Our Story | Freja NYC
THE SHORT VERSION
Freja is an accessories brand that combines artisan craftsmanship with functional design. Rather than mass producing thousands of bags at once, we release one essential style each season.
Every silhouette is carefully reworked with thoughtful details you’ll love and handmade in small batches (~300 at a time) using a custom vegan leather. Our choice to manufacture in small batches was an easy one - it was the only way to uphold our stringent quality standards and honor our commitment to minimize our environmental impact.
Each timeless bag is designed to seamlessly integrate into a modern lifestyle, and is the perfect addition to a curated wardrobe.
Our first tote is available now.
THE LONG VERSION
Hi, my name is Jenny and Freja (freɪ.ya) is my baby.
I like to joke that I started Freja because no one would hire me, which is kind of true. But it’s also something I’ve wanted to do my whole life, and being incredibly unemployable was the final push for me to start - and gave me a time limit to do so.
I officially began my Freja journey the summer before my last semester at school, thinking I could launch at the end of summer. Here I sit one day post graduation, in the midst of a huge last-minute production complication that will probably delay our launch another few weeks, rolling my eyes at my naivety.
I came into this expecting highs and lows, expecting delays, and expecting things to go wrong, and have been proven right time and time again. I’ll spare you the details, but just know our first sample cost over $2000, took 4 weeks to complete, and looked like a first grader's art project. The next ten bags weren’t much better. I learned that accessory design is not only about the aesthetics or functionality, it's a feat of engineering. How do we add lots of pockets without making the bag overly heavy? How do we make sure that the bag doesn't look bulky, even when it is stuffed to the brim? How can we modify the design so it ships more compactly, thus reducing packaging and environmental impact? These are a few of the challenges we tackled throughout the months of development. But of course, the issues didn't stop there. Our final manufacturing run was delayed another month because the factory quoted materials in the wrong quantities. Our first shipment was delayed two weeks, without any updates. I made so many financial mistakes that make me cringe, but I never doubted that Freja was going to be worth the headache. I became an accessories designer, a website developer, a photographer, an accountant, a one-woman fulfillment center, and a very caffeinated perfectionist, and here I stand today with an emptied savings account but many lessons richer.
At Freja, we're rethinking the essential accessories women carry everyday. Between fine-tuning designs to sourcing innovative materials, there's never a dull moment - and we can't wait to tell you more.
Because I might wear my favorite sweater twice a week, but I’m carrying my favorite bag every day. I wanted the perfect tote that blended utilitarian (give me some pockets!) and polish in a modern, minimalist package that seamlessly integrated into my life, work, and travels. I had high expectations about design and workmanship, and couldn’t find a bag that met those expectations on the market.
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 did have 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 is where I am from and where my parents reside. 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 five 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 was worthy to show me.
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.
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.
If everything goes right, we’ll be making 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 will personally be shipping each bag for our first launch. I want to dedicate my full attention into making sure each bag is perfectly wrapped and arrives to you promptly.
I want your Freja bag to be something you can be excited to carry, one that makes getting ready for the day easy and seamless. I don't believe in compromising between design, function, and our responsibility to the earth, and hopefully this little brand will be one step in the right direction.
We are not perfect, but we are doing our best. And more people doing their best is better than a few being perfect. I’m proud of how far we’ve come in less than a year. 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.