Fashion designer Shira Entis and lawyer Alex Bell are the duo behind Fleabags, an exclusive line of sustainable handbags and leather accessories that has collaborated with Club Monaco, J. Crew and VPL. The line stemmed from a frustration toward the inconvenience and wastefulness of accumulating plastic bags post-flea marketing, and the need for a stylish, multipurpose tote, which is now known as the Original Flea. Upholding a sustainable philosophy, all Fleabags are made with organic and vintage materials, vegetable-tanned and re-purposed leathers, and various materials scoured locally in the US.
You two have led very different professional career paths, how did you come to launch Fleabags together?
We’ve been friends since we were college freshmen, and flea marketing is something we’ve been doing together for years. We fantasized about starting a business together, but didn’t have any idea what that would be until one particular car-ride back from a flea market trip in 2008. We were both lamenting all the plastic bags we had received from the market, and how we wished there was a sturdy, cool, American-made bag that would be perfect for toting around our flea finds. Hence, the idea for the company was born (and its namesake). We spent the next 6 months quietly developing our first signature bag — the Original Flea. We committed to producing 100 pieces and kept our fingers crossed that we would be able to sell them, within 4 weeks we had sold out!
Your bags are made with organic and vintage materials as well as re-purposed leathers. Is this a difficult standard to uphold each season?
Every season is a bit of a surprise, since we never know what we are going to find. Sometimes we have an idea and go hunting for a particular fabric — like when we used vintage WWII Army blankets in the collection — and other times we find something and realize it would work perfectly for our bags. This hunting is part of our design process and becomes a part of each season’s story.
How else do you incorporate a sustainable philosophy into your own lives?
Definitely in the way we eat. We both started reading so much on it, watching documentaries; it really had a lasting impact on our daily routines. And our food policy somewhat mimics our brand policy — while not “vegan” in either, we take on an overall sustainable outlook and try to be mindful of each independent decision.
In what way do you find you use the bag most? Groceries, overnights…?
Luckily we’ve now reached the point where there’s a flea for almost every occasion — I use the Alice Knapsack as an overnight bag, the Ballet Tote for groceries, and the Original Flea as an everyday and computer bag. I truly don’t ever leave home without the Traveler’s Clutch — I either use it as a clutch at night, or during the day, I stick essentials in it and put it in a larger bag to keep organized.
What keeps you inspired season after season?
We try to keep our classic styles fresh by using new colors and materials. To develop new styles, it becomes a matter of problem solving. For example, a woman who is too short to feel comfortable carrying one of our larger bags wants something that will carry a lot and will work for day to night, so what does that bag look like? That feeling of being challenged, of doing better and perfecting what we have created in the past, inspires us.
Who are your favorite designers that you like to see paired with your bags?
Actually, we can show you visually — we recently put together a “Wear it With” for the J.Crew Bucket Tote and the Artemis Satchels.
Aside from J.Crew you have collaborated with Of A Kind, Macy’s and currently you have an ongoing project with VPL. Who else would you like to partner with?
We like collaborating with like-minded brands on projects that push us a bit out of our comfort zone, whether that means introducing us to a new type of customer or creating a new type of product that we haven’t done before.
What’s the most cherished item you’ve ever found at a flea market?
Shira: A rubber stamp set from the 1930s that was used to make store signage.