Leather Bags

How to found a handbag label

Handbag label_Gerrie Janssen Bag collection

Ad| Today I introduce to you London-based handbag designer Gerrie Janssen. She produces minimalistic handbags from Italian vegetable tanned leather and gives us interesting insights in founding her own handbag label.

Gerrie, with how many pieces do you start your handbag label and how does the collection look like?

For a long time I stuck to the number of three and it was only the week before the photoshoot of this first range, that I decide to create a fourth one – simply because I could picture it in my head very clearly. And now I am glad I decided to create a fourth – I feel the family is complete now.

The shared characteristics of the bags are the minimalist style, strong character, and geometric shapes. Straight lines, sharp edges alongside wide rounded corners.

Each bag is lined with a dark grey, soft felt like fabric, creating a colour-block effect and adding to the minimalist feel. And I chose vegetable tanned leather.

The Aileen briefcase has two compartments separated by a zippered center pocket. An additional pocket is located at the back. In the front, there is a card-sized slip pocket and a key ring.

Handbag label_Gerrie Janssen_Aileen briefcase

The bag is closed off with top zip. The way the handles are stitched onto the bag keep the flap shut. On this bag, there is no hardware on the outside. Giving the bag a sleek and minimalist feel.

The Ada backpack has one big compartment with a zipper pocket to the back. This pocket can also be accessed from the outside as a blind zipper to the same pocket can be found on the back of the bag.

Handbag label_Gerrie Janssen Ada Backpack

When carrying the bag the flap cannot be lifted as it is strapped shut by the handles. The bag has a top zip.

The Fem crossbody bag provides room for a surprisingly great number of things. A starting point for this design was space for a water bottle, phone, and a purse, with room to spare.

Handbag label_Gerrie Janssen_Mena Crossbodybag front

It has one big compartment a small zip pocket to the bag and a card-sized pocket to the front. The geometrically shaped feature to the front locks the flap shut. The whole bag is closed off by a top zip. The belt is adjustable and has a gunmetal buckle.

The Mena belt bag is a smooth and yet strong profile. Its round shaped in combination with the geometric back feature – as can be seen in the backpack – creates a friendly and strong bag.

Handbag label_Gerrie Janssen Fem Belt Bag front

The flap runs from the front, through the back feature, onto the back. The adjustable strap runs the space created between the flap and the back of the bag.

The Daisy make-up bag is a cannot-do-without-personal accessory. Super handy for storing away small items when traveling for example. Its chunky zip creates that bit of boldness.

The Jacki cardholder is simple and effective with the wide rounded corners and semi-circle cut out shapes we see in the other bags of this range.

Which steps in the founding process were necessary to reach the point where you are today?

For me, it started with ‘just’ wanting to make wonderful, honest and high-quality bags.

And Actually taking my bags into production was a long term goal and is not what I did in the beginning. In the beginning, I made all the bags myself.

I started with creating the right designs and finding the right materials to make them.

Handbag label_Gerrie Jannsen chooing leather

When I had created two bags I was truly happy with I did I actually start taking steps toward creating my own business. Of course in the meantime, I had already secretly dreamt up my logo and created business cards.

And then I took it from there. I searched for the right suppliers, switched types of leathers a couple of times, I built my own website and wrote my own content. Basically, I did everything by myself.

When all of that was done, I was not yet satisfied. People around me said that I should start reaching out to clients and stores more. But I was not convinced that I could pull off the right level of craftsmanship that I wanted my clients to experience when they buy my bags.

That is when I started to research manufacturing. And that is a whole different ball game as suddenly you deal with second and third parties and then it all relies on communication.

After a lot of searching, I found a wonderful tannery in Italy and a perfect little handmade factory in Romania.

As I was no longer making the bags myself, I had to create technical drawings of them – I found out of love doing that! – so the factory in Romania could create the templates and prototypes.

Handbag label_Gerrie Janssen_Technical drawing

It was an extraordinary experience to have other people create your visions and I remember going over my drawings and instructions in detail because I wanted the products to be just like I had in mind. It took a few rounds of the template until I was happy with the final prototype.

Visiting the tannery and factory was essential to me: communicating over email and phone is not the same as seeing people face to face and being able to shake their hand.

It also ensured me of the tanning and manufacturing process and not to forget the working environment in these places.

The fact that I was confident about my product, style and message, motivated me to launch my first range of bags.

Which are the most important skills for founding a handbag label?

Knowing your style and vision. This can be further shaped along the way, I am aware that my style will keep developing over time. I do not believe in making bags people buy, I think you should make your bags in such a way that they want to buy them.

  • Know why you are doing this and what you want to achieve.
  • Have an eye for detail.
  • Perseverance: some things need to be done, worked out, filled in and it is just plain tedious. Sometimes you think you ‘ll need a day for a task and it takes you a week. Some days you have incredible momentum, other days things seem at a standstill. Just keep going.
  • Love your numbers: keep track of all costs, decided where you want to apply changes to lower the costs. Make sure the ultimate price tag matches your product.
  • If you decide to do this on your own, know you will be spending a lot of time on your own. Nobody is going to say; let me do this for you, let me make that phone call for you. Having people supporting you from the sidelines is therefore incredibly valuable.
  • Being open to learn: listen to people with the experience, they have all the knowledge. Speak to people who started their own business a decade ago. Also, listen to (future) customers – friends and family are great resources-, you might be happy with your design, but someone might just point out that the handle should be slightly longer or a pocket is missing.
  • Knowing your business: what do other designers do? What segments are out there? Where can you bags be sold?
  • Knowing your target audience and who are your customers. What do they want in a bag and how can you cater to that? Knowing this will make your product stronger and more focussed.

You just launched your handbag label on Kickstarter. Why did you choose this platform for raising money?

Kickstarter is a platform that helps you take a leap forward. Manufacturing bags is a numbers game and I need funding to place the first order.

It will also help me get the label out there and visible on platforms it would not necessarily end up.

And thirdly it is a great way for people to purchase one of my bags for a very agreeable – lower than normal retail – price tag and showcase them to their friends and colleagues.

Do you have any learnings so far you can share to future handbag label founders?

It is satisfactory, seeing your ideas come to life. Be smart about the steps you take, but do not expect to get it right all the time. You will grow alongside your label.

One of the big lessons I learned: all things take time – at least twice as much as you think.

Just as much as getting things arranged, organized and set up it also takes time to find your way in how to run your own small business.

I did everything alongside a full-time job. So most of my communication happened in the late afternoon or evening so you can imagine that a reply took at least another day.

More information about Gerrie Janssen’s handbag label you can find on Kickstarter and here.

© Pictures: Stephanie Alcaino

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