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Adrian Furstenburg on Handbag Designer 101 Podcast every Tuesday

Updated: Dec 21, 2023




Emily Blumenthal

Host

00:00

Hi and welcome to the Handbag Designer 101 podcast with your host, Emily Blumenthal, handbag Designer Expert and Handbag Fairy Godmother, where we cover everything about handbags, from making, marketing, designing and talking to handbag designers and industry experts about what it takes to make a successful handbag. Welcome, Adrian Furstenberg, to the Handbag Designer 101 podcast. So excited to have you.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

00:29

Hi, Emily, so good to have you and so good to see you. Thanks for having me.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

00:33

Of course, of course. I love having my Handbag Designer Award, IHDA All Star Alums, considering you're part of that group with a big one, right?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

00:43

It's been one of the most amazing things to be part of it and just to kind of see how the journey from even before I won the award, like being part of it, like I mean working up to it and then getting into it, winning it and then being part of it afterwards has just been such an amazing journey, like me, to see how myself and so many others have been changing lives.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

01:02

Oh my God, yeah, hashtag changing lives. Exactly so you are originally from South Africa, yeah, and you're in Singapore now.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

01:13

Yeah, that's correct. So I was born in my hometown of Johannesburg and started the business there and after winning the award oh, real.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

01:21

No, how old were you when you started?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

01:22

Oh, when I started, so I mean okay, we can go way back.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

01:25

Let's go to the way back machine.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

01:27

Way back wins. So I always had a dream of working in fashion industry. But my dad, who is of German descent and was a farmer, was really, really strict and he was like no son of mine is going to study fashion design. And I was devastated because it is my dream. And what happened was I kind of secretly studied graphic design but changed my major into textiles because I was just enamored with the industry. And what happened was, unfortunately I was involved in a big car accident in my final year of study and therefore I couldn't do the textile printing that was needed for the practical side of it. So I shifted the prospect to do a project on weaving and then the coloring of our certain yarns and like had to apply the design to theory as well as history.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

02:14

And so I had to be. Did he give you a hard time about that?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

02:18

Oh yeah. Yeah, it was tough. I mean it was really hard, because he thought I was still doing graphic design but I was actually doing textiles, so the project looked a little different. But I ended up having this beautiful piece of cloth in my final year that I wore, and the whole piece of cloth myself. I dyed all of the yarn. But they did a really great project on the theory and the history of textile and so forth. And when I saw this piece of material, a part of me was like this has to go somewhere. It kind of has to become something. And there was a weave factory just outside of Johannesburg, which is my hometown, that I teamed up with and I had the cloth turned into four handbags and that's where the passion started. Like that's where I really liked that.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

02:56

How did you know to do that To handbags? Did the factory say you should make it a handbag, or you had the wherewithal to do that on your own?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

03:04

On my own, because I mean, when you see a piece of material like I was like it has to become something, because if it's just a flat piece of surface, that doesn't really serve any sort of purpose, right, and the idea of like a handbag was really cool because it was this great piece of cloth that I could combine with leather, so it looked really cool.

03:21

But I think as a designer, like one part is the aesthetics that that's really really great but also the functionality of something that really interests me. So that definitely sparked the interest and the love for handbag and accessory design. And, of course, growing up in a place like South Africa that has a lot of nature and beautiful like animal kingdom and everything else. I grew up with horses in the tech room, like leather has been, has been, a big part of my life, like growing up. So from a practical and historical perspective, I'm teaming it up with the love of beauty and I'm an aesthetic and fashion like having these two things come together in a very difficult situation, like being in a car accident in my final year of study, did then turn around into what I do as a career today.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

04:05

So, looking back, the concept of handbags or being a handbag designer found me rather than me finding it, even though I had a passion for it and let me ask you, though sure, because of the accident, did your father give you a little bit more grace to do what you wanted to do, what you wanted to do?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

04:24

Yeah, he told it as a parent, I mean. I mean you would understand, as a parent you want the best for your kids. Like I mean, growing up in South Africa that has some political turmoil, and it is you want. You want your kids to do the best. So the fashion industry in South Africa is notoriously difficult.

