Classic bags, handmade just a few times a year. Focusing on exceptional materials, impeccable details, and small batch manufacturing at a factory two hours away from my parents' home. For every bag, we take you behind the scenes and share the creative process from idea to final sample.
Collection 1.5 (Linnea tote restock) available now. Click here to see how we made our first bag.
Collection 2 coming Oct-Nov 2020.
THE JOURNEY TO GET HERE
Hi there! I'm Jenny, and Freja is my baby. I like to joke that I started Freja because no one would hire me...but starting my own brand has been way, way harder than any job I've ever had (but so much more rewarding too). I’m a big believer that the best way to learn anything is to jump right in and figure out the details later, and that’s exactly how Freja started.
I was in my second to last semester of school, and under immense pressure to decide my career plans for the foreseeable future. And it was during yet another night of interview prep that I started dreaming about how it would feel to create something of my own. Something small and meaningful.
I wrote what would become the first version of our “About” page that night. And since then, I have learned accessories design, website development, branding, photography, and how to be patient - it takes months (and lots of iced coffee) to develop a great product. We're still learning every single day, and adapting each launch to be even better.
Our first sample cost $2000 and took four weeks to complete. 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. Fabric quality, fabric weight, size of pockets, depth of pockets, strap length, stitching vs gluing, zipper vs button, 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. Sleek. Modern. With thoughtful interiors. Bags that set the tone for the day, everyday.
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 before packing it up. And starting from our second collection, each bag is made-to-order just for you.
I’m a minimalist at heart, and a huge believer in the power of uniform dressing and having a signature look - a trademark aesthetic. A crisp white cotton button up half tucked into a pair of light wash cigarette jeans. An oversized blazer or chunky turtleneck paired with tailored trousers. Anything monochrome. White sneakers or flat mules, always. It's incredibly freeing to only own items that are easy to wear and endlessly versatile, but more importantly, inspire happiness - and I wanted to design these elements into each Freja bag.
That means creating classic bags that are effortlessly polished and secretly super-functional, and made with integrity. We fine tune each design for months - testing various lining materials, button fastenings, and magnetic clasps; adding thoughtfully placed pockets, adjusting measurements, and reinforcing pressure points.
We're meticulous - because the details matter when you're reaching for a bag day after day.
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. We initially wanted to manufacture in New York City, and had our first sample made here, but the cost was astronomical 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. It was a point of pride for him, and 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 workers’ 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 or the most ideal working conditions, 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.
After Freja launches, the first thing we’re going to do with the proceeds is to install an A/C system along with other improvements at the factory. This is for them too.
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, there is a daycare available for young children, they have meals covered, and have every Sunday off, as well as every other Saturday.
That was my judgment call. The more research I did on animal leather, the more uneasy I felt. 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 vegan leather isn’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.
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 we think it’s worth the extra cost. I get to put my time, care, and love into every single item, and 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.