I’m Jenny, designer and founder of Freja New York. I'm also the website developer, one-woman warehouse team, and social media manager. Whenever you email, comment, or direct message us, I’m the person behind the screen!
I recently turned 24, and live in New York City. And after three years and five apartments, I’ve finally managed to settle into a routine for myself here. Morning stops at Clovelly, the tiniest Australian coffee shop tucked away in Hudson Yards before I step into the office. Thursday morning boxing in Soho with my coach Angel. Saturday afternoon sweetgreen dates with my best friend Steph. These are the people and moments that make a big city feel like home.
Maybe it's something about living in New York City, but I am a textbook minimalist 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 confidence everyday - and I wanted to design these elements into each Freja bag.
That means creating classic shapes that are polished yet laid back, carefully selecting color palettes that work in harmony, and keeping each design grounded with a strong focus on practicality and purpose. Form always follows function, and you'll see that belief reflected in each bag. Soft yet structured totes that sling effortlessly over your shoulder and tuck beautifully under your arm. Spacious shoulder bags with an abundance of compartments and a multitude of ways to style.
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.
Each bag is handmade in a luxe vegan fabric supplied by my college roommate's family, in a factory two hours away from my parent's home, as a piece of a limited run collection. Quality checked twice, and packed with a handwritten card.
I want these bags to be quality staples you can rely on day after day, and that means being absolutely meticulous about every detail.
We release a few highly edited, essential styles each year, as our intention is to only create bags that can grow and evolve with you.
Collection II will be available on a preorder basis, and be made-to-order in 4-6 weeks. Each limited edition bag is handmade in our custom vegan leather and delivered with a unique, handwritten card with details on the collection, style, and batch.
Collection II coming August 2020.
THE JOURNEY TO GET HERE
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, marveling 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. Our first sample cost over $2000, took 6 weeks to complete, and looked like it was glued together by a first grader. Email me if you want to see it! 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 costs and environmental impact? How do we make sure the edge paint doesn’t crack when shipped to colder regions? These are a few of the challenges we tackled throughout the months of development. But of course, the challenges 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. My lack of experience means I made many financial mistakes, but I never doubted that Freja was going to be worth the headache. I’m a firm believer that the best way to learn is to dive in headfirst, and iron out the details later. 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 that define women everyday. We’re challenging traditional models of retail and manufacturing. We’re inviting you to take part in the conversation, and hopefully, we’re empowering you to shift the way you think about consumption.
I’m a minimalist at heart, and a loyal believer in capsule wardrobes and uniform dressing. There’s something so empowering and freeing about getting dressed knowing each piece works together, cohesively, and I wanted to apply these same principles to Freja. Each bag is meant to define a specific occasion or purpose for the Freja woman and her daily routine. These are timeless bags that can grow and evolve with you.
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.
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, 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.
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 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.
*JULY 2020 UPDATE*
We made 300 bags for our first launch in February 2020. We have since sold out of the latte color, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive (thank you). We're excited to do even better for collection two.
Building a responsible brand is a team effort, and creating a meaningful product has to involve you from the very beginning of the journey. We will be trialing a made-to-order model for our second collection, where each style will be available for preorder for one week before I place the order with our factory. This way, we know exactly what styles and colors to order, and ensures we produce less, before ever making a single bag. And in case we decide to make a few extra, we have a solid idea of which styles + colors to create.
Collection 2 will be available for preorder in August 2020. Free shipping and returns, always. ❤️