Two University of Minnesota alumni have joined forces to launch a new handbag line–with the help of Kickstarter. Niki English Handbags is the namesake of designer Niki English, once a fixture of the Twin Cities fashion scene, who made the move to New York in 2011. Since then, the designer–who was known locally for her edgy, forward-thinking clothing designs at shows like “Voltage” and “Envision”–interned for Zac Posen and Project Runway darling Christian Siriano before working as a design assistant for Vivienne Tam, ANN INC., Loris Diran and the Jones Group. She originally met her business partner, Susan Dordal, who has a merchandising, planning and buying background, while working on a University of Minnesota senior fashion show.
Their debut “Vertigo Collection” is said to be inspired by the streets and lifestyle of New York, offering a balance of function and style, and is available in three main silhouettes: the Carryall, the Mini Tote and the Clutch, all handmade in the Garment District of New York from leather sourced and embossed in Queens. The line is true to English’ edgy aesthetic–down to its “Unapologetically Forward” tagline–while maintaining the polished sophistication and utiliatarian practicality that embodies New York style. The made-in-New-York bent of the brand isn’t an accident–the company’s vision is to be part of the growing effort to bring manufacturing back into the U.S. and New York’s Garment District.
Today, the pair launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for the new venture. I talked to the partners about the campaign, the transition of moving from Minnesota to New York, and how their Minnesota heritage stays with them today.
You two met at the U of M and then reunited in New York. What made you decide to form a company together?
Susan: We decided to form a company together because we both come from different sides of the business, Niki on the design side and myself on the business/buying side. Together we make a great team. We call each other the “yin to our yang” because we are both different people with different perspectives, but when we come together we complement each other perfectly.
What do you plan to do with the funds if you make your Kickstarter goal?
Susan: Our first samples are complete and we are ready to begin the first phase of our business plan: production. Kickstarter will help us purchase the raw goods and materials necessary to build our inventory for the Niki English e-commerce site. Kickstarter will help us fulfill product orders more efficiently and take our business to the next level: business-to-business transactions via local boutiques. If we meet our stretch goal of0 $20,000, we will be able to add a 4th handbag to the collection, explore new fabrications & leathers, develop custom zipper pulls and hardware with our logo, purchase a heat embossing stamp for branding, open a holiday pop-up shop in NYC, and throw a brand launch party.
Niki, how was the transition of moving from Minnesota to pursue your design career in New York?
Niki: It was a natural transition for me. I always knew I wanted to live in New York City. It feels like i’m home; personally and professionally it is the perfect fit. I find a lot of inspiration for my designs and personal style by simply walking around the streets – you’ll see that this is the foundation of Nikie English–a very New York and street style vibe.
When you lived in Minnesota, you were best-known for your clothing designs. Why did you decide to focus solely on handbags for your line?
Niki: I have always loved accessories, especially shoes and handbags. I started selling handbags at Cliché before I began my clothing line; back then I focused on one of a kind, unique styles, sometimes made from recycled materials. I have always had a passion for street style and how women actually wear clothing beyound pure presentation. I have always enjoyed how handbags fit everyone, anyone can try one on and feel confident. it was only natural to return to my roots and start from the basics, focusing on our daily lives–the large carry-all for commute, the medium bag for weekend, and the clutch for evening.
Do you think your Minnesota heritage inspires your designs or business at all?
Niki: I miss the friends, family, and fashion community. Without the opportunities I had there, I would not have had the successes in New York I have been lucky to achieve!
“Vertigo” Carryall by Niki English Handbags, $995
“Vertigo” MIni Tote by Niki English Handbags, $795
“Vertigo” Carryall by Niki English Handbags, $495
Now available at nikienglish.com. Donated to the Kickstarter campaign through July 11 at kickstarter.com.