04:38

So I could understand where he was coming from, right, but then having him see me do something that has a sense of commercial viability, like it looks really good, and the fact that there was a factory that could support any sort of manufacturing, changed his idea around fashion a little bit more, which was good. I think if I stuck to clothing or couture or something like that, I think the story would have been a little different, whereas handbags, from a commercial perspective and I think most people know this like it is just more profitable and it's not tied to seasons. So I think all of these elements baked into that story of wanting to become a designer that specializes in accessories and leather goods has been really quite fortunate and I've stuck to that since, like I mean, I'm not veering into into any other direction, like I'm not sticking with handbags.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

05:27

My mom's side is German and there is that definite sensibility of when I went into handbags. It was like why it doesn't make any money and you know, and yes, and you go on this rant it's the most profitable segment of fashion, but fashion doesn't make money. I mean, I'm Garmento offspring. So it was like what are you doing? Only mass makes money and you're not getting into mass and you're not trained.

05:51

And I think we always continue to carry that burden of trying to prove ourselves constantly, even though now on the other side, being a parent, you just want the best for your kids, so you try to keep them out of things that are going to make their lives more difficult. So I was keen to know, like having that accident and seeing what you've gone through as a parent, you know you have to give your child some grace thing. Okay, but it sounds like whatever impact he had had, you were able to prove to him okay, here's the path, here's where I'm getting the materials, here's how it's made, here's what I'm going to like you were able to prove that 360 cycle to perhaps quell whatever issues he may have had. Did your mom give you any hassle? Or she was like go for it.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

06:30

She loved it. So, trust me, my dad was, I mean, of course, like when having a son who makes an impact, then. So, what's interesting, my dad was a farmer and so very entrepreneurial.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

06:40

So you actually had a farm in your backyard proper.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

06:43

Well, so there was. So we didn't live on the farm, so there was on the outskirts of town. We lived close to town because my mom was cabin crew for our national airline. No way, at least two, yeah, these two very different worlds like I mean really well traveled, being exposed to fashion and other cultures and countries from an early age, as well as having this very gross type pragmatic way of doing things, like I mean plant the seeds, make sure it delivers harvests, those type of things. So farming and fashion, or farming and travel, like you mean these two really opposite industries like you mean serving me pretty well. Because what I want to backtrack to quickly is, even though there was a lot of adversary, like I mean kind of how I got into handbag design. It's, I think, looking back at my life, both personally and professionally, usually the most difficult things. It's like alchemy, like I mean kind of burns out the impurities and gives you the golden nuggets that you can build something beautiful with. So that's how I see it now. Yeah.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

07:41

But do you know what's interesting? Someone told me this years and years and years ago and I find it wild that it still tracks that, without fail, you end up doing what your parents do, whether you want to or not. It follows you and it's ingrained in you, right Like, I never thought I would actually be in fashion, I never thought I would teach, and that tracks both sides of my parents and you know now what you're doing now. And your mom and it sounds like, because she was a flight attendant, that she traveled a lot, so you were with your dad more, perhaps as a result of her trips. So whatever impact he had, he was there to lay it down. So you had to kind of keep both sides happy. But then she'd come back and see the beautiful and the fabulous. And you know, ed, it sits with you because I mean we'll lead up to what you're doing now, which is so exciting, but it really it checks both boxes, which is totally wild.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

08:30

No, absolutely, and I'm glad that I can get to a place in my life where I can honor my parents for the impact that they had in my life. As you mentioned, like my mom traveled a lot, we got exposed to a lot of things, but wasn't there all the time. But what it did give me was growing up in South Africa. It was. It's beautiful, it's an incredibly beautiful country.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

08:50

Do you miss it?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

08:51

I do miss it, but I've got an enormous love for my country and a huge amount of respect for my country because it turned me into the person that I am today.

08:58

But if I look at it from a pragmatic career perspective, it's kind of suicide to stay in a country like South Africa to try to build an international brand distribution hardware. All of these things like really just counts against you. So one of the things that my mom has given me, on a more philosophical level, I would say, was that planting that seed of wanting to get out, wanting to explore, wanting to grow, see the world and seeing the world exactly because that's where the magic happened and so being on both sides of it, where I have the pragmatic, very basic sense of doing business, focusing on profit like how do you turn nothing into something but also having the philosophy of travel and luxury and flight and adventure and different languages so these two things have had a big impact on my career, but also, of course, as an individual as well, and I try to honor both of those things now.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

09:49

But, you know, having a father who's a farmer again the recognition of all. Right, I might plant this it's like what is that about the chicken? Who's gonna help me plant the seeds? Who's gonna help me sow the farm? But having to recognize that you need someone to sell it to. And it's a pitfall of so many designers, right, so many. I wanna be a designer, I wanna get my vision, I wanna put something out there that I believe is missing. Now you're making something for women who you know it's not you, it's for other people. So perhaps that was ingrained in you, that you knew that you needed to have a customer for everything you did. Because that is a pitfall of so many, right, you might wanna create something beautiful, but who could buy it? Who can afford it? How often are they gonna come back?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

10:32

That's the thing I mean. My heritage is European but I grew up in Africa, like, I mean, my parents and my ancestors. Basically they had to make it work. There was no like something to fall back on. You just had to, like, I mean, make things work. So I think that entrepreneurial spirit of creating something beautiful, which is the art and the philosophy, and then the drive to create beauty, but if it just stays on the shelf, like it's not a business like then it's just, which is wonderful, and I love art.

