The bag designer explains why it is the details that matter.
Tyler Alexandra Ellis has an impressive fashion heritage. Daughter of acclaimed menswear designer Perry Ellis, she took inspiration from his life, using it to carve out her own niche in the luxury handbag market. Five years after founding her label, she talks to Drapers about the importance of following your gut, surrounding yourself with good people and blue-violet crayons.
How would you describe your brand?
I would describe my brand as “functional luxury” because while the bags do have a high price point (retail prices from £1,156 for a canvas satcel to £9,469 for an alligator tote) and a luxurious feel, I want women to buy them to use them. I hate digging around in bags to find things and my designs reflect this. There are pockets for anything and everything, and there is even a phone charger built into the Caroline bags.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting out?
Originally, I found it difficult to find a factory who would work with a start-up business as small as mine. However, when I did find the one I work with now, I felt blessed, as they are absolutely amazing. Now, the most challenging part of my job is pushing brand awareness, especially in America.
What makes your brand successful?
The details are very important to me and make the brand stand out. The bright “Thayer Blue” interior of the bags was inspired by the crayon colour blue-violet, which I was obsessed with as a child. “Thayer” was the name of the street I grew up on. The names are inspired by friends and family: Jamie is a friend from London who planned my wedding and Caroline was one of my best friends growing up.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
The best advice I have ever received was from Michael Kors, who said that I should always try to surround myself with the best people – it has always served me well. I was hugely grateful to him for the advice and support he gave be when beginning my own label. Working for him was truly inspiring and my reason for getting out of bed. I have also learnt the hard way, however, the importance of working with good, loyal people.
What advice would you give anyone starting their own brand?
One of my mantras is to always make sure I follow my gut. If I were to give someone else advice, it would be to do that, too. While you should always take the advice of others, only you know what’s best for your own business. You have to take charge, 100%, and make sure you are taking [your business] in the direction you want it to go in.
When did you first feel successful?
I felt truly successful when I broke into the London market. Working with Joseph and Fortnum & Mason felt like a real milestone. A big goal for me was to be turning a profit after five years, but recognition is also something to strive for. Hopefully, I will also be stocked in Harvey Nichols soon, and that will be another huge landmark in my career.
How do you deal with consumers who oppose the use of exotic animal skin?
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about the use of animal leather. I have always made sure that the sources I use for skins (used for the bags’ exteriors) are safe and fair. I use all sorts of unusual skins, such as ostrich, fish and frog, but the most unusual is called “rospo”. No one has ever guessed what it was, even though it is just toad skin. I use the Italian translation, rospo, because it sounds more romantic!
What do you have planned for the future?
My plans for the future start with the creation of a men’s range, including totes and briefcases, before slowly working my way out to include small leather goods. I am also working on a dogs’ range. I have three dogs, so I have started designing collars and a dog bag. I also have a great passion for wine, so obviously I had to design a wine bag as well.