Foundation pieces for a well considered wardrobe.
Modern handbags defined by purpose, handmade with exceptional ingredients, and carefully crafted with the smallest impact on our environment.
Our second collection is available now.
THE JOURNEY TO GET HERE
Hi there! I'm Jenny, and Freja (frei-ya) is my baby. I like to joke that I started Freja because no one would hire me out of college...but starting my own brand has been way, way harder than any job I've ever had (and so much more rewarding too).
I was in my second to last semester of school, and under so much pressure to decide what I wanted to do and to be for the foreseeable future. And during yet another night of interview prep, I started dreaming about how it would feel to create something of my own. Something small and meaningful. Something interesting.
Something that was good for people and the planet.
I wrote the first version of our “About” page that night, and have been learning how to build a responsible brand ever since.
This is how our first sample turned out. It cost $2000 and took four weeks to complete. My favorite part is how the handles aren’t...even made of the same material. The next few weren’t much better. The fourth sample was close, but way too heavy…and it took another four months of tweaks until we were happy with it.
Every little detail matters. Starting with the materials - I believed if I found the perfect quality material I could use it to create every bag. But there is so much more to it. Certain colors look different on different textures. Do we choose a softer texture that feels more luxurious, or a stiffer leather that ships well and will keep its shape better? And what about the finish? A slight sheen might look stunning on a darker color, but cheapens a light colored bag.
And that's just the beginning. Weight of materials, size of pockets, depth of pockets, strap length, stitching vs gluing, zippers vs buttons, how the bag sits when empty, how the bag feels when filled…it takes time to find what’s just right. Most good things do. And the design, of course. Minimal but not boring. Classic yet still modern. With thoughtful interiors. Made exceptionally with animal free materials. Bags that set the tone for the day, everyday. Bags that I couldn’t find anywhere else.
To curate rather than to shop, to cherish rather than to toss. These are the principles I built Freja around - to make carefully considered, purpose driven, foundation pieces you will love to wear, over and over again. I call them foundation pieces, and I hope they become your forever pieces.
For me and all the hands involved in making our bags, Freja is personal. Our vegan leather is milled by my college best friend’s family. We visit our factory twice a year. My parents quality check each bag before they’re shipped to me, and I inspect each one meticulously before packing it up and sending it to you. We make everything in small batches, and I'm proud to say not a single bag has gone to waste.
BUT DOES THE WORLD REALLY NEED ANOTHER HANDBAG BRAND?
I went back and forth over that question for weeks. I knew I wanted to do things differently. Everything has a cost, and just because you don’t see all the hands that worked on your bag doesn’t mean they don’t exist, that they don’t have a family counting on them to help make ends meet. Much of fashion is an unsustainable cycle of excess and waste and exploitation, but it doesn’t have to be. And I knew as the sole decision maker of a small brand that was starting fresh, that I could do things my way.
I want Freja to stand for responsibility and transparency. I wanted to manufacture close to home - and that meant either the New York or China. We initially wanted to manufacture in New York City, and had our first sample made here, but the cost was astronomical (I was quoted $300 per bag for a 24 bag production run) and the existing infrastructure is not suitable for vegan leather bags. So even if we wanted to make the bags here, the materials and hardware would still need to be imported. My second choice was China, because that's where I'm from and where my parents currently live. I I asked friends in the industry to introduce me to possible partners. I researched dozens of factories and narrowed down ten factories to tour. My dad and I visited each and got to know the people who worked there, and ended up choosing four to make a sample for me. I did not end up choosing the most established, biggest factory. I did not choose the factory that took me and my dad out to a fancy lunch. I chose a small, family owned factory of eighty workers. They took the longest to deliver a sample, but that was because they reworked it three times before deciding it met their own high standards.
My dad and I visited in June, when it was almost 90* out. This factory only had electric fans throughout their factory and offices, no central AC. While it wasn’t unbearably hot, it was uncomfortable. When I asked why, the owner said it was because they couldn’t afford it. He said as production costs in China have risen, many companies have moved production overseas to countries like Bangladesh and India. Small factories either closed down, or merged with bigger factories to survive the shift. When I asked him why he hadn’t merged with a bigger factory, he said because this factory had been passed down for generations in the family, and he wasn’t willing to give up quality or control. He had a responsibility towards everyone who worked there. Then he wiped his brow and said it was time for him to have lunch with everyone else at the cafeteria. He lived at the factory, and only went home every other weekend to see his wife and three kids.
So while this small factory might not have the most advanced technology, they have the most heart. And you’ll see that passion through every bag they make. I think it’s more impactful and meaningful to support a smaller factory trying to do the best they can, rather than add to the bottom line of a bigger factory that has an advantage in every way. While we will never place the biggest orders, I hope we can become another long term client they can rely on.
We plan to use a portion of our profits towards installing an A/C system along with making other improvements at the factory. We’re all in this together.
And to be completely transparent - the factory team is paid by hour, not by piece, and earn 2x minimum wage. This was important to me because it means that the workers are compensated for the quality and skill they offer, rather than productivity and output. They work 8-10 hour shifts with a 2 hour lunch break, there is a daycare available for young children, meals are covered, and everyone has Sunday off, as well as every other Saturday.
The more research I did, the more uneasy I felt about animal leather. Most leather is not a “byproduct” of the meat industry, as we’re lead to believe, and the tanning process can also be deadly to the workers and those who live downstream of tanneries. But the alternatives aren’t perfect either. Commonly used animal-friendly substitutes like PVC and polyurethane are plastic-based, non-biodegradable materials that aren’t made to last. And while strides are being made in the industry (cork leather, mushroom leather), they are still early stage, prohibitively expensive, and limited in the appearance and texture. Being sustainable is only one part of the equation; the end product also has to be something people would be excited to wear and cherish, and priced fairly.
That’s how we landed on ultrafiber. Ultrafiber is a non-woven fabric that’s made by layering resin over microfiber. It’s designed to have a lifespan of ten years (5x normal PVC and PU), and is commonly used where durability is a priority - like airplanes, sofas, and sporting goods. It looks and feels incredibly supple, and is made-to-order in small batches by my college best friend’s (and roommate!) family’s factory, who is an industry leader in fiber research and technology and also worker’s conditions. Because to me, vegan means avoiding all exploitation - of animals, humans, and the earth around us. You can read more about ultrafiber here.
My choice to use ultrafiber is a reflection of my own priorities and values, and an evaluation of the options available at the moment. I’m hopeful that in the future we can make even more sustainable material choices.
THE FIRST LAUNCH.
We made 300 bags for our first launch, in the colors latte and black - named after my newfound caffeine addiction. It's important to me for Freja to be a meaningful, lean operation, and to keep it that way even as we continue to grow. That means only ordering what we need, carrying low inventory, having little overhead, and minimal waste. It’s much more expensive than mass manufacturing, but it’s the only way I want to run my business. I get to connect with the most wonderful people, and I get to put my time, care, and love into every single item. You receive a one of a kind, quality bag you can cherish for years.
Everything has a price, and if that price is too low, someone didn’t get paid along the way.
I don't believe in compromising between design, functionality, and our responsibility to the planet, and hopefully this little brand will be one step in the right direction. We still have a long way to go, and we’ll never stop striving to be better. We hope you’ll come on this journey with us.