Ela Kowalewska and Martin Aldorsson are the couple and co-founders behind Ela, a refined handbag and accessories line. After stints in public relations at Hermès, wholesale handbags at Burberry and a chance encounter with Jimmy Choo, Kowalewska joined forces with Aldorsson to create functional handbags without sacrificing luxury. Between their bases in Toronto and New York, the duo produces sophisticated silhouettes out of Spain.
How did the two of you meet? What is the division of labor?
Martin and I met in passing in London, England. I was moving from London to Toronto and Martin was moving from New York City to London. There are those moments in life where things actually do fall in place naturally and the rest is history.
We are both very much involved in all aspects of the business but my area is design, sourcing and all creative aspects and Martin handles sales and marketing.
Where did the idea of launching a handbag line together come from?
Both Martin and I come from very entrepreneurial families, so to have our own business was always the ultimate goal. We have both spent almost 10 years working for other companies in the business so we were ready for the venture. The reason for launching a handbag brand was the opportunity that we saw in the affordable luxury segment of the business that bridged the gap between fast fashion and luxury. We wanted to offer pieces that were high in quality, authentic in design, functional and approachable that I myself was looking for.
Why did you choose Spain for production? Are you based there?
We chose Spain for its artisanal skill set. We found a workshop there that had the same philosophy when it came to product integrity, innovation possibilities and quality and understood our goals and placement in the marketplace.
We are based between Toronto and NYC with frequent visits to Spain and Sweden, where Martin is from.
What materials do you use that are exclusive to Spain?
Our production in Spain is quite vertical. We source and customize our leather and hardware all across Spain as well as Italy. The artisanal touch in Spain is quite remarkable and rooted in many generations.
What style do you consider a signature Ela bag?
The signature that really captures our philosophy of humble luxury is the first bag I designed called the MILCK clutch. MILCK is an acronym for a woman’s essential cargo: money/ID/lipstick/cellphone/keys. It embodies our signature asymmetrical flap and custom closure. It’s still one of our bestsellers to this day and it was the overarching design signature in the development of the rest of the collection.
How has your success in the US affected your business?
Working with major US retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Club Monaco and Shopbop have had a very positive effect on our overall business as it has not only helped put us on the map and build brand recognition in the US, but also helped us to expand our business to other markets around the world.
Which styles are Saks Fifth Avenue’s bestsellers?
The D/N bag, which embodies our signature asymmetrical flap, would be noteworthy. Like the name, the D/N bag is a perfect number to sport from day to night. The bag is very functional with an adjustable chain strap, back zipper and interior compartment. Most importantly, it’s super lightweight, which is something that is present in all of our bags.
What inspired the tiger motif on the clutches in your recent collection?
From the launch of our brand, we found success in our custom embossed pyramid studs and stars. It’s a technique that we do in our workshop. I did an abstract sketch of a tiger and thought it would be incredible to create a stamp like our signature studs and stars. It was also part of our Jungle Punk theme we were working on for Fall 2014. The tiger stamp has this neat appearance as if it’s being chiseled out of leather. We are always striving to find authentic and new ways to work and mix new technology with artisanal leather crafting.
Tell us about the collaboration with Club Monaco – will it be ongoing? What was it like working with such a major retailer?
The partnership with Club Monaco was definitely a highlight and it’s a collaboration that is ongoing. The collaboration merged philosophies of Ela’s humble luxury with Club Monaco’s modern sensibility. We believe that many women today are craving something more simple and refined with a focus on a season-less and timeless appeal and quality, which was very reflective in the designs. We incorporated some striking contrast leather combinations, which echoed Club Monaco’s color DNA and showcased the clean lines of the design and embossing signatures.
Is it ever difficult working with your spouse? How do you spend your downtime?
We always say that if we didn’t work together we probably wouldn’t see much of one another. Of course, there are challenges that we face as a young brand but I think that working together helps the process, as there is always the same goal in mind and a trusted sounding board in one another. The difficulty is to find downtime, but when we do we play a lot of tennis and piggyback some personal day travel during work trips.