ISSUE 02 "BLACK & WHITE' March 2017
Inspired by her passion for boxing, Jamie Lewis leaves a thriving career on Wall Street to pursue a new path – making chic bags that transition from office to gym that are both stylish and functional - perfect for the multi-tasking woman.
YOU TRANSITIONED FROM WALL STREET TO HANDBAG DESIGNER, AND BOXING SEEMS TO BE AT THE CORE OF IT ALL, TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT.
A couple of times during market slowdowns I found myself getting bored and needing an activity as the pace of work would slow. So I’d sign up to fight in a boxing match and start training to occupy my time. Walking from training straight to meetings I always felt a bit awkward. Here I was in a suit and heels carrying a nice handbag plus a gym bag that didn’t seem to fit with my professional attire. I couldn’t find a true carryall sufficient to hold all of my workout and work gear that also looked fashionable so I decided to make my own.
One Saturday there was a bad snowstorm in New York. I was walking home from the grocery store and rather than walk past the fabric shop in my neighborhood, I decided to walk inside and look around. I bought some fabric, needles and thread and went home to pull out the cheap little sewing machine I had tucked away in my closet. I sat down and just started sewing, and sewing and sewing. Calling my mom and going on YouTube for help when I’d get stuck.
About six months, two new sewing machines and seventy self-made prototypes later I decided to go back to school at nights at FIT – Fashion Institute of Technology – and learn more about pattern making and bag construction (still working my day job). The rest is really a story of putting one foot in front of the other . . . once I realized I had something that others might like too, I set about finding a manufacturer and sourcing materials and JLEW Bags was born!
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FIRST PROTOTYPE AND HOW IT HAS CHANGED OR EVOLVED TO WHAT YOU ARE DOING NOW.
I look at it now and laugh - it had rhinestone handles and iridescent lining and pockets made out of spandex. We’ve come a LONG way. Our manufacturer and his team get credit for the quality craftsmanship of our bags today. It took a lot of trial and error to perfect the design and size and then hone in on the right materials to use. Initially we used leather exclusively, but after listening to our customers, we developed a line of bags using cruelty-free materials. We have fun working on bespoke projects and are currently developing what I’ll call our 2-in-1 bag. Stay tuned - I’m pretty excited to roll it out.
HAS LIVING IN NY INFLUENCED YOUR WORK OR HELPED YOUR BRAND?
Living the New York life inspired the design of the bags, needing to carry so many things in a bag to get from one activity to another without a car! New Yorkers are diverse, creative, social animals and just being here inspires creativity and allows access to so many resources I didn’t even know
YOUR BAGS ARE MANUFACTURED IN NY. WAS IT ALWAYS A GOAL TO MANUFACTURE IN NY AND HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT TO FIND A FACTORY TO MAKE YOUR CREATIONS?
Once I set out to make the bags in America, we sampled the designs with numerous manufacturers from Texas to Connecticut, around New York and New Jersey. The skill level and labor cost really vary throughout the US. After a number of “fails” we found our partner in the Navy Yard in Brooklyn. This is to say, we got lucky finding a manufacturer here at home in New York and appreciate the flexibility this affords us to turnaround designs and orders relatively quickly. We take considerable pride in the quality of this factory’s work and hope customers will too.
WHAT IMPACT DO YOU FEEL YOUR COMPANY IS CONTRIBUTING BY MAKING YOUR BAGS IN THE USA?
We absolutely create and sustain jobs by making our bags in the USA. We try to source as much of the components as possible in the USA too; our gorgeous zippers are made in Los Angeles, for example. We hope other companies will invest in American labor - it’s a team effort.
“Living the New York life inspired the design of the bags, needing to carry so many things in a bag to get from one activity to another without a car! “
AT JLEW WHAT TYPE CRAFTSPEOPLE DO YOU EMPLOY?
Our manufacturer and his team are highly skilled in leatherworking, sewing, cutting and pattern making. We’re actually planning an event with customers to walk them through the factory and see the process first hand.
Our in-house designers hail from Fashion Institute of Technology and the Illinois Institute of Art - Chicago. They’re good at filling in my gaps particularly when it comes to fashion-specific technology.
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST ENJOYABLE PR EVENT? ANYONE OUR READERS SHOULD KNOW WHO ATTENDED?
Our launch party to kick of Fashion Week in September last year was pretty remarkable. Mikaela Mayer, the Team USA boxer we sponsor, had just returned from Rio and we had a live capoeira performance to welcome her home. The video can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/183255134
Beyond the celebrity fitness influencers and TV personalities, I was most pleased that my favorite professors from DePauw, from Columbia Business School AND from Fashion Institute of Technology plus my boxing trainer all attended! It was quite an event.
DO YOU CONTINUE TO KEEP YOUR TIES TO THE BOXING COMMUNITY?
Indeed. Boxing is my happy place. I box nearly daily (you can find me at Church Street or Mendez in NYC) and watch or attend fights to support friends as often as possible. I remain involved with Haymakers for Hope, an incredible 501c3 organization that hosts white collar fights to raise money to #kocancer. Unfortunately I’m too old to compete in the New York Daily Gloves, but I’m training for some other USA Boxing sanctioned fights this year.
Beyond this, though, JLEW Bags sponsors a Team USA boxer, Mikaela Mayer, who competed at the Olympics in Rio this summer and has her eyes on competing again in 2020. She, Ginny Fuchs, Heather Hardy and Heather Jo Clark (our #GirlsWithGuts) are headlining our first ever-female empowerment event in NYC this January - attendees will learn boxing technique and get to hear the inspirational stories of these women’s journeys to the top. Our tagline is “whatever you play, ride or love, JLEW Bags will carry you in forward motion” and we want to encourage women chase their dreams like our #GirlsWithGuts have.
LOOKING FORWARD WHAT ARE YOUR NEXT GOALS?
We hope to continue having so much fun as we grow. Celebrating the end of our first year in business in April is the near-term goal. Beyond that we look forward to growing our community, introducing new bags and hosting more fitness/wellness events - stay tuned as we have some great ones in the queue!
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO TELL US?
Thanks for everything you’re doing to celebrate American businesses and tell their stories! ¶
You can find Jamie’s bags at www.JLEWbags.com, at Wolf and Badger, and also at high-end fitness boutiques throughout the US and Canada.
Headliners for their first fitness and wellness event (#GWG1) included Olympian Mikaela Mayer, Team USA boxer Ginny Fuchs, UFC/MMA champ Heather Jo Clark, pro boxer Heather “The Heat” Hardy,