Oregon handbag designers find success

0113 Dispatches Handbags 04It’s time for Oregon’s handbag designers to take the spotlight.

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David Stoops, owner of Black Star Bags in Portland, makes waterproof messenger bags.
// Photo above by Sierra Breshears
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It’s time for Oregon’s handbag designers to take the spotlight.

Local fashion designers get all the attention, what with six of them already featured on Project Runway and others showcased at FASHIONxt (previously known as Portland Fashion Week). But now the focus is shifting to include designers of purses and bags.

Two Portland handbag design companies, Christina Castillo and BD503, were part of October’s FASHIONxt, showing high fashion handbags that turned heads and found new customers.

Portland boutique owner Anne Bocci, who closely follows the global fashion scene, started stocking $550 Christina Castillo Italian leather handbags after seeing the designer’s display at FASHIONxt.

“Christina’s is the finest material you can get and it’s still made in the USA,” says Bocci. “It’s almost like a $1,200 Prada bag. You can’t get any better than this.”

Castillo, a UO journalism graduate, designs bags manufactured in an artisan factory in Chicago.



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Above: Portland boutique owner Anne Bocci stocks Christina Castillo Italian leather handbags.
Below: BD503 in Portland makes one-of-a-kind bags from repurposed Italian and American leather.
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BD503, owned by Bianca Pettinari, a purse designer in Italy for 20 years, and her partner, David Haines, also made a valuable connection at FASHIONxt when they met the singer Liv Warfield. Their 1-year-old Portland company, which makes one-of-a-kind bags from repurposed Italian and American leather, debuted the Liv Collection in December.

These two designers “get it,” says FASHIONxt’s executive producer, Tito Chowdhury. But for every viable business, there are a handful of hopeful DIY creatives. “We don’t have a shortage of craft people in this town,” says Chowdhury. “But all of us need to be very keen on the business end of it.”

A number of bag designers have been thriving for years. Queen Bee Creations, which was established when designer Rebecca Pearcy moved to Portland in 2002, has a national following for its vinyl bags. And designer David Stoops, owner of Black Star Bags in Southeast Portland, is in his sixth year of making waterproof messenger bags for Portland’s bicycle culture.

Handbags are not just a Portland trend, either. In Bend, Anne Scott is one of several purse designers. She makes Mari Lassa leather bags, which she sells for $250 to $400.

A sign of the burgeoning handbag industry is that the Portland branch of Girls Inc. has plenty of designers for their annual Power of the Purse benefit, with 15 lined up for the March event. Girls Inc. marketing director Benna Gottfried noted that when a similar event was launched in New York City, organizers there asked her, “How did you ever find so many purse designers?”