The Genesis of Our Handmade Leather Sling Bag
We’ve been going to New York City since the early 80’s and, in fact, Embrazio co-founder, Stephanie Boyles lived in the NYC area even before then. Going into “The City” during those times involved a personal security check that just seemed to stick with us through the years. “Did you take off your jewelry, ditch your purse for pockets, move your wallet to your front pocket?” So went the checklist. It was no surprise then that when we did a sales swing through NYC a few years ago, the idea of creating an Embrazio “sling bag” came to mind. A bag that would be secure against your chest and carry what you didn’t want to stuff in your pockets.
As is often the case, we settled into a cozy coffee shop to start talking over what might make the best leather sling bag on the market. We both envisioned the bag being worn primarily across the chest or as a cross body but also wanted the flexibility to wear it as a belt bag and maybe even as a clutch. We had a good idea about the perfect size given our experience so far with the Stretta crossbody bag and the Borsa bag.
An easy to open and close front cover and secure zippered top came up next on the list of requirements. For the closure, we selected our fav Sam Browne rivet that is also used for closing our popular Sottile leather phone holster/case. We like it because you only need one hand to open and close which is nice when you’re holding a bike handle, reins, or something else with your off hand.
We added leather sleeves, one in the back and one under the front lid to hold a cellphone and pair of sunglasses respectively. For ease of use in wearing the bag different ways, we used a 7/8th inch shoulder/waist strap that can be adjusted in length via a metal slider. The strap, in our initial version, could also be removed by pressing in on either one of the two “gated rings” that connect the strap to the bag. A gated ring is just that, a ring that has a section in it that, when depressed, opens the ring like a gate so the strap can be fully released from the bag. It also allows one to hang another object like keys, a whistle, etc. externally from the ring.
Many people assume leather is leather. In fact, leather varies in many ways including thickness, density, suppleness, texture, and ability to color and dye. For example, we use a very thin but durable sheepskin to construct our very supple Stretta crossbody bag. For our belts we use a thicker and denser cow hide and for our larger bags we use a leather that’s between the two to attain the desired structure but minimize the weight.
In designing the Amelia Sling Bag, we decided to go with one of the larger tanneries we work with in Leon, MX, and use their premium grade mid-thickness cow leather. This gives the bag the structure needed to operate the lid with one hand and has a nice texture that we love. This leather also takes color well and we wanted to be able to offer the bag, if demand was proven, in a wide range color.
Prototyping our Leather Sling Bag
If you follow Embrazio at all, you probably know by now that both co-founders spent 25+ years in the technology and telecom industries where prototyping is part of the rapid development process. Those same techniques are applied in the development of Embrazio products. We build the initial “prototype” or sample and take it into the world for review by real potential customers.
The key to successful prototyping isn’t asking people what they think, it’s asking them what they don’t like or what they would change about the product they have in their hands. We assume that what we’ve built so far is wrong or at least not as good as it can be. That approach keeps us open to hearing improvement ideas that may be far different from our going in perceptions of the product.
It usually takes several turns before we hear from customers that they don’t have any more ideas for improvement. With the Sling bag, it was no different. As I recall, we changed the depth of the bag slightly, made the straps a bit longer and made a few small changes to the zipper pull. In the end, it took us around four prototypes to get to a final version which is below the number it usually takes.
We did the first production run in three colors: black, burnished brown, and grey. We often start with these colors for an initial limited run to further test acceptance in the market. A run generally takes us 3 to 6 months depending on whether we do or do not have the leather required in inventory in our small storage facility in Leon. Once in the market, the reception by boutique owners and end customers was quite positive.
With early sales being brisk, we moved quickly to add more colors. However, we also discovered three additional changes customers desired in the bags; change the rivet closure to a snap, eliminate one gated ring, add credit card slots to the inside. We were able to save enough money by eliminating one of the gated rings to allow us to add the credit card slots without increasing the overall cost and price for the bag.
We now offer the Amelia Handmade Leather Sling Bag in seven colors including leopard and zebra (a bit of a step to the edge for us). We’re working through the inventory of bags that still have the rivet and two gated rings with no credit card slots but some people prefer this design over the upgraded/changed version.
Sales and Marketing
Many small brands like Embrazio make the mistake of assuming once the product is complete and up on a web site, the sales will automatically follow if it’s a good product. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially in the world of fashion accessories. There is so much to choose from and so much advertising bombarding customers each day that this “build it and they will come” strategy is likely to fail even with the very best of products.
Our strategy at Embrazio is to individually introduce our handmade leather accessories first into the boutiques that carry our line and then with a combination of social media awareness building and targeted email advertising. After years in the business, we have a very extensive email list built up over time by people who’ve visited our web site and/or bought our products.
Whether using social media or email advertising, you also need to have excellent photos both of the stand-alone product and in the form of “lifestyle shots.” When we first started our business, we used professional photographers and their expensive gear and studios. This was fine but we always felt that we didn’t get enough shots and we rushed to complete during the designated time allotted for the shoot.
Fast forward 10 years or so and you’ll see we do all our own shoots unless we need extremely defined pics for a magazine ad for example. We both have iPhone 12+ cameras with tons of features and effects. For our studio, we’ve found a couple of special spots in Boulder, our hometown. In fact, there is one alley that offers exceptional morning light, lots of different colored backgrounds, and an interesting texture of bricks, or peeling plaster, and even some wooden fencing.
In addition, we just love the process for preparing for and executing photoshoots. We recruit local talent and provide compensation in the form of products instead of cash. We own all the pics but credit our models on posts and encourage them to use any of the pics for their own social media purposes.
The final stage of the process is photoshopping and cropping the pictures. Luckily, Stephanie purchased a pro account for Photoshop and has become quite talented as spotting and fixing minor imperfections with our pics. We also use Canva to auto re-format and package the shots to meet the different requirements of different platforms.
Where To Next?
It is quite likely that we’ll continue adding color choices to the latest design and may even make a larger version that would carry a small laptop. We might also consider making a version of the bag with more depth to carry a larger number of items within the same length & width profile. Whatever we decide, it will be based on input and guidance from real world customers who’ve worn and experienced the Amelia in its current design.