Last fall I had the absolute pleasure of meeting the Founder and Creative Director of the fabulous handbag line with her namesake, Jalda
. To be honest, this was the first full blown interview I conducted as a member of Purse Blog. Gearing up for the round of LA based interviews, I re-read the many interviews that Megs and Vlad had already conducted. And I'll be honest, as I drove up to Jalda's office I found myself to be a tad nervous. What could I expect? What would she be like? Would the interview go smoothly? Well, with my notepad, pen, camera and recorder in hand, I took a deep breath, walked up the stairs and braced myself. Any worry I previously had was instantly forgotten about when Jalda
opened the door, reached out her hand and welcomed me into her office. As we introduced ourselves and began chatting, I could help but find my eyes wondering around her office/showroom. The space was just like Jalda - fabulous and fresh. Light beamed through the windows and caused the handbags to sparkle. Jalda
poured both of us a cappuccino and we got started.
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PB: How did you get started in handbags?
Jalda: I was in Corporate America, and had been wanting to do something creative for about two years before I finally did, because I wanted to do something creative but what? So finally i had the idea to do computer bags because I was the customer and I really thought there was a hole in the market and I'm like you know... I can do that
. I never dared to quite to do handbags because it was so competitive. Obviously I loved handbags, but I wasn't even a hand-bag freak or anything. I had a great salary, I had a great job and I wouldn't have dared to quit for something so competitive. I felt like computer bags, I know what I want, I know I have some fashion sense, I know I have a certain income, and I know I'm that woman, and I can't find anything. I know I can make that, I know I can make a computer bag better than Black Canvas so lets start with that. So I did that and it was OK but I quickly found out that I would pitch handbag buyers not luggage buyers. So you don't pitch luggage buyers and you pitch handbag buyers. I think there is a huge demand but the buying structure blocks it, to get any kind of real volume in computer bags it is very hard. You have to either be cheap, super well priced and a little more interesting than the next, or it's just really hard. Boutiques will buy your stuff because it's their own decision, but to really get mass distribution the buying structure just blocks it, it's not set up for it.
At the same time my brother's wife to be asked me to make a hand bag for her wedding, so I designed the whole bag which was fun because by then I knew how to make bags, I knew where to get leather. I made a little evening bag and everyone loved it. The cool thing about this business is you basically do whatever you want, I am the boss. You go to trade shows and I can show whatever I want. I started to show some evening bags, and then maybe some clutches and that started taking over. The clutch stuff just worked, so then the computer bags just got lower and lower on the shelves then there were only a few lined up on the floor. And now I don't even really do them anymore. I want to again, but the only computer bags that work are part of a bigger collection. I still want to do computer bags because I still think their is a huge demand for it. I'm glad that clutches worked because it's kind of more fun. You get to use out there leather, and more expensive leather because it's a smaller bag. I wouldn't have dared to quit to do that but I morphed into it and it's what works and I love it. Computer bags are still my baby and I still really want to tap into it but i think the better way to do it is to be really established as a hand bag brand. If it works for the handbag then you can have a set because the bigger stores need to merchandise, they need a collection. So you can have a one-off, but then it has to be somewhat random.
PB: What is your corporate background?
Jalda: I worked for Avery Dennison in the management training program that fast tracks people with more of a strategic background into business management. It was a really great job and program because they take you and basically throw you in the water, and it was either sink or swim. I was running a business unit that made sticky paper that we sold to printers to make stickers out of. It was a really good job but it was already nagging at me because as a kid I was super creative. I just kind of thought that art wasn't going to get me anywhere although I still loved it, but i didn't do it for the longest time. Eventually it just came back and nagged me, I wanted to do something more creative. After realizing this wasn't going to work for me I quit and started working out of my house for a couple years, and next thing you know here I am today.
PB: How is the current economy affecting your business?
Jalda: Right now the economy is really tough on any independence so it definitely hits our industry very hard. Especially because you don't need a $200 clutch. It's a luxury item but it's not the highest end, that would then hit people that really don't care. So in that sense it is hard, and it's hard not having a boss that knows better than you. But I have never been in a job this long, and it has never been this satisfying. I love the design part obviously and I love making pretty things.
PB: Do you think having a business background helps your company in the long run?
