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Rising Stars: Meet Jen Lewis

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jen Lewis.

Hi Jen, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
In 2011, a friend of mine moved to Northern India to help start an organization that worked with locals to make handbags designed with their Western customers in mind. The stories she would tell me of the transformation that employment could bring captivated me. She told me there was a line out their door of eager potential workers looking for a job and that they just needed to sell more bags to be able to expand their workforce. I knew I wanted to find a way to be involved! I began curating their handbags as well as other ethical fashion brands in India & beyond – learning both what our customer was looking for as well as what was working in terms of community development in the countries we were working in. Fast forward five years later – I began to take on designing & producing our own label that’s currently being made in Mexico & Ethiopia where other employment opportunities simply don’t exist. It really is amazing how much of an impact employment can have on an individual’s life as well as on her community.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I’ve pivoted the business so many times & it’s felt like starting over with each shift. The switch from being a boutique curating other brands’ designs to taking on design & production was a big learning curve. At times I took on more than I was ready for & had to take a step back to reevaluate. We were doing production in Guatemala but weren’t able to find products that we could produce with the fair wages we were committed to paying that weren’t really expensive for our customers. I opened up a retail shop on S. Lamar in 2017 but soon realized that managing the shop as well as managing design & production wasn’t something we were ready for as a brand. Being able to spend the last few years really developing our product lines into something that is high quality, beautiful & unique has been such a better focus – then we can partner with other amazing boutiques who can give customers the opportunity to shop our line in person. While working internationally has always been at the heart of our mission, it certainly brings its own challenges of figuring out customs, navigating shipping & cross-cultural communication. Expansion is slow but definitely worth it!

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
My design style is minimalist with a wink. A wink of a really incredible texture – like our embossed leather – or a playful color pallet as an accent to classic neutral leathers. I want to design items that can be used for years & years both with their timeless style as well as their intuitive functionality. Straps that can be interchanged for more uses, perfectly sized pockets for a phone or a place to clip your keys so that you can carry a bag that fits your lifestyle. I believe what sets us apart from its that the design process is collaborative – we work with the artisans to see where they really shine & then bring our interpretation to the drawing board. The final product is a beautiful & unique blend of cultures. A true partnership.

What matters most to you? Why?
I’ve believed that how things are made matters & that we are connected with those who make the items that we buy whether we’re aware of them or not. By doing product production in a different, human-centric way Purse & Clutch is offering opportunities to change the lives of each & every individual who is part of the process. Cata, one of our seamstresses said, “That’s what our community needs. It doesn’t help for someone to bring me food because I know it will be gone tomorrow. What I need and what my community needs is the opportunity to work.” Another seamstress, Silvia, said, “This is the first time I was able to buy my son all of his school supplies. He was so proud on the first day of school. I’ll never forget that smile in his face, knowing that I was able to provide for him.” I also really believe that we are changing the lives of our customers as well. It is empowering to discover that what you chose to buy or not buy has a profound impact on the product’s makers. That in choosing to purchase a handbag that was ethically made instead of the easier, faster alternative at a big box store that you are acknowledging your role in the production process. In purchasing ethically, oftentimes you’re also making a conscious decision to buy an item that is your personal style – an expression of who you are – instead of simply following a commercialized fashion trend. I want to get back to a world where what you wear showcases who you are, not if you’re in the know about a certain brand or trend. Our team jokes a lot about using the hashtag #bemoreinteresting as a cry for individual expression – both in terms of style as well as the story behind the items you choose to purchase!

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Caly Rodriguez Janelle Whitehead Amber Kissner

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