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How a Corporate Exec Created LA's Coolest New Bag Line

Photos: Shaffer LA
Photos: Shaffer LA

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One of the secrets to success is identifying a void and having the courage to fill it. After a few years of working in public relations at Neiman Marcus Beverly Hills, stylish cool-girl Erin Shaffer realized that although the famed department store's clients could certainly afford any elaborate bag on the scene, what they really longed for was simplicity. "I saw women with their gorgeous Céline, Chanel, and Saint Laurent bags looking for a basic bag that they could throw around and live in," Shaffer tells us. "That was the catalyst for my foray into bag design. By no means am I a traditional or trained designer, I just saw the need in the market and wanted to be the brand to fill it." This is Shaffer LA.

Just like Mansur Gavriel blew our minds last year with its timeless styles, Shaffer LA has already produced an array of bags worthy of It status for 2015—the only difference is that this line's price tags are refreshingly reasonable given the supreme quality. Here, Shaffer gives us the scoop on her journey to becoming one of our city's sharpest talents.

What motivated you to finally leap into design?
I've been incredibly fortunate to have been exposed to entrepreneurs that took their dreams to "own" something and made it a reality. They were like celebrities to me; I have been obsessed with anyone who took a chance on an idea and made it. Over the years, I've gained valuable knowledge and insight from my career on how to successfully launch a brand, but basic fear kept me from going out on my own. After some tough love by mentors telling me to "dive into it," I let go of my fear of failure and jumped. (Fun Fact: The swimmer logo for Shaffer LA was inspired by the reoccurring comment by my mentors to "dive into it").

What sets Shaffer LA bags apart from others that are on the market?
Shaffer LA was designed to be a brand that didn't "define" its user and could be worn every day. Carrying a Shaffer LA handbag doesn't mean you're rich, poor, trendy, or a certain age. It simply means that you demand a product that is handmade in the USA using the best durable Italian leather finished with finest handbag making techniques.

How involved are you in the design process?
I do all the design work and oversee the manufacturing, from start to finish. The journey has been a huge learning lesson navigating the world of leather and manufacturing. I spent almost a year in preparation for the collection including interning with an Italian leather maker working out of his garage. It has been an incredibly fun and rewarding experience learning the industry. I think at this point, I know every random source for fabric, hardware, zippers and everything in between throughout downtown LA. I could start my own tour bus!

What is your favorite style?
Now I understand when parents can't answer what child is their favorite—they are all so special with a design story of their own. But, if I had to pick, I love The Scarlett. This was the first bag I mastered and the beginning inspiration to the collection.

Do you have any celebrity fans so far?
We do! My dear friend Louise Roe was one of the first people to carry the bag. I hadn't even launched officially and she took The Alexa and The Dana and wore them all over fashion week. Then the interest from other influencers started coming in. Actually, Roe will soon be part of the Shaffer LA family—a bag is being named after her as a thank you.

Who would you love to see wearing a Shaffer bag?
Anna Wintour! But really, I think every girl should have a go-to closet staple bag like Shaffer LA.

What is your big dream for Shaffer LA?
I'm looking forward to growing the collection from handbags to other accessories and perhaps one day even clothing. A lifestyle brand is my ultimate goal.

What's your advice for anyone looking to transition from corporate to creative?
1. Be fearless. Worst case is that you fail and get a job again. Be in control of your brand, be involved in every element and learn it, from sourcing to manufacturing.
2. Have Patience. As prepared as you may be, there will always be obstacles and disappointments along the way. Be prepared for the bumps in the road and keep forging ahead.
3. Ask lots questions and seek information from anyone you work with. You don't have to take every piece of advice, but the extra knowledge will help maximize your perspective for the future. You'd be surprised how much the seamstresses can tell you about how to design better for durability, if you just ask them!
· Shaffer LA [Official Site]

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