But there’s a new C in town—canvas. On the other side of the East River, you’ll find the house of Fleabags: a sustainable brand of canvas and leather handbags that are sturdy enough to carry your smorgasbord of daily finds, yet stylish enough to win over Anne Hathaway, Claire Danes, and equally-as-chic customers.
The concept is simple: locally-made, limited-edition bags made of luxe textiles that you’ll feel good about from an ecological and sartorial stand point. It’s conception is marked by the meeting of two worlds—one creative, the other practical, but both finding common ground at Brown University and the local flea market.
Fashion editor Angel Lenise spoke with Shira Entis, the designer behind the brand, as she delved into the Fleabags story, what inspires her work with partner Alex Bell, and why home sweet home is in BK.
Angel: How did Fleabags come about?
Shira: In 2007, the Anya Hindmarch “I am not a plastic bag” craze hit New York City. The totes were available in limited quantities, and I bought three and sold them on the Internet (for shame!) for a pretty good profit. We [my partner Alex Bell and I], realized that there was a market for designer canvas totes that could be both practical and fashionable. And, because 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. The first conversation about this potential business occurred in the car on our way to a flea market in 2008, and we officially launched Fleabags with the Original Flea style in May, 2009.
Angel: Explain the dynamic between you and your partner Alex.
Shira: Technically Alex is the lawyer, and I’m the designer, so our responsibilities in the company are divided according to our “expertise.” But in truth we collaborate on most decisions. It’s hard to predict whether you can work well with a friend, but Alex and I were really lucky on that front.
Angel: On the surface, it seems like you’re just a handbag designer, but at the root of things, you’re an entrepreneur. What’s that creative-corporate balance like?
Shira: I’ve always been interested in business. I started an eBay business in 2000—they literally sent me a “Happy Ten-Year Anniversary” email a few years ago. And I knew that I wanted to have my own design business since college, and since Fleabags is so small, it allows Alex and me to each do things we didn’t necessarily learn how to do in school.
Angel: Your dad, Elliot Entis, is an entrepreneur too; how has that relationship helped you work for yourself?
Shira: My dad has been my inspiration—he has run his own businesses since I was born, and being exposed to that made me feel confident that it was something I could do as well. We call each other for business advice all the time; it’s actually strengthened our relationship and added a dynamic that I am really thankful for.
Angel: On a business level, explain how it is to work as an indie brand.
Shira: It can be difficult, but incredibly rewarding. The direction of the business and all decisions come directly from me and Alex, which can be stressful but is also free-ing. We’re also still small enough that every time we get a press piece published, or any other perk that may be considered small news by a larger brand, we get very excited.Angel: What inspires your work?
Shira: What continuously inspires me is to better than I have before. Design is the art of generating a unique solution to a problem, and in my case it’s how to create the very best bag to suit a specific purpose. Alex and I always ask ourselves what we would want that we don’t already have, and how can we improve what already exists.
Angel: Why’d you set up shop in BK?
Shira: When we launched Fleabags we worked out of Alex’s apartment in Chelsea, so we haven’t always been a Brooklyn brand. When it came time to find a proper studio though, Brooklyn was an obvious choice—I have lived here for years and Alex moved to Brooklyn as well. We wanted to be in a space with other creative small businesses, and, quite honestly, Brooklyn spaces are more affordable! We currently have a corner studio in a small industrial building filled with other artists.
Angel: What type of person is Fleabags for?
Shira: In our heads, we are designing for women who may own a Céline or Chloé bag, but who want to have a more casual, hardy, and utilitarian option as well. There is something tomboy-cool about a lot of our designs, but at the most basic level, they are for people who appreciate simple, high-quality made goods that were produced in the U.S.
Angel: What’s your favorite Fleabag design? Do you think you can top it?
Shira: We each have our personal favorites, but they change with every season. Our best seller is the Original style, and no matter what we do we can’t seem to top it! I usually end up carrying a Ballet Tote most often, because it’s such an easy style, and you can throw a bunch of stuff inside of it, and the colors go with anything.
Angel: Any plans to expand into something your bags can go with: clothing, shoes, or other accessories?
Shira: I don’t think we will ever get too far away from handbags, but we are adding leather belts to the line for next season which we are really excited about.
Angel: If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Shira: I would be designing clothes, or I would be a psychologist.
For more on Fleabags and its Spring 2013 lookbook, click here.