Let’s face it ladies, we love those heavy duty, over-sized bags for the daytime. But when the sun goes down and it’s time to party, we quickly throw them aside for a smaller, sleeker option. Mixing fresh designs with even fresher details, handbag designer Ayana Evans makes adorably stylish bags that can take you from a day in the city catching up with friends to a night on the town with your beau.
Prior to becoming the amazing handbag designer we know today, Ayana was a professional installation artist. Since graduating in 1998 she has exhibited her work at museums and galleries worldwide including the African American Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago, and Temple University Main Gallery in Rome. After working as an artist educator for five years, Ayana left teaching to launch YANA Handbags, which has a strong online presence and sells to boutiques across the country.
For those of you who love to share stories about the fabulous pieces you own, each and every YANA handbag has a fun title and special meaning. Popular fanny pack titles include “Sexy At All Times Fanny,” “Forgive and Forget for Me” and my personal favorite, “Keepin’ It Real.” YANA handbags remind us that contrary to popular belief, a handbag can be both artistic and highly functional at the same time.
Here’s the scoop on how YANA Handbags came to be and where she plans to go from here:
Before we get started, congrats on designing such a beautiful collection! It’s simply fabulous. How did you get started on creating the YANA handbags line?
I began just by taking vintage handbags and updating/changing them somehow. I would add big bows, funky linings, and new handles to the bags. Then I sold them to family and friends. Eventually, I sold them on consignment to a couple boutiques on the Lower East Side. And that was the beginning. HA! It wasn’t sexy because I was working out of the kitchen in my studio apartment, but it was exciting!
As a woman of many talents, you also enjoyed a successful career as a professional installation artist. When did you first decide that you wanted to venture into the world of handbag design?
I’ve always liked fashion. In undergrad, the plan was to become a fashion designer or buyer following graduation. I still have sketches of “fashion lines” that I designed when I was seven! The problem was that I didn’t like sewing clothes AND I wanted to express myself a lot more artistically, so after a few internships I decided that fashion wasn’t for me and I turned my focus to painting and sculpture. I missed fashion, but I couldn’t see how I could mix the two fields. It wasn’t until after I earned my MFA and started incorporating plaster handbags into my installations that I realized I could work as a handbag designer.
Please describe a little bit of your process from conceptualization to the finished product:
I approach designing the same way that I do art. I come up with a theme or an idea that I want to explore and I pick my colors, titles, textures, and shapes based on that theme. Right now I am working on “And The Winner Is…” Literally pondering what success is and how we glamorize it. Once the sketches are done, the materials are sourced. At the next stage, every item from the leather to the pull for the zippers is taken to a manufacturer who produces the first sample. Once that sample is made and possibly altered, we take orders for it at my showroom. In the end, we complete a mass production run based on how many orders were received.
Where do you get some of the materials you use to create YANA handbags?
I buy all of my materials here in New York City. Even my custom-made hardware (i.e., the door knocker buckles and labels with hand sewn bows) are made here!
We understand and very much appreciate the fact that your bags are eco-friendly. Could you explain exactly what makes your bags “green” and what inspired your decision to manufacture in this direction?
All of our snake skin fanny packs are made from re-purposed skins, meaning they are made from small cut away pieces that larger companies chose not to use. We buy these pieces by the pound and use them for the bags. We also try to use vegetable dyed leathers as often as possible because it is better for the environment. I feel that it is important in whatever you do to contribute to your community and surroundings in a positive way. We actually started moving in this direction because of that belief.
Additionally, 15% of all of YANA’s online sales go to a charity which our buyers select from a dropdown list. If no one is selected a donation is still made on their behalf. We also manufacture all of our items in the U.S. to ensure that our contracted sewers are all paid fairly and have good working conditions.
Can you give us an idea of what a typical day in Ayana Evans’ shoes is like?
On a typical day I float between meetings with my manufacturer, showroom rep, business partner (Regan), interns and leather suppliers. Oh! And I might got to Fed Ex to mail an order or two. Basically, I walk around A LOT. There isn’t as much glamour to my day as one might imagine. I can’t do interviews and fashion parties all the time!
I know from personal experience that it is sometimes challenging to strike a balace between being creative and taking care of “the business of the business.” Please tell us how you and Regan J. Hall, the financial muscle behind your company, make these two elements co-exist:
You are right, it is a struggle! Regan tries to make sure that there are days when I am only focusing on the design side of the business. We can’t do this often, but it does have to get done. At the same time, there are times when I call her and say I’m not going to talk about handbags for the next two days. I will talk to you, but not about that! She has known me since I was eight years old so she understands that I need space sometimes and isn’t upset by it. So far these short breaks work for us. I find that if I don’t step away, I become burnt out and the creativity shrinks big time!
Who are your style icons?
That’s easy: Diana Ross and Bianca Jagger!
I love the style of both of these women. They embodied sexy, strong, and adventurous looks. People still copy them today!
What do you think is key in developing your own style?
I think the key to developing your own style is knowing who you are. Once you know that, it’s easy to decide what to play up and how to experiment with your look.
In closing, what’s on the horizon for YANA handbags?
Hopefully, more international sales and our first major department store order. Keep you fingers crossed for us!
For additional information on YANA Handbags please visit www.yanahandbags.com. Prices range from $95 for a light blue denim fanny pack with canvas lining to $890 for black spot-washable lambskin satchel with 18k plated hardware.