A Talk with the Women Behind Opelle Creative
By Sabrina Aguzzi
The Canadian collaborators behind Opelle Creative, Amy Malcolm and Beth Nicholson Crago, express the art of handbag design in its purest form. As seen through their handcrafted pieces, Opelle designs exude the essence of minimalism with an emphasis on utilitarian functionality. Malcolm and Crago’s backgrounds in art and style have further informed their brand’s aesthetic, and ultimately, prompted its success. As light as they are luxurious, Opelle handbags undergo meticulous processes in their Toronto-based production studio to ensure that each bag is practical, elegant, and ethically created. We caught up with the ladies behind Opelle –hard at work, in the very act of sewing, to talk leather sourcing, experimentation, and their SS16 campaign.
Let’s start with Opelle’s story of origin. Tell us about the initial idea of designing a handbag collection.
Beth: Amy started the line about 5 years ago, selling on Etsy. She was working at a time where there were a lot of synthetic PVC [Polyvinyl Chloride] bags out on the market and she couldn’t find a genuine leather, well-made bag [in a] style that she liked. So she essentially set out to make one for herself, and then started with a couple of bags on Etsy. She received online orders and continued to build that way. As of about 3 years ago, Amy designed a website and rebranded, really starting to drive traffic toward our site. The bulk of our customers have been online. We recently expanded the wholesale business, but it really has been direct communication with the customer that has helped us develop since the beginning.
What does the name “Opelle” signify to you?
B: Nothing! It just sounds interesting. I mean, it doesn’t hurt that in Italian, “pelle” means leather –but it wasn’t named for that reason.
A lovely coincidence, nonetheless! Seeing as Opelle specializes in top-grain luxury leather, we have to ask: Where does your leather come from?
B: Italy. We have some local people here who import leather from Italy and Germany.
Amy: Mostly Italy, though. Sometimes special materials will come from Spain. We’ve worked with Spain, Germany [and] France, but the majority of the leather that we use is tanned in Italy.
We’d love to know more about this process. How do you go about sourcing materials?
A: We collaborate with a specific group of Italian tanneries, by working with a local Toronto-based middleman to detail the specifics that we want.
B: It helps because we’re a small company. Bringing over a large shipment by crates is not really in the cards for us. But when the material can be compiled through them, it facilitates the process.
In your opinion, what is the relevance of Canadian handcrafted fashion accessories in a world dominated by mass production?
B: At the moment, there is something happening in the marketplace where customers are genuinely concerned with where the products that they wear, or carry, come from, and how they were made or sourced –[verifying] that it’s ethically done. The label “Made in Canada” is extremely important at the moment. It’s always important, but specifically now, people are really digging in to find the story behind the brands that they care about. And I think that they appreciate brands that care about how they produce and make their products. We’re extremely relevant in that sense because all of our leather is a by-product of the food industry and we create everything here in our studio. Amy cuts every single piece herself, you can hear the machine going right now. We sew the bags, we ship them out ourselves, so we’re also creating jobs for people here in the city, in a creative field.
Is it then fair to say that your direct experience, in handcrafting the pieces, informs their timeless and durable quality?
B: All of those elements add up to making an important story behind our brand. Our bags do last for a really long time and that has been why our customer base remains loyal and comes back again and again. What has been the most important to Amy and myself, since day one, is that the quality stands up to a modern woman’s lifestyle. We do shows and see women carrying bags that they’ve had for many years, which is amazing to us. They look brand new and our customers still love them just as much.
As designers, and essentially, creators, what other art forms keep you creatively engaged?
B: For me personally, I’m also a painter. It’s a great creative outlet for me. Amy actually studied sculpture at school, so she has a background in fine art, as well.
What is a favourite item that you’ve designed?
A: That’s hard! There’s always a favourite piece in each current collection, but I guess my all-time favourite piece would be the “Lotus” bag or the “Ballet” bag.
Can you describe the aesthetic of your SS16 campaign?
B: We started out looking at shape and graphic lines. You could see that in the new styles emerging for this season. We did a round “Tam-Tam” for the first time, small triangular coin purses, and worked with a square shape for the “Mini ISSA.” We also experimented with different textures. This season, for spring, we even used fish skin, which we brought in from Iceland. It was a new sort of texture for us. The play of its naturalness with the graphic lines of the shape was sort of where it all started. The colour palette developed from a mood board of images, which will actually be on our website soon. There was also an abstract piece of art with a linear feel to it that sparked the idea of looking at shapes. The main colour for spring was the crimson red, which is something that Amy has wanted for a number of seasons. Finding the right moment and finding the right red has been a challenge, but this season felt like the best time. We found a beautiful shade of red leather and it all came together.
What is your greatest ambition?
B: We would love to have a storefront with our production studio in the back [as well as] a small factory, with multiple people sewing for us, while we maintain oversight of the production. That’s always important. Being able to build our own small community of people to work and grow with us would be very satisfying.
For more: http://opellecreative.com/
Their Instagram: @opellecreative