Hot Off The Loom: Purse & Clutch

Meet the makers and get to know the process behind this lovely little coin pouch (featured in the July monthly box)! An interview with Jen Lewis, Executive Director at Purse & Clutch.

Real quick, let's start with your mission: 
The mission of Purse & Clutch is to help sustain long term employment by connecting artisans in developing countries with limited opportunities to a market here in the States. 

Purses & clutches, totes & bags, pouches & wallets... what do you like about this sector of fashion? 
It’s funny to think about – I was never much a handbag girl, or even that into fashion before Purse & Clutch. Really, handbags were products that artisans were already making and just needed that connecting piece to customers. I found that I was really drawn to finding those one or two really special items from artisan groups that I knew would translate well in the US and then showing our community just how fabulous they were. 

Since then I’ve really come to appreciate what a good handbag can be. It’s something you carry every day and even if you don’t think about it, it becomes your signature piece. A way to tell the world that this is who you are! Whether you’re more practical with no frills or have sleek attention to detail, a woman’s purse can tell you a lot about what she’s all about. 

I want to give women the opportunity to express their own sense of style right alongside their value of caring how things are made. 

Where are most of your artisans located? 
We started with a few groups who do amazing block printing in India. We’ve expanded to partner with groups in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Madagascar.

Recently, we’ve expanded to getting our own designs made in collaboration with artisan groups and are focusing on building a more integrated partnership with two specific groups: one who does amazing leatherwork in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and one group (the women who made the coin purses) who hand loom some incredible, bold fabric out of Guatemala. 

So, we know that shopping ethically is a good thing and makes a difference, etc etc... but can you give us a tangible example of the impact it has on your artisans' communities as a direct result of Purse & Clutch being able to provide employment for them?
Definitely! The group out of Guatemala who does the gorgeous woven fabric clutches and pouches is made up of a small co-op of three super talented women: Sylvia & Cata are seamstresses & Lesvia is the weaver. This past spring we learned that they were in need of more projects to keep them working, so the Purse & Clutch team started brainstorming we could have make for us. 

They began weaving and sewing these stunning cobalt Geometric Wristlets as well as the coin purses for y’all over at bonJOY. We had a bride help design her own clutches as gifts for her bridesmaids and, (insider tip!) they’re hard at work on some KILLER pillows for the August …and Such Collection. Because of these projects & others we have in the works, we’re able to help keep these three women working and we’re dedicated to continue finding ways to continue connecting them with customers. 

Yeah, tell us about this super fun "...and Such" project! 
The handbags we sell are chosen for their timelessness and they’re really well made so you don’t have to run out and buy a new handbag each season. We had a lot of women say to us essentially, “We get you. We’re on board with where ethics & style meet and we want more.” They had already bought a handbag and wanted to continue to support what we’re doing. 

I knew when I started Purse & Clutch about five years ago that one day we’d outgrow our name. At a team meeting, one of our Ethical Style Directors, Shara came up with Purse & Clutch …and Such and we knew we had to do it! Six months later, in April, we launched our first monthly collection of home décor & other everyday items. It’s allowed us to continue to expand our artisan partnership and give our customers something else they want: home goods that are as ethically made as they are adorable. 

On the First Monday of each month, we launch a new collection around a theme, and once an item sells out, it’s gone for good. There’s something so special about having uniquely beautiful things around your home that tell a story and we’re honored to be part of that experience with our customers.

There are just so many pieces in your shop to love. So on-trend and something for every occasion and style! Can you tell us about some of your favorites and what you rotate through in your personal collection?
It’s so hard to pick favorites! This week I’m obsessed with the texture of the leather on the Rugged Leather Handbag. I carry this Timeless Leather Wallet in Gray and it makes me smile it’s just so darn cute! I’m also drawn to the Leather Envelope Clutch  it’s such a delightfully surprising size for a clutch. And I love how the different leather choices (camel or chocolate brown) really translate to a totally unique look.  

What inspires you, design-wise?
I’m a sucker for simple designs that allow the textiles to be the star. The artisans we work with do really stunning work and I want that to be appreciated. 

For the little coin purses we're featuring in the July Monthly Box, can you walk us through the process of how they're made?
Angela in Fayetteville, AR dreams up a design that Melissa (also in Fayetteville) works into production. They tell Lindsey in Guatemala who places a fabric order with Lesvia. Lesvia gets to work hand looming a bolt of custom fabric. It takes her about a week and a half to weave a 1.5’ x 8’ bolt. Lesvia then sends the fabric to seamstresses Sylvia & Cata who sew the coin purses on hand sewing machines. Lindsey sends the finished coin purses to us and we pass them your way!

Aside from stashing change, what other uses might these little pouches have?

Here’s what our team stashes:

  • Hair ties and bobby pins
  • Medicine or vitamins
  • Jewelry 
  • Tampons (!)
  • Lipstick / lip balms (it’s always good to have a backup!)
  • Coupons 
  • Phone charger
  • Earbuds
  • Mini mani kit
  • Snacks
  • Dice
  • Work receipts
  • Pacifier holder 
  • Mints & gum
  • Gift cards    

Any last thoughts you want to leave with bonJOY readers?
Thank you so much for your partnership! Because of people like you who choose to care how things are made, we’re able to offer real opportunities for sustainable employment in positive work environments. Keep up the good work!

Purse & Clutch
stylish, fair trade handbags and more that create jobs for artisans with limited opportunities in developing countries

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