When you buy from a small business an actual person does a happy dance. That person is Beverly Wang of ByINABE. She makes beautiful and practical leather bags and wallets by herself in her home studio in Toronto. Congrats to this boss babe who experimented found what she was good at and is sticking to it. She’s creating practical bags for professional women; keep reading on why you should support her.
What are you working on right now that’s going to be really exciting for you this year?
Right now I’m transitioning my company. Currently, I source all my hardware and materials in Canada and make everything myself. To give people better quality, I’m looking into sourcing some of my leathers from Italy and Spain. A trip to their tanneries and factories is also in the works because they’re masters at what they do and I would love to learn from them.
You started off making different types of clothing until you settled on bags. What made you choose to specialize in bags over other things?
I didn’t choose or decide to do bags. It just happened. When I graduated, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I began experimenting and trying a bit of everything. Until one day, I picked up some scrap leather from a store on Spadina. Being a recent grad, I didn’t own a leather bag so I thought to make one. I made a bucket bag, which took me over an hour but it was super cute. When my friends saw it they actually wanted to buy it. I put it up on Etsy and people there wanted to buy it as well! So, I started making more and more bags until finally turning it into a full-time business last year.
No one really noticed the other things I crafted but they always asked about my bags. That’s when I knew, instinctively, that there’s something here.
What materials do you love working with?
Leather. There are so many different types of leather, in so many different colours, weights and textures. You can never run out of options. I choose to only use medium weight leathers because heavy leather is literally quite heavy and hard to sew. This also makes the bag less practical for professional women. I get creative with finishes, colours and working with medium weight leathers to give more or less body to the overall bag, wristlet or cardholder.
This January, I went to the Lineapelle fair where I saw everything from glittery leather to braided leather to perforated leather – it was crazy.
Who is inspiring you right now to create leather bags made in Canada?
Women that inspire me are other female business owners who are running their business, taking care of their families and still living social lives. Over the last year, I’ve met lots of Canadian female businesses owners. Seeing them work so hard for their business encourages me to keep pushing forward.
I was lucky to be in the Rising Star section at the One of a Kind show. Since the booths were close together, we got to know each other by sharing our triumphs and struggles. It was great to connect with people who understood what I was going through.
How does a design go from being on a sketchpad to being part of your collection?
I don’t plan to sit down and design on any given day. Usually, my designs take shape over a period of weeks or months. If I get an idea or concept, I’ll write it down or draw it out in my sketchbook. At that point, I’ll leave it and in a couple of weeks go back to it and make changes. When the time comes for a new collection, I have a better idea of the direction I want to take. I’ll pull out all my sketches and decide which designs I really like and only keep those. From my initial sketch to actual design the changes are usually in the finish, hardware or perhaps the inside of the bag.
What bag style is most popular? Are you looking to experiment with other styles?
My bucket bags are still the most popular given that the style is everywhere you’d think they would be phasing out. In terms of experimenting, I’m always designing and want to make new bags every week. But, you can’t make a new bag every week. That’s not the way to run a business. Right now my focus and direction are towards creating more professional leather bags. Bags which are more practical and functional but still stylish looking. Working women may need to carry a pair of heels, a water bottle or lunch so the bag needs to be able to accommodate all that.
I’m always thinking about how I can make a bag weigh less before all the items go in because leather itself is heavy. My Nine to Five bag fits a 13-inch laptop. The challenge now is that I own a 15-inch laptop so I’m figuring out how to factor in the extra weight without the bag weighing 5 pounds to start.
How did you find your own angle in an industry that can feel somewhat saturated with fast fashion?
My biggest asset is selling in person because customers can feel the buttery leather or the softness of the material. My leather bags made in Canada give you quality, durability and the luxurious feel which fast fashion stores can’t compete with. Sure, their bags are cute but they won’t last more than a few months without wear and tear.
Do you think your designs need to change with what’s on trend or you prefer classic styles?
Right now bucket bags are trending which will soon fade. However, I’ll only stop making a design when I lose interest in it. I like classic designs but I’m also aware that what’s popular may be what I like too.
Trends have to fit with my aesthetic. Circle bags became popular last year and still are but I decided not to make them. They are super cute but I don’t see the practical nature in that shape. Nothing you put in your bag is circular so why create a bag that doesn’t serve any purpose.
What is something you wish you had known at the beginning of starting ByINABE that you now know? What are you still learning?
It’s okay not to be good at everything and don’t expect things to work out in the first attempt. In the beginning, I was experimenting a lot to see what worked. Lots of things didn’t but bags stuck. From my first show, I learned not to bring too many things that would clutter the table. I learned about strap sizes of bags. I’m only 5”2 so initially, all my straps were made for my size. Meeting customers and them trying the bags made me realize that they were different heights and shapes. For them, I needed to make my straps adjustable. I don’t regret how I started because I needed those experiences to do better.
You’re also going to want to do everything yourself but it’s impossible to build a website, make all your products, market them and sell at shows. Knowing this I’m still doing everything myself but I’m now open to the idea of getting help.
I’m researching how to scale my business. This goes hand in hand with what I said before. You can’t increase production if you can’t increase everything else.
What’s something small businesses like you can do to grow their brand locally and internationally?
You have to step out of your comfort zone every day. Don’t let fear get in your way. If you have to send 100 emails, send 100 emails. Don’t give up just because you hit your first obstacle or your 50th obstacle. The only way you can grow is to push through and keep going. You don’t know if something will be successful if you don’t try it.
If you’re just starting out, definitely participate in one-day shows because this is your chance to meet your potential customers and convince them to buy. You’ll also get first-hand feedback about your products, which will give you an idea of the direction you need to take. It’s also a great way to introduce your brand to different people who can, in turn, tell others. These shows are a relatively smaller investment than larger shows like One of a Kind and you’ll still gain immense knowledge and experience.
If there’s a stellar small business owner you want me to feature on Artist Spotlight, leave me their details in the comments.