label Campaign.

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?

SKW:  I first started designing handbags in 2009. I was then designing a line of clothes for plus size women and I always created head-to-toe looks for my customer.  Unfortunately the market didn’t support my endeavor and I found myself deep in debt.  I almost gave up on my career. But when Hurricane Sandy hit around my birthday, my sister offered to send me to a one day handbag workshop as a gift.  It was a sign from God.

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

SKW:  It’s always gratifying to live life on your own terms and pursue your dreams.  It’s freedom but it’s not easy.  As a new handbag designer, every well-known brand name is your competition.  Many times women want the cache of carrying a Michael Kors or Marc Jacobs or Louis Vuitton and although my designs are of equal or greater craftsmanship, my name is not yet recognizable.

HR:  Where do you find inspiration when creating each piece of your collection?

SKW:  Bold, rich color always excites me when I am designing a new piece. I also look at market trends to see what’s hot now.  Great music always inspires me.  Right now, I have Chaka Khan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dionne Warwick in rotation.

HR:  Describe the woman you design for.

SKW:  The woman I design for likes classic shapes and silhouettes, but with a modern twist.  She is not a “label whore”, but a woman of discerning taste who craves great craftsmanship and the personal touch.  She’s a free spirit not defined by society’s expectations, and marches to the beat of her own drum.  She’s stylish and she possesses a wicked sense of humor.  She’s not obnoxious, but confident; smart, but not pretentious; and chic, but also approachable.

SKWiLBUR-clutches

HR: Which SK WiLBUR bag is your personal favorite and best seller?

SKW:  I love all my designs equally, but the small clutch from my very first season designing handbags (spring 2013) is the best seller.  This season, I am reissuing the black & white zebra print and the orange & cream zebra print, as well as introducing 4 new color-ways.  They will be available at a price point that is nearly 30% lower than when they first launched at retail.

HR:  Name five celebrities you would love to see rocking a SK WiLBUR original.

SKW:  My dream roster of celebrity clients includes Solange Knowles, Amber Riley, Sarah Jessica Parker, Anne Hathaway, and Kerry Washington.

HR:  Tell me more about your plans for expanding the collection and the Before the Label campaign?

SKW: Before the Label is a crowdfunding website dedicated to emerging designers.  I was really impressed by their platform because instead of giving donors a small token of gratitude for their money, people who donate are actually helping to launch a product.  The great thing is that nobody is charged unless the campaign is successful.  I am offering an extraordinarily chic handcrafted tote for 40% less than the retail price so I can quickly raise capital for my company.  If I successfully reach my goal by March 28, then everybody wins.  If I don’t reach my goal, I collect no monies and nobody gets a bag.  This campaign will give my business a much needed shot in the arm to properly market my bags.

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

SKW:  Aspiring designers must figure out what makes them special because that is what is going to make them stand out.  Since emerging designers just can’t compete with established brands, they must be creative with marketing, production, and selling.  Stick to your vision, but be flexible. And above all, aspiring designers must not give up.

Click {here} to donate to SK WiLBUR’s Before the Label campaign.  Shop the entire SK WiLBUR collection at skwilbur.com.