Unique handcrafted bags perfect for small town Maine or New York Fashion Week
Never underestimate the power of a useful accessory. Alice Yardley, raised in Portland, not only understood this ideology, but capitalized on it by selling unique hand-made leather bags. It all began in 2016 when Alice took up making bags as a hobby while learning to use her sewing machine. “I had a very, very tiny studio apartment in Brooklyn and made room for my sewing machine, which was difficult,” Alice said, “But then I visited a bunch of upholstery shops in Brooklyn, just to see if they had scrap leather. I kind of did it out of the necessity of being a relatively poor person in New York, paying way too much for an apartment that was pretty small.” At the time, Alice was working as a high school art teacher in New York.
“My students would always ask, “How can you teach art and not ever make anything?” I took that as kind of a reality check and started to do things I really liked.” Alice said. Her hobby soon became more than that. Packing her things, Alice returned home to live in Maine. It had been several years since she had lived in the state. After graduating from Deering High School, Alice left for the University of Richmond, where she received her art degree. Not long after her college graduation, Alice joined Teach for America and moved to New York to start an art department at a high school in the Bronx. Teach for America is an AmeriCorps project part of the Peace Corps that offers students right out of college grants or stipends to continue their education for a master’s degree. They seek to place these students as teachers in underprivileged communities. After passing all of the teaching exams, the students are sent off for a two-year commitment to bridge the education gap for low-income communities.
Upon returning home, Alice created a website and began to sell her handbags online. “It’s exciting. I’ve always been interested in art and design and fashion, so I design everything myself and I make everything myself. So it’s 100% just me.” She said. Each bag is uniquely crafted with remnants of materials bought from local upholstery shops. Because of this, Alice has been able to keep her prices relatively low in comparison to other leather products. “It took off from there. And I would say the biggest push towards making it a real success has just been having the store and studio space in Portland.” Alice said. Located on Washington Ave in the Black Box of Portland, Maine, Alice has her own retail space with a workshop in the back, one much larger than her previous room in New York. There she keeps her sewing machines, leather scraps, and heat press. “People can kind of watch me make things while they shop around. It’s been really great.” Alice commented. Foot traffic along the street for other small businesses and restaurants has helped Alice get off the ground.
Alice also had the opportunity to be featured in New York Fashion week of this past year. She found an application one day through a company called Flying Solo, who has their own show at New York Fashion Week to allow smaller and independent designers to showcase their work, and decided to go for it. “I had a suede color block collection that was based on different geometric shapes and was super bright and oversized and just very different. Because I’m a handbag designer, they placed me with three different clothing designers. And then they placed a jewelry designer and a shoe designer with us,” Alice explained, “Because of Covid, they had to separate it into four different shows, and I was one of the only designers who was in three of the four. It was really a cool opportunity to be able to work with three very different designers.” This experience opened the doors for several new connections with the press, influencers, photographers, other designers, and clients. In addition, Alice often participates in events, especially around the holidays, hosted by companies by making items like envelope clutches the companies can give their clients. These events help Alice to spread the word about her brand.
“My all-time dream would be to go more high fashion and to have a line where I can create the first one myself, much like a lot of the high-end designers. You create the first line yourself, all hand-done by you, and it walks the runway of some sort of fashion show.” Alice said. However, Alice deeply loves being a small local Maine business. “There’s always a dream of becoming famous or having all these celebrities hold your bags and how exciting that could be. But then there’s also a part that I think I would lose, personally, that I love so much, which is individually making everything, talking to all of the customers, and keeping my products at a low price point for the community that I grew up in and that I love.” Alice is excited to continue to foster her creative passions and give back to her community.