With the nation hitting its debt ceiling and unemployment soaring without a hope of change, this is certainly a time for innovation. Meet a girl who made it happen, transforming from buyer to designer in two short years.
Today, Emily Gellis of Emily Cho Handbags, along with partner SJ Cho, will launch their ecommerce site and roll out to Saks Fifth Avenue New York and Beverly Hills this month. I am the proud owner of two of these signature clutchs.
Read about how she found success in turbulent times.
What was the first step in starting your own business?
The first step was choosing to make handbags. Both SJ and myself have
an extensive background in clothing, (myself buying & doing creative
design, and SJ clothing design), so, handbags, was a challenge for us
both. We spent a lot of time studying the construction of handbags.
I have been an avid collector of handbags for as long as I can remember.
Starting at age 13 I used to babysit and when I was 16 I started working
in a shoe store in Great Neck, I would save all my money to try and buy
myself a nice handbag every year. Ill never forget getting my first dream
bag, my mom surprised me for my 18th birthday with a multi color limited
edition speedy Louis Vuitton bag. I was in heaven.
It was a distant dream always to have a handbag line, and it is a dream
to see it come to fruition. In general, I am a dreamer, I tend to dream
big, and I can admit that I am nave to how big I dream, and how much it
actually takes to accomplish these dreams. But, coincidentally, the fact
that I am a dreamer is what made this business a reality, I dreamed big,
we just said we are going to make this happen, no matter what.
From a more technical perspective, we started to sample our 1st handbags,
starting in April of 2010, here in NY. We were able to go to the sample
room everyday for a few months, to constantly revise and fix our first
samples. By September we were ready to make the next step, and we
found a factory in Italy and we started to work with them. By that time we
had worked out all of the “kinks” and we had perfected the samples, so
we were able to start choosing skins for production. We producted our
first complete collection, Fall/Winter 2011 that is about to begin retailing in
Where did your inspiration come from?
Our first styles were inspired by a multitude of things. The folded clutch
was inspired by underwater sea creatures. We looked at beautiful images
of different creatures, their unique symmetry inspired us to make the folded
clutch. The half moon clutch is a style I have had in my head for years, I
always wanted a bag that was this shape. This style is effortlessly chic, its
simplicity makes it beautiful.
In general we are inspired by everything and anything. Sometimes we will
see an unbelievable skin and we will be inspired by that. The quality of the
leather we use is superb, and sometimes we see a skin and we just need
to make something with it because it is so beautiful.
There is a theme to our first collection, that will remain consistent
throughout all our collections as they evolve, that is the Oversized Clutch.
I LOVE large handbags, the more I can fit in it the better. There is
something about an oversized clutch that I find so chic, and I think we are
really novel in this category for a contemporary handbag line.
Did you need investor(s) or not?
We do not have any investors, we started with a very small loan, that we
have budgeted very well, and we will have paid off before the end of this
year. We really poured our heart & soul into this company, because we
did not have unlimited funds to do things with the snap of a finger. We
built the product very slowly, we spent over a year testing our first four
styles, figuring out exactly what materials we could use that would best
complement the bags, and that would function properly. I am a true lover
of fashion, since the day I was born, but I don’t believe in beautiful product
that sits in your closet because it is not functional. If I am spending money
on a beautiful handbag or a nice pair of shoes, I better be able to wear
How do you handle production/manufacturing?
All of our handbags are handmade in Italy (just 10 minutes outside of
Florence). We will sketch new development here at home, and we will go
into the garment district and sample leathers that we think could work for
the construction of the new handbag. We email back and forth with Italy
all day, sending pictures and technical packages of new products. When
the 1st prototype of a sample is finished, our factory will email us pictures
and we can normally edit it through seeing images. They do also ship us
the product immediately so we can physically make sure the bag functions
how we want it to.
Manufacturing is a completely different world from my background (buying
& creative design). It is certainly a challenge to control the product, to
make sure everything is done properly, to order the materials in enough
advance to make sure the product delivers on time. A lot of things are
out of our control with manufacturing so we just have to sit tight and leave
plenty of lead-time to make sure we can avoid as many problems as
How did you go about early marketing efforts (advertising, word of mouth, social networking etc.)
We certainly have used social networking, we were able to reach a lot of people through social media. As a new company, word of mouth through facebook has really helped launch the brand. We post images of our bags and people were incredibly responsive.
We have been able to reach people across the country, and even across the world through social media. People are certainly overloaded with social media, and we are conscience of that, we only post when it is something we love & we know people will want to see.
How do you avoid the common pitfalls of new and young designers?
I see a few common pitfalls for new and young designers. I learned a tremendous amount as a buyer, through that experience, I watched a lot of young designers rise and also fall. I took a few incredibly valuable pieces of information from that.
There were a few things we have tried to stay true to that have helped us get to where we are now. Firstly, we know who we are and we know what we want to accomplish, we want to be viewed as a luxury handbag line that retails at contemporary prices. To us, that means the quality has to mean perfection, and we wouldn’t sell anything less. That is why our handbags are made in Italy; the quality is unparalleled to anywhere else around the globe. The materials are the finest but our prices are in the contemporary market.
We also were careful to launch this collection slowly, we took our time to make sure we perfected these styles before we launched the brand. I think many young designers get overexcited by the idea of having their product in the hands of a consumer, and it is very exciting; however, it is a process and I think its best to really take your time, test the product, ask for every and anyone’s opinion to get as much feedback as possible before you put something out for the world to purchase.
We made the decision to launch the first retail collection exclusively with only one retailer in the United States, Saks Fifth Avenue. We want people to know where they can buy our handbags, and slowly we can hopefully grow and expand that, but there is not a rush to be in every store in the world.
Our fall 2011 collection will be available exclusively in store at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York & Beverly Hills. Online, our collection will be sold exclusively on our brand new ecommerce website, www.emily-cho.com
The strongest pitfall to avoid is getting discouraged, and it is not easy. This is a difficult business, sometimes it is easy to forget why I am in it, but I truly love it. There are days when problems occur that our out of our hands and the frustration is tremendous, but, without fail, through every difficult week, something great happens, that’s what keeps you going. When we see a new sample, a new vision comes to life, those moments are pure joy, and they are enough to outweigh the rest. When our handbags are on the floor of Saks Fifth Avenue next week, well that right there is a dream come true, that dream is enough to last us for a good while.