Create • Inspire • Journey
by Rachelle Eason
UrbaBags – The Best Handbag
Eco-friendly and handmade,
it’s a fabulous way to carry a journal!
Walk the walk is what I aspire to do with my green living commitment and green-wearing is a big part of that. As we focus on selling my Eco-Stained Paper Collection online, downsizing more, moving again, and step into a new phase in our life as our children flee off to college and adult life, I am making more conscientious decisions about my purchases.
Beyond deciphering the difference between “Do I need this?” and “Do I want this?” is the question, “Is this eco-friendly?” In my mind, eco-friendly covers the item, its packaging, its origin, how it was made, its life span, and what happens at the end of it’s lifespan. The ideal piece to me is made by an individual (preferably one that is identified) with sustainable and/or conscientiously harvested materials, has little or no additional packaging, is durable, and can be repurposed in the future. That’s quite a wish list that few items can brag about. So what I try to find are pieces that have as many as those qualities as possible.
My newest love is my purple cork handbag, handmade by Constance Jacobs of UrbaBags. When I began scouring the Internet for my next favorite bag, I knew I wanted it to be made of sustainable materials. I am vegan so my choices don’t involve animal husbandry, but I try to make choices with no impact on animal habitats and natural food sources either.
The great hand-crafted online marketplace Etsy has led me to some of my favorite artisans and pieces. It is the first place I look when I need gifts that I don’t create myself or when I need, perhaps even want, gifts for myself. It was there I went to browse for a new bag with a few specific credentials: vegan, purple (of course), and handmade by a named individual.
I don’t exactly remember the path that led me to refine my search to “purple cork crossbody” but I hit the jackpot with that one and found UrbaBags. Woo Hoo!
UrbaBags fit my design craving as well. I knew I didn’t have time or needed the distraction of stitching my own handbag as I have done in the past, but I still wanted it to have uniqueness that I had a hand in. UrbaBags offers a selection of beautiful cork fabrics and even a choice at the overall composition of the many styles offered. Constance Jacobs is the maker and she actually went above and beyond by sending me pictures of mock-up combinations and complementing lining fabrics, zippers and hardware. By “above and beyond” I really mean we shared 31 messages back and forth! Her personalization in my piece went a long way in elevating the value of my one-of-a-kind hand bag and I am beyond pleased to use my purple cork crossbody daily. It just makes me happy!
I thought it would be fun to chat a little more with Constance, so she graciously accepted my invitation to share a bit about herself and her story behind UrbaBags.
Rachelle: Hello, Constance!
I am so excited to carry my UrbaBags everyday! It made my last trip go smoothly since it was able to stay slim and light while holding a lot. When I needed it, my iPad Mini, fit nicely in it without me having to take my journal or any of my regular contents out. Plus, I absolutely love its feel. The biggest surprise is that it withstood a down pour that I got stuck in. The skies opened up without warning and I was just sure my bag was going to be ruined. The fabric acted similar to a water repellent and dried almost immediately. I just fell in love with it even more!
Besides telling so many people I see about my bag, including my mother who is in search of the perfect crossbody, I wanted to see if you would have a chat and share a little behind the scenes of UrbaBags for my blog.
What do you think?
Constance: So glad to hear your stories! Now you know why I fell in love with cork fabric. Something similar happened to me when I was first working with the fabric, and I was shocked when the bag held up when I dropped it into a puddle and the shape still held up and the bag looked brand new. Many of the photos on my website are the prototypes I wore to see how they held up, etc. — I never stop being amazed at how “new” they still look!
I would love to talk to you about my journey with the cork bags. I really enjoy making the bags –and I love being challenged to make the “perfect” bag for customers. I’m very flattered you want to tell my story!
A Little Bit About the Artist
Rachelle: Let’s start with sharing a little bit about you, your background, and what led you to start sewing.
I grew up around craftspeople, knitters, quilters and sewers. I had an aunt who lived on a ranch in Mendocino, California who did everything — quilt, sew, can fruit, make jam, you name it, she did it. My mother also is a sewer and knitter. Both women grew up in a time where sewing and knitting was a necessity, not an option. I learned sewing basics from my aunt and mother, but have to confess, I preferred buying from department stores and searching in local craft fairs rather than make it myself. I have always loved different and unique items — whether it’s clothing, jewelry, shoes, purses. I particularly like classic lines with a “kick” to them, so I was always snooping anywhere and everywhere to find items I liked.
