Little bags are big sellers
Three years ago when Esther Lussan made her first couple of bags, came up with a name and set up a Facebook page, she was acting on a whim.
“For me, I had this vision for a bag that would be very multifunctional. I wanted something that was big enough to fit an iPad; a clutch bag; and a travel make-up bag to throw some of my cosmetics in, all in one. So, I made a few for myself and then a couple of friends saw them,” she told BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY.
That was the beginning of Island Bags by Lilian Russell. Today, the brand that started as a hobby has been operating as a business from September last year.
When she started, Lussan used twill fabric, “the best fabric”, that would allow her to properly transfer photographs via heat press. Now, she imports fabric from France where she goes for a month with her French husband during the summer.
Island Bags currently come in two sizes – small and large clutch. There are plans to introduce other types within the coming weeks,” she said.
The businesswoman who is “obsessed” with espadrille shoes, discovered it was possible to buy metres of the fabric. So she brought a metre and tested it. Since then she has been making stripped bags for summer.
“We have some new ones coming out for winter. This is something we are moving forward with. We don’t print anything on it. Just my logo – a flamingo – goes on.”
Lussan said being “a visual person” helped, but she has “a very artistic family background”.
She studied interior design and graphic design, so setting up Lilian Russell (a combination of her first and second middle name) was a natural step.
“My grandfather, the late Robin Hunte, was a member of The Merrymen, and I spent a lot of time with him growing up. He always instilled that simple is better.”
“Outside of The Merrymen, he printed T-shirts for sale mostly for tourists. He probably had it for 20 years. I spent my summers working there. It was called Island Living. I really loved the simplicity of that name and I thought: the bags are made on an island so let’s call them Island Bags. People liked it; it was super simple.”
“I certainly couldn’t live off the bags in the beginning, but this is a brand I really believe in. I’ve worked really hard to build it from a hobby into a fully-fledged business.
“I’m bringing on independent contractors who have their own jobs. I really can’t afford to hire anybody full-time. I’m not there yet. I manage to do most of the things myself, but I have other people that help.
“What we’re doing more and more of – and what I certainly want to move forward to in 2017 – is custom bags for places like Lone Star.
“I’m now working with a very, high end West Coast brand to do bespoke bags. Hopefully, they will roll out this Christmas. We’ve done some beautiful bags using a photograph from a very popular catamaran in Barbados.
“We’re branching out. The bags are very expensive to produce but once I’ve got volume from wholesale customers, then I can work with them.
“Outside of that, besides doing photo prints, I’m incorporating Bajan slang. I’ve paired up with Seth Xcel [Bovell] and done Bout Hey Heavy which I absolutely love,” Lussan said chuckling.
As for the photo prints, there are two different themes: scenes with palm trees and sea and shell life, utilising her grandmother’s Daphne Hunte’s “humongous [shell] collection”.
“I think it’s important for me to know what will work on them. Not everything is going to work,” Lussan said. (GBM)