Blair Ritchey is certainly a designer to watch. Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, Blair developed a strong interest in fashion from a young age. After graduating high school she was unsure what career path to follow; she opted for a more traditional route and studied Psychology. Unable to deny her strong desire to learn more about the fashion industry, Blair spent her summers in New York interning for various designers.
It was during her first internship with a handbag designer that she discovered her real passion. When Blair decided to finally launch her own line of handbags she knew that she wanted to offer designs that were simplistic and easily transitional from day to evening, as well as season to season. It was also important that each handbag be functional and serve a purpose, while beautifully complimenting an outfit.
Read on for my exclusive interview with Blair, as well as some exclusive behind-the-scenes photos of the designer hard at work in her studio.
How did you establish your business?
One day at a time. I talked about having my own handbag line ‘some day’ for a very long time. I was talking to my dad about it for probably the 100th time and he said “ When are you going to stop talking about it and just do it?” Shortly after that I sat down at my sewing machine and made my first bag. The months following that I perfected my sewing skills and sourced materials. Once I felt comfortable and proud of my bags I listed them for sale online. Through the help of bloggers and promoting myself on social media I began growing little by little. Day by day it seemed to take forever for things to start rolling, but looking back in 2 years things have really come together faster than I ever imagined.
What inspired you to begin designing a range of leather goods?
I’ve always loved a good quality leather handbag, but I often had difficulty finding one that was well made and didn’t have a ton of hardware and embellishments. It seemed that there was either simple designs that were unlined with raw edges or ones that had an overabundance of studs and logos. I saw an opportunity to create handbags that were made of beautiful leather and hardware that served a purpose and didn’t take away from the design.
Do you have a background in fashion design?
I do have a background, I interned for designers while I was in college studying Psychology. After graduating, I moved to New York to work for Laura Madrigano, a handbag designer that I had previously interned with. I later decided to get my Associates degree in Fashion Design and Marketing. The program was more of a crash course in multiple areas, however as I began my business it gave me a foundation to build upon.
Where do you find inspiration for your collection?
Much of my inspiration is gathered from my own personal desires in what I want in a handbag or accessory as well as from what I see when observing other women. For instance, the belt bag allows for your hands to be free so you can be focusing on other things, but since your focus is not on your bag it allows you to be an easy target for someone to swipe your belongings. For that reason the lock was added. I love meeting a need with a simple stylish solution.
What is the process for starting a collection?
The process varies but typically I begin by creating an inspiration board that includes my sketches, color and leather swatches, and other items that are currently inspiring me. I tend to gather and build on this until I settle on the bags for the new collection.
What new designs are you working on?
I am really excited about the new belt bag that will be coming out along with the iPad case. They both have locks that make them unique and functional.
Where do you source your materials?
All my material is sourced within the United States. I am proud of the fact that my bags are also made in the USA. It is not always easy to find the hardware that I’m looking for and many times I have to adjust the design multiple times to suit the hardware but that keeps me evolving as a designer and it is important to me to support American suppliers.
Which individuals would you love to see carrying one of your bags or clutches?
Honestly, what I look forward to most is the day that I am walking down the street and randomly spot someone carrying one of my bags. I’m sure I will turn into a giddy little girl and ask to take my picture with them.
Are there any political that you would like to see carrying one of your items?
Oh my, what an honored it would be to see the First Lady sporting one of my bags and maybe matching ones for Malia and Sasha!
Which companies provide you with inspiration and drive for your business?
There are so many talented designers out there that I find inspiring. The designer that I love the most is Carolina Herrera. A few years ago I read a book on her story and she is a true lady through and through. She credits the late Cristolbal Balenciaga as being a huge inspiration to her, another designer that I have enjoyed learning about. They both understand women and what flatters and accentuates a woman’s body from the meticulous draping to the sharp crisp lines and folds.
How has social media helped to promote and grow your business?
Social media and bloggers have played such a huge part in growing my business. Small designers, like myself, are so incredibly fortunate to have the ability to get the exposure that use to only be available to companies with large marketing budgets. In addition, it gives me a way to connect with customers and allows them to get to know me on a more personal level.
What are your hopes for the future of your business?
My hope is that my business continues to grow and evolve. A lot has recently changed in the past several months, my friend Melissa has come on to head up the marketing and sales which will keep the company moving forward while giving me more time on designing and sourcing. I look forward to see where we are this time next year!
What advice can you offer for young women hoping to establish a similar fashion based business?
Start really really small. The most important thing is to just start. You’ll hear that from almost anyone who has started a company, because just starting is the absolute hardest part. Make a commitment to do at least one thing every day that takes you closer to your goal.