Alex Bell, a lawyer, and Shira Entis, a fashion designer, met in college at Brown University. Ten years after graduation, while both working full time jobs in the New York City, the two decided to launch their own line of handbags. The Brooklyn duo wanted to create a line that is as green as possible. They keep the handbags eco-friendly by using organic and vintage materials, repurposed leathers, while also using all made in USA sourced materials.
We interviewed Shira, one of the co-founders, about the inspiration behind Fleabags. “We’re both flea market junkies, our inspiration was to make a carry-all for a market trip that was sturdy and that also looked really good, and was made locally in the United States.” Shira also gave some insight on starting a handbag line, producing in the USA, and advice for new designers:
What were the major obstacles in starting Fleabags?
Finding US-made materials was surprisingly more difficult than we thought, as once clothing and accessory production moved overseas en masse (which had occurred by the mid-nineties), so too did the machines that made the raw materials- fabrics, buttons, hardware etc.
Finding the right factory was also a challenge. We started with one factory that ended up being a disaster, and we thus wasted several months of development time. Luckily the next factory we worked with was great, and we still work with them today.
Also, the having to do everything ourselves in the beginning was exhausting, because we didn’t have the money to hire anyone. This meant that Alex and I handled everything- sales, press, ordering materials, sampling, production – all out of Alex’s tiny apartment in Chelsea for the first year.
What advantages do you think small business have?
We get to control every aspect of our business, and thus we have a holistic overview of our company, and can learn directly about what works and what doesn’t. It also means that we as individuals get complete creative ownership of what we do and make. Sometimes we joke that running Fleabags is the same as getting an MBA.
Why did you choose to produce in the USA?
We launched Fleabags amidst the financial crisis, and part of the reason we started the company was to create an opportunity to use American labor. We wanted to help support the American garment industry by working within it, encouraging the local factories and suppliers. We hoped that we could educate consumers of the value and quality of US-made goods.
If you were to give one piece of advice to a new designer producing in the US, what would it be?
I would tell them to be prepared that starting a business can be expensive, and that they may have to try a few different factories and suppliers before they find the right fit. Patience and initial research will end up saving you time and money in the long run.
Check out Fleabags’s newest summer collection!