Social media has proven to be a powerful source for emerging designers to #befound (we’re shameless). In fact, it is one of our primary discovery tools at TNF and how I found Shana Luther of Shana Luther Handbags – on Instagram (Shocking we know). Her brand is noted for being manufactured in the U.S. and she plans to keep it that way. A Pennsylvania native Shana moved to Brooklyn to attend the Pratt Institute long before Brooklyn became the Brooklyn of pop-culture and has proudly established her brand in the borough. Shana was recently chosen to be part of American Express annual Rising Star competition at WWDMAGIC in Las Vegas.
You can see her posts about the experience here. Shana was one of the first designers we interviewed and she gave some priceless advice as an emerging designer, “just do it”.
How did you get into design? What inspired you then and continues to now?
Design has just always been something that I love and the reason I went to Pratt for fashion design. Being a handbag designer I’m always inspired by vintage bags and that will always be a main inspiration for me, among other things of course.
Is there one thing you wish you had known before starting your brand that you can share with other emerging labels?
Know your customer as much as you can. I thought I had a good understanding of who “my girl” was but after selling my first season, I had to reevaluate. I’m still learning about my target customer and I believe I always will be as my brand continues to grow and evolve as well as my customer.
Is there any life experience that you would recommend to anyone that wants to get into design?
Before I began my current collection, I had a full time job in the costume/theater world. At that same time I also had a handmade bag line that I worked on in my spare time. I always wanted to make handbag design my full time job but I needed to learn more about the business. I ended up interning at a luxury handbag brand and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I learned so much from interning and all of those tools have been put to amazing use once I branched out and began my own collection. Although the pay may be minimal, or even just a stipend, it totally pays off in the end. Most fashion design programs have interning as part of their curriculum and it’s important to take advantage of that as much as possible.
What has been the single most challenging aspect of starting a fashion brand? How have you overcome it?
Limited budget for several reasons:Getting your name out there is one of the hardest challenges and something I still struggle with. The fashion market is saturated with so many talented designers and getting the attention of buyers can be daunting. Without a giant budget it’s difficult allocating the funds for trade shows and showrooms, which play a big factor in getting buyers attention. Also, if I had it my way, I would have 3 times more designs within my collection, but that’s not realistic at this point with a smaller budget. I have to pick which designs I can actually produce based on what my budget allows and what my customers really want…till trying to overcome both of these.
Innovation is a key aspect to a thriving label. How do you stay innovative?
Staying true to your design esthetic yet not be afraid to try different things. For example, for my past collections I’ve been using very soft, supple leathers that drape and hang beautifully. This season I wanted something more structured so I sourced leathers with much more heft. The results are bags that actually stand on their own with a very smooth, polished texture. That’s a new style for me and I’m loving it! I’ll still use my softer leathers for certain designs; I love all of the leathers I work with.
What has been the most difficult aspect of getting your brand off the ground, how did you do that and what would you advise others facing the same issue? You mention Kickstarter on your site – in what other ways is technology lowering the barriers of entry for aspiring designers.
Yes, Kickstarter was great for me! It helped me get my brand out there and gave me the funding to get my collection off the ground. Without the funding from Kickstarter, it would have taken me much longer to get my first collection to production. At this point, there are many other crowd funding sites, some even dedicated to fashion, that are great tools for designers in the industry. Also, Instagram. I work with several retailers that actually found me on Instagram. For emerging designers, if you’re not on the Instagram bandwagon yet, start now!
You can follow me @ShanaLuther
Are there any other technology platforms that you cannot live without in running your company?
Not sure if blogging is a technology or not but I think it’s important for speaking your brand and reaching your customer. Facebook and Twitter are equally important, however I’ll admit, I’m not the best at maintaining Twitter.. hmm, something to work on.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to start their own brand?
Just do it!
You can plan and read up on everything and anything beforehand but there will always be things along the way that you never expected. Be open to change and learning new aspects of running a business every day and although running a business is serious stuff, have fun with it.
What piece are you most proud of and why?
The William Tote. It’s inspired by a bag my father bought my mother on a business trip to Japan. I put my own spin on it and it’s turned out to be one of my biggest sellers. The diagonal zipper really gets people talking.
Through its FashionNYC 2020 initiative and others like it NYC Government is seeking to help designers get their start. Have you utilized any of these programs and what do you think of such programs? Do you think that more can be done to help designers get their start?
I’ve not taken advantage of those per se but I do know about them for sure. There are some amazing resources out there for emerging designers- so many great Meetup groups and websites dedicated to promoting and featuring us, just like The Not Found. I believe FIT is doing a great job by offering up the free Mini MBA program (DE NYC), which is something that all designers should look into.
There are certain advantages to being based in New York, do you think it’s critical that designers be based in traditional fashion hubs to succeed still? What is your advice to those that cannot relocate?
Obviously there are many advantages to being based in NYC but I don’t think it’s necessary to succeed. There are many great manufacturers located all over the country if you’re looking to produce stateside. Also, take advantage of the many online resources, communities and tools that are available for designers. And all suppliers ship!
What are your biggest everyday challenges and what continues to motivate you?
The biggest challenge is just being one person. For now, it’s just myself running my business and that can sometimes be frustrating. However, I’m doing what I love and that is always something that motivates me.
Will you ever expand your brand beyond your current offerings?
I would love to do a man bag! My husband keeps asking for one and hopefully I’ll be able to make that happen in the near future. Other than that, I have many, many design ideas that I want to offer soon.
How do you mark or track your success? Have you had that “I’ve made it” moment? If so please share.
Success for me means so many things but the most important thing for me is having happy customers. On many levels, that is success for a brand. It’s premature to say that I’ve made it. Until then and even after, I’ll continue to work hard at my brand.
How did you find your manufacturer?
Research, research, and more research. I get asked that question a lot and that’s all I can say. It takes time to find a manufacturer that you’re comfortable with and luckily I found one in the same borough as me.
Have you found it easier or more difficult sourcing and manufacturing from the U.S.?
Both! Easy in that my manufacturer is close by and I can drop in, ask questions, brainstorm with him and check up on the production process. Difficult in that it’s obviously more costly to produce here and a lot of consumers don’t understand that yet. I try to be transparent in my branding and I like to show my customers behind the scenes of what goes into making a quality leather bag. Those extra dollars only go back into our US economy.
Shana is continuingly creating new designs and we are obsessed with her Charlie Tote and Mini Wallet. Shana Luther Handbags are on the rise and we are proud to have her featured on The Not Found. Please follow her on Instagram @Shanaluther to watch her experience on her rise, we will be.