10:59

But I mean I think it's when there's a commercial value to something, seeing what you put so much love and effort into creating something, seeing somebody else enjoy it and pay good money for it, then it becomes full circle. And that's what I'm about now, Like I try and read up and be part of a lot of like business things, because business is also design, it's also an art like. I mean you have to think differently about things.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

11:21

And I know when we can get into how you ended up in Singapore and how you ended up making handbags into handbags for what you do. But I love before unboxing when the videos became true unboxing videos. You've been doing that for years and it's just so heartwarming seeing these women who are not the unboxing demographic, seeing them receive your bag, seeing them open it, seeing the emotion, but you're usually there for them to get it. So all these customers, people you know or they not like, how does that path go?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

11:52

So, firstly, I've got to thank you for inviting me back to come and tell my story the year after I won the award in 2016,. Or, what happened was, when I won the award, I was still employed at a company and I got my design together and everything else and I went to the United States it was my very first time to the US and I went to America and I went to New York and this amazing award- and it changed my life.

12:15

Oh, that was phenomenal, like I mean, I still watched that video like where I was running out of the hole. So being invited back to come and tell my story has been pivotal to my success. Because that's where someone who knew that I started my business in South Africa was interested in ordering a handbag because she had a South African friend and of course, I was in New York City and I delivered the bag to her and we did an unboxing and we got a few more orders.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

12:40

Was that in New York or in South?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

12:41

Africa. That was in New York, so that was our first unboxing and just out of that, that kind of became very much the natural order of what the Adrian First and the Brand is about, which is from our perspective. Actually is a very, very personal thing, because it means various things for different people, and seeing that absolute joy, the fact that we created a handbag for them, is almost like the ultimate gift to oneself, like they have an idea of what it looks like, but the personal attention that comes with me delivering it to them has been one of our key factors. Where we don't really spend a lot of money on marketing, most of our clients are our ambassadors, and this gets to the answer of your second question. Of course, any sort of business starts with family and friends, and I've had such an incredibly loyal following since the beginning of starting the brand in 2017, and those have become the ambassadors, and people from there have bought and grown and Because your bags are not inexpensive.

13:41

No, no, no, no, no. They're not, Especially now that we live in Singapore. So that was quite a great story. What happened was I was based in Johannesburg, launched the brand in 2017. We did really well. We got a lot of sales. People were really interested. The fact that a South African got into the Handbag Designer Awards and won the award gave me a huge amount of publicity and, of course, exposed the brand to a lot of new people, and it was kind of like the success story and I wrote that way, which was wonderful.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

14:09

Which is what everybody should. And I always say if you get that attention, ride it until it's done. That's a positive.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

14:15

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, and that's the thing. So I was, so my partner's American and travels a lot for work, and he got a job in Singapore and so I was traveling a ton, like I mean, that's also why I did the work.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

14:27

Did you meet him in New York or did you meet him in Johannesburg?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

14:30

We met in Johannesburg actually, so it was Johannesburg and then Indonesia and Senegal and New York. We did a lot of talk, but during that time he then got a job in Singapore and the idea was, as any sort of small brand or small business like, to go international, like that is the penultimate. So the goal was for me to stay and operate the business from Johannesburg and then kind of quote unquote live in Singapore and travel in between, which made sense on paper and it's- that's a long flight.

14:59

But it's a very long flight, like it's a good 12 hours and it just impacted to not make any sense. And what happened?

Emily Blumenthal

Host

15:06

was Sounds good at the time.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

15:08

Yeah, sure, no problem. I mean the jet lag was insane and I regretted it completely. No, actually I don't regret it. Like I got a lot of air miles. I don't that flight for Johannesburg in Singapore I know so well. Like I mean, I got to familiarize myself with the whole situation but it's just really hard on the body and the mind to live in two different places. Like that doesn't work, but it's interesting. Like you mentioned our business model, we create one of pieces, like I mean, that's what the main business is about. So it's an undemand manufacturing business model and I was in Hong Kong where a big leather trade event invited me to speak about this specific business model Outdoors on demand manufacturing, inshallah, or hopefully create one of the avenues towards a more sustainable future for leather and luxury leather goods.

