Handbags are a very personal item. If they only served the function of storing items we need throughout the day, we would have only one. Instead, most of us women have a collection in different colors, fabrics and sizes. The choice of handbag is a form of self-expression and a projection of what image we want to give the world on any particular day. Laura Bee Designs, a Ballard shop, understands that. The store is based on the concept of women choosing all the elements for a handbag and then having it created by one of the craftswomen at the store.
The store has been located in Ballard since 2002. Laura Bee, the owner, tested the waters first by participating in the Ballard Sunday Market with her first designs. Her other tie to Ballard was the fact that her boyfriend, now her husband, was living there and they both liked the area. As Laura says, “Ballard really influences the spirit of the business. The neighborhood is like our bags; casual, fun and stylish. I love the sense of community and the fact that we have regular clients. In fact, it’s great to see the progression of their lives. We have had single women come in to get a handbag made. Next we did bags for their wedding party and after that came making a baby bag for them.” In fact, she mentioned that they are working with a lot of wedding parties at this time of year and told a story about a wedding they were hired to make the bags for that contained a lot of personal elements. “The bridesmaids designed their own bags. For the bride she wanted her bag to reflect the theme of ‘something old, something new..’ Her bag was created using part of her sister’s veil, with the silk flower as an embellishment and a silver charm that had belonged to her mom was used for the zipper pull.”
It’s not just bridal parties that get the fun of designing their bags together, Laura Bee can also put on a ‘purse party’ for any group of friends or an organization. They have even done children’s birthday parties. So instead of the usual visit to Chuck E. Cheese, you can create a memorable experience for your child and their party guests by giving the kids the opportunity to show their creativity and create their own party favor. Laura emphasizes the diversity of ages that visit the store. As an example, she mentioned one savvy mom whose daughter was about to get her first allowance. Her mom thought it would be a great idea to let her daughter design a wristlet (small bag that dangles from the wrist) to keep the allowance in and mark the occasion.
The shop carries a variety of fabric, trim and vintage buttons but the employees really enjoy when customers bring some of their own items to be incorporated into the bag as they often come with interesting stories attached. “One customer came in with some beautiful Hawaiian bark cloth which came from a muumuu her mother had often worn. We made two bags; one for the woman and one for her sister. Carrying the bag brought back memories of seeing her mother in the muumuu. Another customer brought in some interesting fabric from South Africa. The fabric was used to make two book bags for her nieces. The bags were similar but with slight differences to make each one special. The customer then filled the book bags with Golden Books encouraging the love of reading.” The act of bringing in unique materials not only makes the bag a special one of a kind piece, but it’s also eco friendly to give these fabrics new life, a value that eco aware Ballardites appreciate.
Although the store is located in Ballard, the customer base isn’t limited to the neighborhood. Laura mentions hearing from a woman from Portland who was in Antarctica for a scientific study. While there she met a woman who had a Laura Bee item, and she was so smitten with it, she wanted Laura to make her one when she returned.
While the most popular items in the store are the custom handbags, the store also carries a variety of ready made items. Gift certificates are also available and are a popular choice with men who want to give their significant others the gift of a unique custom bag without trying to pick out the colors and fabrics themselves.
photo by: http://www.laurabeedesigns.com/