Into The Woods: Building A Brand
Written by Janel Davis. Inspired by the process of Nicki Lang Photographs by Michéle M. Waite & Jennifer Bogle
Vintage zippers. Perfect stitches. Leather with a draw so tactile, it feels magnetic. Fabrics line the inside of found bags that you might want a dress sewn out of. And that leather feather at the end of the inside pocket pull? That one is just for smiles--Every single time you see it.
Found Leather Goods is driven by these smiles. Attention to detail is what makes owner and designer, Nicki Lang, tick. Bags and wallets are cut and sewn one at time in Bellingham, Washington. Found designs have always been inspired by functional beauty, often reflecting vintage character, and incorporating repurposed materials when possible. “People will buy something they kind of like and end up using it for a few months and then throw it away,” says Nicki. “I want to make things people love and keep for a lifetime, maybe even longer.”
But is Found a luxury brand? Their price point is higher than Mossimo for Target and H&M's latest Swedish designs.Their goods are crafted not collated. But certainly, having a quality leather bag is a luxury, right? However, does making a luxury equate to being a luxury brand? What's the difference?
Mario Prada started his luxury fashion house in 1913 with his brother. They sold to the Italian Royals. In the 70's Prada revolutionized fabric, making a faux trademark silk. They went public and their brand exploded--Runway shows and 618 boutiques worldwide. The next decades had runaway growth that included mergers and discrimination lawsuits, tax evasion and factory production ambiguity--Including making most of their luxury bags in China, but saving the hardware to be added in Italy so that they could still say "Made in Italy".
Louis Vuitton began his fashion house in 1854 making innovative luxury trunks. Louis Vuitton is one of the world's most valuable brands. There is no wholesale. No seconds. No irregulars. No sales. Ever. Known for quality, they still hand hammer the nails into their trunks. Their products are made with exactness and care usually in industrialized nations-- the USA, Germany, France, Spain or Italy. Their handbags begin around $1000. The brand is worth over 19 billion.
Coach is an American brand born in 1941 in New York City. Early designers noticed beauty and durability in worn baseball gloves, and applied those same techniques to handbag making, eventually adding clasps that were reminiscent of the catches on convertible car tops. They now have over 1,000 US stores. Coach comes in a rainbow of styles and colors. Literally. A Rainbow. You can get a coach bag with a rainbow of C's on it. Check the outlets first; I have two within 50 miles of my house.
Luxury brands, it would seem, usually are birthed by a visionary, then end with stock options and billionaires. They are supposed to be scarce, selective, exclusive--but with so many bags running around in the world, perhaps the billionaires are the scarce, selective, exclusive pieces in that flow chart, not the product. "A luxury brand must also have the power to make people feel something." Writes Dan Herman, Ph.D., in his article "The Eternal Principles for Creating Luxury Brands". But I don't want to just feel something. (I can do that by eating Cherry Garcia.)I want to build something. Michelangelo worked in a bottega--Domenico Ghirlandaio's workshop a studio where he was apprenticed by master artists. It was traditional and grueling, a way of inheriting craft and inspiration.
I want the bottega back. (No, not the Veneta one.) A New World bottega with the artisanal enclave embedded in my community. The artist who thinks critically with her hands. Whose kid goes to my school. Who passes along inspiration and craft but also contentment and vision. Let's build the guild.That is the luxury. The Craftsmen who creates right there in my corner of the world. The Maker who works with shears and yardstick, leather punch and brass buckle. I want people in my community who know things that the internet can't tell me because some things just don't translate into screen and code. Artisanal goods, it would seem, begin with an idea and end with a person whose life and hands craft function and beauty. I want to wear art on my arm-not product. This is the story I want to be a part of.
This is the luxury.
To learn more about Nicki and her work with Found Leather Goods, visit her website here.