A Conversation With Dolyn Bags Founder Ami Beck
Armed with a trove of sumptuous leather, her long arms clutching her wares, a tall blonde in a leopard coat saunters through the door. The fur is fake, but the smile is not; without it she would seem right at home in a sartorial-centric Pynchon novel. At once a touch otherworldly and authentically down-to-earth, Ami Beck makes an entrance. Think Tinkerbell-meets-Joan of Arc, Helen of Troy with a handbag.
A self-described “bag lady,” Beck has been designing her own bags and making them by hand for years, founding her own company, Dolyn Bags, in the summer of 2014. Since then, she’s been developing and expanding the brand from her studio in Kansas City.
“It’s a really great time to be in my position,” she explains. “It’s daunting to be in this market as far as price point, but at the same time, a lot of consumers are pretty bored with big-name brands. They’ve been around for so long, and people are realizing that their stuff isn’t necessarily any better than that of emerging designers.’”
Cowhide leather, rich hardware and keen attention to details distinguish Beck’s take on luxury. Running a hand over a Dolyn is the tactile equivalent of swilling a vintage wine at its peak—smooth, heady and transportive. A hidden pocket lined in plaid pops from a venerable duffle. Invisible magnets cinch a bag at its top, a closure sans disclosure.
“I usually take a simple concept and make it as complicated as possible,” Beck says, demonstrating with a basic tote. A sleek silver zipper accents a rustic fabric. Side panels with contrast suede appear across the collection. As Beck points out each feature with delight, it becomes clear that eschewing trends for touchstones is Dolyn’s M.O. “If I wanted a bag that looked like everybody else’s, I’d make what everyone else was making.”
Why bags? And why now? “Fashion is so fast,” Beck asserts, which led to her penchant for accessories. “As soon as you design a piece of clothing, it’s out there. But I wanted to design something that would really hold its longevity, that would be relevant for a long time. That’s where leather comes in, too—it’s beautiful, durable and looks better with age.” Though they source materials from a tannery in Italy, the Dolyn production universe remains largely local.
When asked what prompted her decision to start her own business in such a cutthroat field, Beck pauses for a second. “Irrational confidence!” she surmises. The revelation that she was once a champion high school basketball player feels suddenly apropos. Success in fashion requires more than creativity. “I’ve never worked at anything as hard as this,” Beck says of Dolyn. “But I wouldn’t know how to work this hard if it had not been for my years in sports.” It’s where she sees a connection to her discipline, hunger and hustle. “People ask all the time, ‘How do you take these huge risks on your own? There’s a lot on the line.’ And I tell them, ‘Everybody is born with a risk barometer. Mine just happens to be broken.’”
There’s a certain audacity that comes with the idea of Midwestern luxe—a beguiling one at that. “I have a small, but passionate market,” Beck emphasizes, unflinching. “Luxury is choosing what it is that you want, rather than what you can afford. It’s chosen out of want, beauty, detail and exclusivity, rather than out of price point.” During our chat, the word “sexy” comes up several times to describe her bags. The thing that’s sexy—and luxurious—about the Dolyn brand, is that element of surprise: the unlikely coupling of honesty and indulgence, something with which to haul one’s bustling life gracefully into the future.
“At the end of the day, I design bags. And there is something a bit shallow about that. But it takes so much grit to have a small business, and to stick up for yourself through years of growing it. At the end of the day, the charm of Dolyn isn’t handbags, because handbags are everywhere. The charm of it is my passion. The charm of it is the challenge in it.”
This story originally appeared in ALIVE Issue 3, 2017. Purchase Issue 3 and become an ALIVE member.
Photograph by Attilio D’Agostino.