Jalda: I do think it helps allot especially as you get bigger. I love the mix, I love my accounting system, and I love doing those little reports and that's the little analytical side of me. I like statistics because it leads to a concrete answer and can even shed light on things you don't necessarily know. So I do love the number part of the business as well.
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PB: Do you continue to reinvent yourself or do you really try to stick true to what has worked for you in the past and sort of twek it along the way?
Jalda: I have always tried to stay true to myself. I don't want to make stuff that I don't love. I like simple, that happens to be good because I manufacture here and labor is very expensive. It's pretty much all Italian materials and there made here. I go back and forth between should I be out looking all the time at other things, or not at all. Because if you do it not at all you are original, but the problem sometimes there is that you do something but it turns up that someone else has done something very similar and you had no idea, but then at least you know you never copied anybody. I try and stay true to what I love, I listen and look and what's going on, like what colors are in and I try to incorporate that because that is really easy. Even when things seem tacky there is pretty much always a way to translate it into a way that I am proud of. This way you do go along with the trends. Fashion changes all the time but somehow if I didn't like yellow ten years ago, suddenly I will love yellow. Maybe because it's a different tint or because suddenly your in the mood again, but that is what I love about fashion because there is always something new. Like how is yellow new? But somehow it is which is cool.
PB: Where does your inspiration come from? Do you find you try to re-invent yourself?
Jalda: Yea I reinvent myself, this is the marketing teaching, if you want to be a brand try and be consistent. That is not so hard because I' am who I' am, my business is going to change a bit but its funny, I have noticed that whatever is really true to me is what sells. If I go outside my box, however pretty it might be, if it is not what people expect from me it doesn't work as well. I don't think its conscience I just think this is Jalda. I have allot of complements at trade shows like Jalda your are always very clear about who you are, and that's partly because who I am is who I am. But the training of if your going to be a brand be a brand, stand for something that is clear like its simplicity, its classy, its interesting, its usable, its forever. I want every bag to be forever. So even my line of metallics, there kinda out there, for the big bags its allot, but like a small clutch its metallic which is kinda in right now but will always work, its a supper neutral color. Blue is very in this year. Its not difficult, that's the thing I want it to be easy to wear, I want it to be a statement, I want you to get a compliment on it when your wearing it, but I want it to be really easy to wear. It is not that out there its absolutely not trendy, its fashion, but its not trendy, its not trashy like gone in six months.
That's the other thing, sometimes you see people come with this great trend, which of coarse good for them, but it doesn't last, it's a fad and simply doesn't last. Its great to get you on the map or even every once in awhile have a bag like that, but if you have nothing behind it, it doesn't make a brand. You get copied and nobody ever even knows who the real brand was. So yea I always like new stuff cause I find it so easy to get offered stuff all the time. There are too many things in my head but too little time. I really wish I could design more because I feel like I have only skimmed the surface with what I can do because I spend about 2% of my time on design which is too little, and its got me this far which is great, but its like what I could do. I have always wanted to narrow down what I do because I like simplicity. What I think what happens to my stuff, maybe with anyone's stuff, its to much, people get confused. I wanted to make myself narrow it down but that actually takes work, so instead of making whatever is in my head and eliminating whatever I don't like I want to up my own standard. If I don't absolutely love it, I'm not going to make it. I want to raise the bar by having less stuff which is actually a good thing, my problem is I have too much stuff usually, its not the problem that I do not have enough.
PB: So now that you have established yourself as a handbag designer where do you go next?
Jalda: That is where the business look comes in, I have always tried to look forward. I have seen people around me for example hire an assistant when its way to late, and they don't have the time to hire or train an assistant, or they try to do too much themselves and they get burnt out because they hate their job because it is overwhelming and then you start to get unhappy and then you want to quit, or you cant handle it. I try and always look forward as to what you need, is this going to be a serious business? What do you need?
PB: Have you had a business plan since the beginning?
