IN Interviews : Fleabags

Full names:
Shira Entis and Alexandra Bell

Blogs and websites you love:
We’re huge eBay fans, we also like NownessBrook Farm General Store, and B.H. Storm & Co.

Favorite fashion time period:
Always changing, but right now the 1930s/40s.

Weirdest thing ever purchased from a flea market:
Shira I once bought this strange little vintage doll. It was naked and really ugly. Alex tried to convince me not to buy it, but I had an impulse. I took it out of its bag a week later and was so grossed out by it and gave it to Goodwill immediately.

Flea markets can be an utter pandemonium or an orderly heaven. How do you both approach flea markets? What do you look for when you’re shopping?
Agreed that it can be overwhelming, so we’re lucky to have each other in order to stay focused. Before heading out, we try to discuss what we’re looking for that day, be it housewares, clothing, jewelry, etc. But we always keep our eyes open for an unexpected find, especially since we are always seeking out new inspiration for Fleabags. We love the thrill of the hunt. We try to scout out vendors that we know will have an eclectic assortment to dig through because the real treasures are more often buried than on display. A logistical note, we usually start quite early in the day (with a large cup of iced coffee), as vendors often set up before dawn and pack up early in the afternoon.

Do you ever pull your flea market findings into your bag concepts?
Of course! We get excited to discover even the smallest detail in an item, the type of stitch, the choice of rivet, etc. and we often refer back to our vintage collections when we are making decisions for our own line. Often the reference isn’t literal, for instance, a button on a coat can inspire a closure on a bag.

Who or what are your biggest influences when it comes to designing?
It’s random—whatever we find that inspires us in the moment. It could be something we see at a museum, in a restaurant, something we read, garbage on the street. We look at a lot of foreign magazines just to push ourselves beyond the fashion world of New York. We also take inspiration trips when we can find a time, but sometimes that means going no farther than Staten Island.

A lot of people go to yard sales, antique shops, or vintage shops for unique findings. What would you say led both of you to flea markets? How did this mutual obsession for flea markets come about?
We both love history. Going to flea markets is a way to learn about past times, cultures. We’ve both lived in several cities and have traveled together and in each place, going to a flea market is a great way of exploring and learning more about the place and the people.

How do you approach your seasonal themes? Do you ever get requests for certain bag styles? How much does what’s popular or resurfacing effect what Fleabag creates?
We aren’t a trend-based brand. We focus more on styles that are timeless and utilitarian, and our favorite bags are those that have worn in so well that you actually like it more a decade later than the day it was purchased. But of course, we also stay in the loop on current themes in the fashion and art world, which influence certain design and color choices each season. And yes, we actually do receive quite a few requests, especially for dog bags and diaper bags. Customers become really accustomed to using our bags every day and they want to be able to tweak it slightly to fit a new purpose.

I’m a stickler for vintage, but my one pet peeve is it must look new. I like the idea of being complimented on something that is years old, but recently purchased. Are there any particular dos and don’ts for your flea market visits?
Part of the fun of marketing is the bargaining game. Always inspect the item rigorously, any flaw can help you bargain the price down. Also, don’t try to impress the vendor with your knowledge of its provenance or worth—they are more willing to give you a good price if they don’t think you will turn around to sell it on eBay.

Shira, how has this business venture affected your career in fashion? Are you designing apparel or doing any fashion styling or side work as well?
Actually, I really miss designing clothing, I never thought I would become a handbag designer! I still make some of my own clothes and patterns, but honestly it has been awhile since I even did that. We do style our own photoshoots but I think that styling is really its own beast.

Did either of you foresee something like this happening 10 years ago? It is evident that you are both passionate about your work. Do you feel like passion and a love for something can rule over having a skill and a job in any profession?
We launched Fleabags both because we saw a niche in the marketplace and because we wanted a creative outlet that was our own. We didn’t have any capital investment and so we had no choice but to start with a very limited edition of 100 bags. It has since been the product of thousands of man-hours, but when you are passionate about something and love what you do, you don’t count the hours. You just try to keep getting better at what you do.

A lot of times working with larger brands can be a great way to inform people of your work. Has collaborating with other brands like Club Monaco helped to apprise you or influence any of your personal plans for Fleabags?
An important part of Fleabags is that we are a small company and our growth is organic. Working with Club Monaco was a great experience for us and was a preview for what it would be like to function on a larger scale. But for right now, we’re taking it one day at a time, although we are always interested in new collaboration ideas.

Alex, are you still practicing law or has this adventure taken you into other areas of interest?
No, (except of course when Fleabags needs a lawyer)! I did practice law for several years and think that the experience was incredibly helpful for understanding the business / legal end of running a small company.

Is Fleabags working on any new projects?
We are working with the non-profit group, Save the Garment District, to support the New York City garment center, but we can’t tell you the specifics yet.

Is there any chance of movement into other accessories?
For the Spring / Summer 2011 collection we ventured a little further into the accessory market and we designed a leather visor and a waist wallet. We both love shoes and have discussed shoe design (but that is still much further down the road).


Special thanks to designers Shira Entis and Alexandra Bell of Fleabags & Melissa Leung from Rio PR. All images supplied by Fleabags. Interview by James Buford and edited by Alicia Fairclough for Infashuated © 2011. No part of this content or information included therein may be reproduced, republished or redistributed without the prior written consent of Infashuated.

James Buford

Co-owner, writer, and designer for Infashuated and based in Portland, OR. Follow him on instagram.