15:57

I did my presentation and we got a lot of questions and information and so forth and I met a company who does manufacturing, small scale manufacturing, who are based in Singapore, which is quite unusual because Singapore is a tiny, tiny nanny state.

16:13

It's a small island with a big city on it, like it doesn't produce any of its own thickness and one of the interesting things is because it's kind of on the equator, so it's tropical and Singapore's only like almost 60 years old, like 58 years old, like one of the only things it ever exported was crocodile skin for the luxury industry, like French fashion brands. So this company that I met in Hong Kong was an offshoot of this tannery that basically created all mainly croc skins for brands like mainly Louis Vuitton and then other brands under the LVMH group. The tannery got bought over by the LVMH group in 2011 and then, for an undisclosed amount, in 2016. And so this then made me think about my production. The tree doesn't grow in two places, like, so I had to be where my production is. So that's when I we went back to Singapore. I met them at the studio and it seemed like this fits my business model really well, was this?

Emily Blumenthal

Host

17:12

organic at the same time, as your partner was sent At the same.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

17:16

What? Wow, it was such a thing. So now I have access to materials that's used by LVMH brands, excellent, excellent, excellent manufacturing, and I can live in Singapore. The only caveat is it is very expensive.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

17:32

Yeah.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

17:33

It was really, really expensive. But the great thing about that was we create custom pieces, so the person who pays for a custom bag understand that that is going to have a heavier price tag than other brands that you just buy with the streets.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

17:45

So your prices went up.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

17:46

Prices went up, yeah.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

17:47

Wow, was that a hard pill to swallow?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

17:51

So that's an interesting question, because of course, any young designer like, oh, I want to charge thousands of dollars for handbags, like doesn't make a commercial thing, right? No, not always. So that's the interesting thing. Most of my clients actually started paying the price because they understood the value of having a piece customized for them. So, if I can take you a little bit through my customer journey, so they own most of the prestigious brands like Chanel, other major brands and so forth, and mostly places like Singapore, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Dubai, New York, milan, London. Gifting is a big thing. So do you buy your wife another speedy or another nigger fool, or maybe like a Birkin Bag Kelly, or you could buy one-on-one with the designer and create a bag for her exactly the way she wants it. So we do measure. There's a little thing that we call design terror, which is like a terror card reading, where we basically create a bespoke piece based on the person's personality and their taste and everything.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

18:47

So they're buying them on with you in the whole package.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

18:51

It's the whole package, and then we make it what we call hyper-personalized. So on my social media and one of the ones that sells the best is we would then incorporate some of their kids drawings like that is done through a Marcage technique, on or inside the bag. So it's not just a beautiful designer product, it has this hyper-personalized element to it. So we're really focusing on the sentiment and the symbolism of your mom. Having your kids drawings on the fridge is one thing and it's amazing, but now we can like, through a prestigious technique called Marcage, we can put it into the bag. So you're kind of like freezing that moment in time and also you have a piece of your kids or your brand or whoever liking it with. That's super sentimental, but it is a luxury product.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

19:35

Was that part of your plan or just organically worked out that way?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

19:39

It just organically worked out. So if you were to rewind the clock and you had to tell me, oh Andrew, are you going to make bags with kids drawings on it? I'd be like, oh my god, you must be nuts. Like that's definitely not going to happen, I'm not going to do that.

19:49

But it was interesting how the very first product really was a men's wallet and the lady who placed the order she was like, oh, but I want my kids drawings on it.

19:58

I was like, oh my god, that sounds really cute, let's try that. And I mean she was like four or five years old when she did this, like a picture of herself and mommy and daddy. And what you then taught me later on was that this was actually a picture that she drew of her and her mom and her stepfather, so it was almost like the kids accepting him into the family. And then that's why I realized, like, what can I do that really separates me from other brands? Like, yeah, every time does like the Marquardt techniques and they use like node symbols and so forth. But if I incorporate something like that into the piece and we do it really, really, really well, then you have a great product that sells, because people aren't just buying a beautiful designer product that's made really well and smells good and will last forever, but it's so personal, without it being tacky or it's short, which is wonderful.

20:45

And difficult yeah, difficult, exactly, and I think that that's what people pay pretty good money for. Like it makes business sense because, of course, it's difficult to scale, but you have every one bag that we deliver. We usually get, like, say, two or three clients who then buy because of that person, and so the client becomes the influencer. So, from a marketing perspective, like it makes a ton of sense.

