Raleigh Designer Turns Keepsakes into Bags


News & Observer Style Watch Columnist Jennifer Bringle interviewed me for a feature on Bella Bolsa's custom photo handbags. Here is an excerpt.

JB: What inspired you to create bags from your family's photos / letters?
Bella Bolsa: I love ephemera and collect old postcards, letters, postage stamps... Last year, my parents celebrated their 50th Anniversary, and in planning their celebration/party, I uncovered photo albums filled with tons of photos and mementos. Tucked within the pages of the albums (actually stuffed) were love letters, notes, and cards. I scanned in all of the letters, photos, matchbooks, invitations (everything that wasn't glued to the magnetized album pages) and used them to create DIY party decorations. Fast forward to a few months ago when I designed a fabric to use on a purse using postcards and letters from my ephemera collection. As I was cutting the fabric and piecing together the pattern, it occurred to me that I could use my own family's photos and letters and create a custom fabric design. I looked at other companies selling photo purses and found that the other purses out there were more kitschy than classy (not something I would carry). So I made a bag out of my family photographs and letters as a prototype and that was it. That is how the idea was born, and so far the response has been really positive.
JB: How do you create the bags? What's the process?
Bella Bolsa: First, I scan in the images and use Photoshop to manipulate and layer the images into a cohesive image that would translate well to fabric. Next, I have the fabric printed (usually on cotton, but occasionally on faux suede) and test it for durability, washability, etc... I cut the pattern pieces to focus in on the best part of the image, spend a great deal of time cutting and sewing the lining and pockets. All of the wristlet/wallets have five pockets, including four credit card slots to make the bag functional for running errands or an evening out.
JB: How did you get interested in fashion design?
Bella Bolsa: Even though I went to school to study journalism, I have always been interested in art and design. When I moved to Raleigh with my husband 15 years ago, I became a stay at home mom and began experimenting with different mediums. I started making jewelry, one of a kind mixed media pieces that would be classified as wearable art. Each piece incorporated found objects and ephemeral elements, labels, postage stamps, letters... After years of making jewelry, it seemed a natural evolution to expand and create an affordable accessory line, including handbags and scarves. So, I taught myself how to sew, started designing my own fabrics, and the rest is history. Today I have abandoned jewelry altogether, as the jewelry market is very saturated, and focus exclusively on textiles. I love the idea of creating wearable, functional pieces that tell a story and are as unique as the person wearing it.
JB: Why do you think items like this resonate so much?
Bella Bolsa: Good question. I really think it is because people take solace in nostalgia and why anything vintage and familial resonates with people and frankly become trends whether it is in fashion, pop culture, or art. Many years ago, I sat down with my grandmother to put together my family tree. I remember she went to the closet and took out this large box full of mementos, letters, matchbooks, menus... I realized that although many of these items represented fleeting bits of a vanishing time, to her, they were everlasting symbols of her life with my grandfather. Each object told a story, a love story if you will, of their 50 plus years together.
JB: Where can people find your bags - are they sold in any local stores?
Bella Bolsa: Right now the purses can be found online at etsy.com/shop/bellabolsadesigns. The prices are anywhere from $55 to $75, depending on the design and customization. Customized pieces take longer to produce,  so people should plan ahead for holiday delivery.


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