I really started to be a craftsperson about 12 years ago. At the time it was all about sweaters. I never was able to find sweaters I Iiked — either the length was wrong, the sleeve length was too long, the fabric was icky — when I looked in my closet, I saw sweaters and tops I purchased but never wore. I stumbled on a knitting group where I worked at that time, and it was during Thursday afternoon lunch sessions that I taught myself how to knit. It was so liberating! I knit sweaters that I liked, that fit me, in the color and fabric I wanted. After a few years, I had knit so many sweaters for myself that I started looking for friends and family who wanted a sweater I could knit for them. I knit baby blankets, golf vests, scarves and hats — you name it, I knit it!
Handbags came into my life about 3 years ago. I prefer bags with classic simple lines that have practical pockets and zippers — I like to be able to get to my stuff easily. As a commuter, I also wanted bags that offered security so I didn’t have to worry about being in a crowded bus or train and worry that someone could steal something. Many of the bags I saw in department stores had a lot of hardware and zippers that were more decorative than useful, while others were outrageously expensive. There was one handbag line, Urban Oxide, that I had worn for years — it was the only line I had found that more or less my criteria for simple/practical/secure. But even then the line was limited to black, no colors, and the same fabric — recycled plastic — which was fine, except that I like color. I noticed over time the styles of the bag were changing, and when I learned the line was being discontinued, out of frustration I decided to try making my own bags. That was what started me down the path that led to UrbaBags.
As I had done when I learned to knit, I started reading books, taking classes and teaching myself how handbags are constructed, how to think about fabric, lining, hardware, all of it — I already had the sewing basics from my early days with my aunt and mother. I spent many hours perfecting the craftsmanship of making a bag — I believe handmade items can look professional and be of the highest quality, and I wanted my handbags to be top notch, from start to finish. I spent many hours searching for sources that offered quality products. Most of what I ordered landed in the garbage, but I finally found the right mix — much of the hardware I use in my bags is custom ordered from a company in Portland Oregon; I import my straps from Europe; my rivets come from a supplier in Los Angeles; and I recently found a manufacturer that I can order specialized color zippers from that will compliment all of the cork fabric colors I offer. Through it all, I kept designing bags that suited my criteria — classic and functional, and at the same time protected my belongings. I would design prototypes, make them and wear them to see if they met my objectives — if they didn’t, I went back to the drawing board, tweaked the design, and made another prototype until I got it right.
Discovering cork fabric was the turning point. Up to that point, I was working with canvas, cotton/linen and laminated cotton. But when I discovered cork fabric, I knew that was the fabric for me! Cork fabric is not only lightweight and comes in many beautiful colors and patterns, more importantly, it is also eco-friendly, which is huge for those of us who are looking for leather alternatives. In fact, cork fabric is called “vegan leather” because it is as sturdy and durable as leather. Unlike canvas and other cotton-based fabrics, handbags made of cork fabric retain their shape, even if the bag gets wet or you spill a drink on it, you just wipe the bag down and it looks great. Cork fabric bags also withstand daily wear and tear beautifully — this is one tough fabric!
I also fell in love with wide range of colors and patterns offered. For the first time in my life, I could make bags in colors I wanted. Again I felt liberated — I could make my own bags designed in colors I choose, in the size I want, with functional zippers and pockets. I love that I can get up everyday and choose a bag that compliments my outfit! I chuckle when I tell people I now have more handbags than shoes!
I discovered when I wore my bags, women started to comment on them and ask me where I purchased the bag. When I told them I made them, many asked if I sold the bags — that’s really what got me thinking about starting an Etsy shop, which I launched last December. All UrbaBags are made by me in my workshop — selling my first handbag right before Christmas last year was a very exciting moment!
I think my Etsy shop appeals to women who, like me, want classic and functional, yet unique, handbags. Customers are able to choose the design and color of their bag, as well as specific requests if they want to customize the bag even more — I’ve worked with customers who want the size changed or a new component (like a zipper) added. I am happy to accommodate special requests at no additional charge. I also offer customizing the strap length as part of each order because we all have a preference for strap length.
I continue to learn and grow from each order — some customer requests have inspired me to tweak and/or create new designs. But by far the best part of my Etsy shop is working with each customer to make sure they get exactly the bag they want using material that doesn’t harm our environment.
Rachelle: This fabulous, Constance! You are a fantastic story teller!
I absolutely love the style and comfort I have knowing that my UrbaBag is durable for daily wear and has its own defense system against our Florida rains. I wish I was so easily back to normal after getting caught in downpours!
As one who has made a ton of handbags for myself over the years, I created based on my criteria of space, pockets, and security as well. Although I have used many manufactured bags before, I never felt like any of them suited my needs both aesthetically and functionally. I have handmade by others, but often they lacked the sophistication that I craved. Once I found you and UrbaBags I was hooked. I know we are going to have a happy handbag relationship long into the future with multiple bags!
