Brands with Purpose

Wanda Wen and Jessica Elliot

Women accessory designers inspired by their passions to create their works

Meet three Los Angeles, California-based accessory designers: Kim White, Wanda Wen and Jessica Elliot. Peek into the mind of women who innovate and express artistic creativity through their pieces.

Niche to get Rich
Kim White Handbags’ collection of leather/suede bags and belts are a staple at Designers & Agents, as the trade show’s pre-vetting process has led her to been a success.

White describes her line as a classic, well-made American brand, for women who value quality and uniqueness.

“When you have a great outfit, it compliments,” she said. “It’s for the woman who does not like branded items.”

White doesn’t place any logos on the outside of a product feeling; “it’s a diversion,” she said. The entire line is subtle, with some metallic leather mixed in.

The line is a 99% wholesale business on purpose. To support her retail boutiques, White limits her direct-to-customer sales to a small selection, pivoting customers to shop the boutiques.

“I started the collection in survival mode, selling at the Melrose Trading Post,” White explained. “I started with novelty vintage automotive textiles from the ’70s and ’80s to be different; you need a niche to get rich!”

Today, her collection has evolved into using only leather, since it has an implied value to meet what retailers want and is in more than 100 stores.

With an eye toward the future, White contemplated introducing more vintage, acknowledging the importance of sustainabile fashion.

“I’m into the ’80s and making waist belts for dresses that need to be cinched,” she said. “It updates your entire look.”

Waist belts come in bright colors, such as teal. An Italian leather belt with a metallic heart is sculpted to the body to be comfortable. Tapered suede belts feature rivets to keep the straps weighted down. Other belts will showcase ladybugs and beetles.

“Make your idea,” White advises to designers. “You’ll figure out how to sell it. Block out opinions of others and use your sense of what’s right or wrong to make the line a reflection of you. This freed me up to do what I like. Only get advice from successful people.”

Playing with Paper
“How we represent ourselves in fashion is the same as in paper,” said fashion-designer-turned-stationary-designer, Wanda Wen of SOOLIP. “What you choose to wear is an outside statement of your values, style, and what pleases your eye. Just like fashion, tactile communication, how you package your thoughts from your mind and heart on paper is the same thing.”

Speaking to what inspired her luxury collection of fashion paper, Wen said that textiles and paper are both mediums and both surfaces.

“Paper is so available to us in different forms, whether it’s copy paper, craft paper, Japanese, or handmade with plant infusions,” she said. “There’s so much to do with paper that’s fashionable, whether it’s letters or creating cards. Anyone [who] has access to paper can express their ideas.”

The SOOLIP lower point of entry is its luxury cards, a wholesale line that sells to boutiques, Wen explained. It also does well at trade shows such as Designers & Agents since it serves a high-end boutique specialty buyer.

“We love doing custom work,” Wen said. “The custom work drives our business.”

Old Hollywood, Forever
“I was selling handmade pieces right off my neck,” said Jessica Elliot of her namesake collection. What started as a jewelry-making hobby in 2001 led to the launch of Jessica Elliot, a sterling silver jewelry brand.

Today, Elliot casts in brass as well as sterling to do big and bold pieces that are accessible to everyone. She added Swarovski crystal, hand-enameling, semi-precious stones and pearls as well as genuine leather to the line. Celebrities such as Rihanna, Halle Berry and Jessica Alba have worn her designs.

The collection is fashion-forward, modern, edgy and trendsetting, but also feminine and comfortable to wear. Wear it forever, with whatever you have on, and the more layering, the better. The collection is made in Los Angeles.

“I’ve always been drawn to the timeless sophistication of old Hollywood,” Elliot said of what inspires her pieces.

Elliot recently launched a fine jewelry line, Elliot Young, in collaboration with her old Nordstrom buyer, Jennifer Young. Working with consciously sourced precious metals and stones, the line is handmade piece by piece in downtown Los Angeles. The collection plays with mixed metals, rose-cut/ colored diamonds, jewel-tone stones, and a lot of hand-fabrication and wire-work to blend everyday wearable with a “wow” factor.