Jalda: I kinda wrote a business plan because that was such my background. Although at the same time I was so happy that I didn't have to really write a business plan because I didn't have to prove anything to anybody, but I did it for myself just to make sure it was an intelligent decision. There are going to be some decision points, at what point do you stop? Allot of that I have been flexible on because I think what I have learned and what any entrepreneur has learned is that it takes longer and more money than you have ever thought. So I do think you can put deadlines on yourself but you have to be flexible with them but you have to continue to stay intelligent, this is not a hobby, this is a real job. This is paying peoples salaries, I am supporting peoples lives, so this is a serious thing. You should take this serious, you should get an office and not work at home at some point. When I got an office first I had an assistant who was great and supper professional and she was young, but I decided that this was enough and that she needed an office and not to come to my house and feel awkward when my husband comes home. I wanted it to be a serious company, its a company and she is a serious employee and its my job to train her and develop her and make her happy and interested and grow, and really have this be beneficial to her. I have always looked at things that way. One of the things I look at is what is my job? What is the last thing to delegate? And I need to make sure I do it, because it is frustrating because I know I could do so much better still, but then again that is part of the challenge. Nothing is perfect and it is hard, your kinda running after this snowball that is going, but that is the good and part of it. With time you get so much more efficient, I know what I'm doing now.
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PB: If you could describe the person that you would like to see carry your handbag, who is she, do you have someone in mind?
Jalda: The type its you and I. It is very broad, women from 18-50. Part of this is happen and part of it is what I want. It's funny because I will have these old ladies loving my bags and then I will have a teenager loving the exact same bag. I love making little old ladies happy, its great. It's a very broad age group, its people that love fashion but it is people that are somewhat practical like they have a life but they like fashion, they like to look good, but they don't want a clutch that doesn't go with everything, they want a bag that has pockets for the phone, it needs to be functional. It's someone who gets pleasure from it, that is fashionable but isn't so high fashion that its too out there or that its just for today. It's is like a sensible woman. Its people like you and I, we love love fashion, we will spend money on it, we appreciate quality, and we appreciate that we can use it and love it allot not just once. I don't want to carry a bag that I cant open easily or put my phone in a separate pocket. I would love to see my bags on a classy fashionable woman that has a job and is intelligent, a strong woman that is interesting and has some money to spend. I have had the 20 year girl come to the office to get a bag that she had been absolutely obsessing over, she had been looking everywhere to see if a store had it, but we did. She paid part cash, part check, part credit card, and she drove all the way from Pasadena. She called us a couple times apologizing for running late, obsessively loving my bags and saving up for them, then you have your Paris Hilton type that just says "it looks like real croc that will be fun with this particular dress tonight."
PB: So when you have ideas do you sketch them out right away or do you kinda hold onto it for a little bit and then just get back to it later?
Jalda: I like to tear things out of magazines like pictures to put in a folder that I keep. If I have an idea in my head I will usually try and really quickly sketch it out. I'm really visual in my head, so if I sketch it out is is because I have to remember. And that is kinda the challenge, is when I do get ready to design I have to collect all these things and look at them again and I get overwhelmed because I have way to many ideas. That's when I just have to sit and sort of let myself go for awhile. I usually design at home I have this big dinning room table, and I will leave the sketches there and I will walk by several times a day on the way to the kitchen, and some will just speak to me more than others. Then I will bring them here and have the girls have a look.
PB: It sounds like you have an internal review process built in that works.
Jalda: It is really hard to be completely objective because I like the new stuff because its new, but it doesn't mean that the old stuff isn't going to sell better. The trunk shows are supper important for that. You will show stuff sometimes that doesn't make it, but its good. It's really good to see the responses, do people gravitate toward this bag but then they will buy it? and if they don't then what is it? At that point its probably the price, or that it is too out there, which is OK because its marketing and your trying to get people in. But its really good to get that kind of feedback. I sometimes even think about having focus groups, or sending pictures to my friends before, but that requires time. If I had a design department that would have all these processes that would do all these things, so you would have feedback before going into production.
PB: What do you think the net steps are for your line?
Jalda: My focus right now is international. 20% of our sales right now are international already, especially with the dollar being low. I have always had the vision that once I'm really on my brand, like a household name or almost a household name then shoes, jewelry I'm thinking about already, and I'd love to do clothing sometime. I would want my clothing to be really wearable, really flattering, really classy, expensive but not annoyingly expensive, worth what their worth, simple easy to wear good stuff. Ultimately the plan is to build a brand that is an image: that's a classy women, interesting and dynamic, that likes fashion, and has great taste and that's good quality, you know what to expect and then blow it out. I think its dangerous to do it too soon because you might just want to because its cool, but you don't want to dilute yourself. For me I am getting there but I think its a little too soon because I would just be shooting myself in the foot right now.
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