An Interview with Saint Louis Fashion Fund Designer Allison Mitchell
After multiple past lives as a copywriter, chef and then marketing executive, designer and Dallas native Allison Mitchell designed her own eponymous luxury handbag label. The success of the label landed her a spot in the Saint Louis Fashion Fund’s inaugural class of six designers, surrounded by the kind of mentorship, resources and access to funding that can transform a young designer’s career.
For most creatives, a digital marketing agency with over 50 client accounts would signal a logical resting place to hone one’s energy—but Mitchell landed and then changed paths entirely. We caught up with the frenetic maker to discuss the details of her unexpected career progression and to learn more about her creative process.
You don’t have a background in design. How did that affect the way you approached launching your own collection?
It took me about a year and a half to really believe that the handbag business had legs. I didn’t wake up one morning and declare, “Now, I’m a fashion designer!” Even though I’ve had a pretty successful story, I still have a lot to learn. When I made my first bag and took it to networking events, everyone asked me about it. A buyer in Dallas saw one and asked me to make her ten. I was stunned. It took off like a rocket ship.
Every trip to the manufacturer makes me better and stronger. During this whole process, I’ve been very aware that I don’t know everything. It took me a long time to just go for it. I’ve had to catch up to all the other designers who studied design and interned at big fashion houses. I’m really sensitive to that. I don’t want to come across as though I’ve figured it all out on my own. I have to enrich myself to compete on their level.
The career transition you’ve made has been pretty enormous. Has your family been supportive of your choices?
When I was about ten, I told my parents I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, and their response was, “No, you’ll starve.” Pursuing a creative career was discouraged in my family. Now they’re 100 percent behind me, all the time. My husband is absolutely my number one fan. He has been supportive of the bag business from day one. When I applied to the Fashion Fund and got in, we shut down the agency, sold our house and moved to St. Louis. I couldn’t feel more supported.
Where do you find inspiration?
The materials give me inspiration. They tell me what to do. I think that is part of the reason people respond well to my bags—the movement of the skins dictates the shapes I create. When I build out shapes, it can start from a photo or a piece of clothing. Anything that speaks to me from a luxe, unexpected, emotive place inspires me—that’s what I take and translate into a bag.
What’s on the horizon for your business?
My work this year has been rooted in figuring out the story and message of the brand and where we want to go. I’ve been rediscovering the original DNA and how that translates into a more sophisticated consumer market. I originally set out to make high-end handbags that were refined and whimsical, with elevated design ingenuity. Within the last few weeks I’ve started honing in on that message and how it translates through all of our imagery and pieces. I’m working on an Iconic Collection that will be available year round. I’m launching it in September, in time for fashion week. I’ve been working all year on getting the collection together and deciding what styles are really going to push that message.
Can you give us a taste of what kinds of bags to expect from the new collection?
There are tote bags, clutches, travel bags and a really versatile, smaller cross-body bag. I’m starting with everything being only in leather in black, navy and luggage (or camel). Once that launches, then we’ll do the styles in more brightly colored exotics in the style of what I originally set out to do. I want this collection to get us back to basics. It strikes a balance with functionality. There is an unconventional quality to the way the bags look and feel. That is key to the brand, but they are also functional and comfortable.
All images courtesy of Allison Mitchell.