As part of Sligo Design Week, The Model in Sligo held a talk with two very talented Irish Handbag Designers. The talk was called Handbags at Dawn. A tale of two bag designers and the two designers in question were Ana Vahey from Ana Faye Handbags and Ashleigh Smith from The Atlantic Equipment Project. Both produce very different, very distinctive bags and I thought that I would share Ana’s career journey and Ashleigh’s road to creating the Atlantic Equipment Project as I found them both so interesting. They will be in two separate posts as both deserve their own space. Part One – Ana Vahey’s career journey is below.
I always find it interesting to see how someone got to where they are in their career and for any budding designers I thought that you might find this interesting – and realise that there are many paths to becoming a successful designer.
Ana Vahey is the talent behind Ana Faye and her creations are just beautiful. She has had a workshop in Strandhill in Sligo for the past 7 years. She actually has such an interesting educational background. She started in the Limerick IT Art and Design course for four years and during her first year she did sculpture, graphic design and fashion design as her subjects and then in second year went on to study analytical drawing and pattern drawing. She loved pattern cutting and construction. Some may find this part difficult but she loved it and actually found it quite easy.
From June to December 2002, she worked on creating haute couture designs under Prince Egon Von Furstenburg (the late ex-husband of Diane Von Furstenberg) in Rome. Everything was handmade and hand stitched which has had a lasting impression on her and her career.
Styletex who specialise in high street product design and production hired her as the assistant designer on the Oasis account. She used to bring samples to Oasis and then orders would be placed which would be produced in Morocco. Interestingly, Styletex also provided designs to Topshop and Dunness according to Ana which I was not aware of.
From 2005 to 2007, Ana worked with a high end retailer in China that had 40 of their own stores and manufactured their own goods as well. She went to China to design for their markets based on the materials/fabrics that she wanted. It was a huge responsibility because as well as designing she was also dealing with the staff in the factories and quality control. Through this experience she learned a lot about manufacturing and business sense as well.
She worked with Urban Code from 2007 to 2008 as head designer for leather goods. This was her first time working solely in leather and she really enjoyed it. They were a supplier similar to Styletex and supplied at the time the likes to Ted Baker and Paul Costello. Within Urban Code due to her success and skill she moved into just designing bags for them.
At this time she was also ‘double dating’ with regards her work and was also working for jTote – who manufactured designer laptop bags and she helped find the company. She liked working with the interesting fabrics and designers and was also looking after their production in China. They actually ended up moving their production to South America and Ana even got to travel to Brazil. This all as a lot to look after at the one time and could be over whelming at times.
2008 – Ana Faye was born. At the time she was still working with jTote so she still had an income while she established and launched her own company. She worked with the Sligo Enterprise Board to do a feasibility study on her brand idea. This she says was excellent and she would highly recommend that you do this if thinking of launching a business. Ana Faye received funding to buy machinery and trial methods – this was invaluable and allowed her to start her business.
For three years Ana did everything herself but now has three reliable sewers – two in Dublin and one in Belfast. All of her work is handcut and since each piece is cut by hand her sewers have to be reliable.
In 2013, she won the prestigious Designer of the Year Persil Award and her designs were in Aware Stores, as part the Award she won €10k which helped her attend the well regarded Central Saint Martins in London. She focused on innovative pattern cutting using innovative methods to create refined pieces. The course Ana loved and different designers come in for each project and teach them new techniques and she has used these herself in Ana Faye.
An important tip that Ana also shared is that you cannot be the master of everything and the return will not be worth it. You do need to know a little about everything but you do not need to be good at it all but certainly important to understand the basics. For example she does her own VAT return but everything else finance wise is done by her accountant. This leaves her more time for making which is more important to her.
Since 2013 her brand and work has just grown. I love her pieces- the quality is fantastic, craftsman ship on point and you can just feel the love and pride that goes into each and every unique piece. You can see Ana’s work on her website . She is also on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
Here is the link to where you can read all about Ashleigh Smith and The Atlantic Equipment Project.