So, is there a certain tool in your workshop that is most important to you besides your sewing machine? Something you cannot live without?
The Must-Have Tool
Constance: Thanks for the kind words — this is fun!
I can’t live without my rivet setter. From the beginning I liked the look of rivets in my bags — they set straps securely in place and at the same time they are an understated design element that doesn’t compete with the cork fabric and bag design. I can’t live without my heavy-duty rivet setter!
Rachelle: Is there an element that you make sure to include in each bag you do, even with all the customization that you provide?
Constance: I never veer from the basics I want my bags to embody: simple design, functionality, security. All of the requests I’ve received to modify bags so far have been about size, color, and adding a zipper pocket, which doesn’t conflict with those objectives.
Rachelle: With my eco-staining art, I love almost every aspect of creating but of course there are parts I don’t really like doing and then there is my favorite part of the process. What are your least favorite parts of creating and what is your favorite part of your process?
Constance: I love most aspects of creating my handbags, but one of my most favorite parts is choosing the fabric lining. That may sound easy, but it actually requires some thought! Some of my customers make specific requests about the color or design of the lining they would like, so I make it a point to match the lining fabric with the customer’s expectations. One of my pet peeves about most handbag linings has always been they are boring and made from flimsy material. I believe the inside of bags should be as interesting as the outside of the bag, as well as being sturdy, so I put a lot of thought into the lining.
My least favorite part of the process is sewing the tab onto the end of the zipper. That step comes at the very end of the process when the zipper is already attached to the bag. I have to negotiate a tight, small space to sew a straight seam, while at the same time controlling and moving the bag while sewing. As a perfectionist, it sometimes, it takes a few tries before I’m satisfied with the finished tab.
Rachelle: Your story just keeps getting better! Who knew a rivet setter could be so…riveting!
Thanks for your time! I love getting to know you and I know my readers will too!
Are you working on any new projects now; perhaps accessories to add to your line…hint, hint: a slim wallet perhaps? LOL!
Constance: No plans for accessories at this time, but maybe in the future. I have a long way to go before I exhaust the many designs that are still in my head. At the moment, I’m focussed on designing the perfect large crossbody bag. On the one hand, the larger the bag, the more stuff you can put in it and that makes the bag potentially very heavy. Also, adding a top zipper limits the width of the bag at the top — if you place lots of stuff in the bag and then try to zip it shut, you can’t. So I’ve played around with adding a zipper, not adding a zipper, what kind of inside lining works best, etc., and I’m still not completely satisfied. I always wear my bags to “test drive” how they hold up and what needs to tweaked. But if I do start to make accessories, a slim wallet in purple will be the first item I make!
A Little More About The Artist
Rachelle: Let’s get to know a little more about you. Do you have any hobbies? What was the last great book you read? Is there a flower or other plant elements you would love to have in a garden?
Constance: I love history. One of my life goals is to visit every presidential library. So far I’ve been to three, and have plans to visit the Truman and Eisenhower libraries in the spring. I tend to read biographies and autobiographies. I recently read a memoir written by Elizabeth Keckley, a slave who bought her freedom, headed North, and ultimately became Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker and confidante confidence. I discovered her when I visited the Lincoln Library and spoke to a docent. Keckley writes of her experiences while the Lincolns lived in the White House, the day Lincoln was assassinated, and how Mary Todd Lincoln was so broke after she left the White House that she recruited Keckley to help her sell her dresses in New York to raise money. Wow! Who knew?? I am also currently reading Stephen Ambrose’s biography of Dwight Eisenhower. Here’s a gem: Eisenhower’s wife Mamie never got out of bed until noon. She believed all women over 50 should lounge in bed until noon. As First Lady, she conducted official business and planned events from her bed. Amazing!
My favorite, favorite flower is fuchsias. I love the variety of colors and how delicate the flowers are. Fuchsias are very beautiful but they can be touchy — they have to have the right sun exposure or they won’t thrive.
Rachelle: Share a little about your local love of where you live.
Constance: I live in a 100 year old house in Oakland, California, a city that is changing before my eyes. As more people move to the San Francisco Bay Area, people are discovering Oakland as an alternative to San Francisco. What I love about Oakland is the diversity and tight-knit neighborhoods — things I hope don’t disappear as rapid growth continues at full speed. I also love how centrally located I am. I can jump on public transportation or in my car and go to San Francisco or Lake Tahoe.
Well that’s a wrap, or shall I say…this post is in the bag! To see Constance’s designs and shop for your own fabulous one-of-a-kind UrbaBag, visit www.etsy.com/shop/urbabags. You’ll be glad you did!