Whether they’re funky clutch purses with a charity bent, structured handbags in rich leathers, or edgy and artful clutches, these three local handbag makers are finding followings in Charlotte and beyond.
What: A line of structured, luxury leather handbags made with fabric linings and high-quality closures. The company also creates special collections for college sororities. Prices range from $169 for a clutch to $369 for a satchel and are available online at gregorysylvia.com. Handbags are designed in Charlotte and manufactured in India or China.
Who: Husband-wife team Gregory and Terri “Sylvia” Pope started the company in 2010 and produced their first bags in 2012. Terri, who holds an MBA in business management and worked in the finance industry, is the business brains behind Gregory Sylvia. (Her lifelong love of handbags is also a help, she says.) Gregory Pope is a fine artist who translates his love of sculpture, drawing and painting into designing the handbags. Both 33, they have a 2-year-old daughter named Avery, who’s following in her mom’s purse-loving footsteps. “When we get new handbags in, she’s the first to carry one,” Terri says.
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What sets them apart: “There aren’t too many designers who look like us designing handbags,” Terri says. They realized they were onto something when they brought a collection of purses to Terri’s sorority conference (Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.) and swiftly sold out. Now, the brand boasts lines for sororities that continue to be strong sellers, the pair say.
Target audience: “It’s for the working woman who is very successful and wants to look the part. Another way we describe it is an ‘uptown luxury’ feel,” says Gregory. “You can carry it to a business meeting, or out on the town.”
On starting a business: When launching the company, “I felt like a lot of the products out there were the same products with different logos on them. I really wanted to have something that was different from a design perspective,” Terri says. “You never really have to worry about who else is out there when you’re completely unique in the marketplace.” Learning the critical small details of merchandising, like packaging and understanding profit margins, took time, the pair say. Adds Gregory: “It takes time to build a brand. The brands you see out there have been around a lot longer than you realize. You have to be patient.”
What: Fabric, leather, suede and calf-hair clutches in cheery prints, colors and in some cases, trims. Prices range from $59 for fabric clutches to $83 for calf hair. Ten percent of the proceeds of each sale goes to a charity of owners Stan Fraser and Jordan Fish’s choosing. (September’s charity is the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation, which raises money for ovarian and childhood cancer awareness and advocacy.) On sale at Straight Stitch & Co. (601 S. Cedar St.) and online at kustomklutch.com.
Who: Fraser, local fashion denim powerhouse and owner of Straight Stitch & Co. and Anarke Jeans, teamed up with friend Fish, a model-actress-blogger and girlfriend to NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin. Fish and Fraser design the clutches together and Fraser and his team make each by hand in his studio on South Cedar Street.
How it launched: Fish said she was inspired to create clutches because of her own reliance on them. “We go to the track every weekend and we go to pit row and you don’t want to bring a bunch of stuff with you, but you do need your phone and your lipstick. I was putting stuff in ziplock bags,” she said. Finally, she bought two clutch purses “and I wore them out.” Fraser and Fish had long kicked around the idea of doing a project together, and the idea to go into business together with clutches surfaced effortlessly. Says Fraser: “We were thinking, and I looked at her bag. I said, ‘Tell me about it,’ and she said, ‘It’s my clutch – I put everything in it.’ It was so organic, it actually started just like that. The next thing I know, we had a meeting and formulated the name of the company.”
Why it works: Fraser and Fish say they make a good team thanks to Fish’s knowledge of what women crave in a clutch and Fraser’s design and sewing skills. The pair had a booth at the last Southern Women’s Show and allowed women to design their own bags, which were made on the spot. Fish said she loved the women’s ideas and feedback and may allow customization on online orders in the future. Fraser says adding Kustom Klutch to his business menu has helped during the summer slow season, when shoppers aren’t buying jeans.
Abstractions by Cathay Dawkins
What: Handbags, totes, wallets and foldover clutches, made from materials ranging from woven fabrics to ostrich leather to python. On sale locally at retailers including CLTCH in Plaza Midwood, House of Chanel in South End, the Harvey B. Gantt Center uptown and online at shopabstractions.bigcartel.com. Prices average around $50 but range from $15 for wallets to $150 for pieces made from fur and leather.
Who: Artist, community arts leader and landscape architect Cathay Dawkins began making clutches, handbags and wallets in 2014 and says that his pieces sold so quickly in local shops that he couldn’t keep up with demand. Two years later, he figures he’s sold about 1,500, juggling creating his items in his home studio with his landscape architecture business. (He has a landscape architecture degree from Clemson.) He’s also a city-appointed public arts commissioner and has his own organization called Beyond the Arts, where he offers free or low-cost arts education to youth and seniors.
On his design approach: “Being an architect, the way I see design is so different,” Dawkins says. With many creators, “either everything is structured, or everything is all over the place. I can see both sides, because I’m a free spirit with structure ...My design can go both ways; it’s like taking a structured purse but doing something like putting a splash of paint on it.” All material sourcing, design work and assembly is done by Dawkins. “A lot of people see me as an artist. They’ll say, ‘I have a piece of work from him.’ ”
On his motivation: “I want to give (a woman) something that makes her feel good. That’s the whole point, seeing that light in her eyes that makes her feel confident and have something she appreciates and values. Something she can use over and over and over,” he says. “When I see somebody carrying my bag, that’s the best feeling in the world.”