21:08

And all of the commercial stuff aside, just for a second, like as a designer, as an artist, as a young kid who had a big dream to build a business, like yes, all of these things are great, but to see someone love and use your product is one of the best things ever. And that's kind of like what I'm really building this business on is hyper personalization. Is like how do we take something that is orchard road, is like the Fifth Avenue of Singapore? Like you can get any bag at any price point in any material and there will be thousands of different options. Yeah, there's no one who's really doing something at this level of personalization, which, of course, is difficult because, as you would know, like it's very very difficult to scale.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

21:49

There's no scale.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

21:50

But maybe that's a good segue into the next part of the chat. How do we scale this Like? What can we do?

21:57

So, thanks to the pandemic and I'm saying that very respectfully, because it was a hard time for all of us as a result of the pandemic as a result of the pandemic and commerce on mobile and other forms of technology such as like shipping and 3d customization or rented reality and those things. We've plugged all of those things into our brand now. So we have two products like it's still better fades, but we have two products that's launched on the site where people can kind of build their own product, Kind of very similar to the night ID prospect, like it looks really cool. What I love is like you can view it in augmented reality, Like it's a really good use and so forth. Multiple views, you can turn it around, you can see it in AR to pick the size, like I mean, see what you're designed, what you look like. The other thing is back to our value as a business around hyper personalization, Like if I had to now produce a collection, and it kind of goes against what we've built.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

22:50

It's a better value.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

22:52

Yeah, we're still at this value of customization, personalization, at the core of the brand. Yet we've got two products that are launched. We made up those sale the other day where somebody went online and they build their own product and placed the order into a straight to the factory and I don't have to be involved with that order.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

23:08

Do you used to buy a plane ticket? Every time a bag is sold?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

23:11

If they're 12,000 plus, yeah, then I know. So I actually have clients who have flown me into personally deliver bags for them. Yeah, so that Wow, and I was like these bags don't fly economy.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

23:25

Neither do I. The bag and myself will be flying plus plus plus plus.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

23:30

Exactly, we need a flat bed To quickly get back to the scaling thing. So, as a young business who's trying to do something different, like when carving out a niche for ourselves, how do we scale this? And, as a result of the pandemic, like the technology available on mobile commerce, e-commerce technology, blockchain, all of those things, it kind of gave entrepreneurs like myself the ability to build a business that supports this model, where people can customize and build their own piece. See what it looks like viewed in augmented reality. We're not sitting in a store and hoping it would sell. Everything gets made because somebody wants to do it. And so, from an overhead or a business perspective like, none of my capital is tied up in stock, none of my capital is tied up in having a store front, having staff and those things, so that makes overhead, so that makes a lot of sense. Yeah, it's still difficult to scale, but I've kind of built a name around that, which is really cool and that's what we're running with.

24:27

And I think, if we look at the industry, thousands of brands produce stock, hoping that it would sell, putting it in stores and, like I mean, and some of them are doing really, really well A business like mine, it is going to be too much of a risk to try and do that. But that doesn't mean that we're going to delete stock from our plan going forward. We will still follow this rule of customization and hyper personalization and perhaps to collaborative efforts with, say, some public figures and so forth, where we will do capsule collections at a later stage. So really kind of hurling in like I mean, what is the Adrian Furstenberg brand about? And that kind of ties down to one values which is like, yeah, we like things to be personalized, we like things to be customized, we like things to be kind of one of rare not everybody has it and also not too different that you're putting yourself out of the market.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

25:16

Well, that's interesting because you're speaking to sustainability in materials that are not perceived sustainable, right, which it's really fascinating, because that takes you to kind of what you're doing now. But the fact that you're doing one off, I don't like calling them one off pieces, we'll just call them bespoke, right.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

25:35

Be spoke.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

25:36

Be spoke, but it's a fascinating model because so many designers. There was a brand and I won't go into names, it's not hard to find that was from Australia. I mean she's doing other things who tried doing bespoke how to deal with. The factory had a shop and shop at Bloomingdale's and had I think it was like an iPad of some description that was there where you could pick this, that, this, that, this, that. But if you're selling in a certain retail environment, then the product needs to be sold at that price point accordingly and it needs to write If you're going into Macy's, you were expecting a price point. Nor would they purchase something Like I tried having a program with them and you know that was more customized and da, da, da da.

26:19

And I made it all the way to the DMM and I finally spoke with her and we had this meeting because you work your way up and you've been in retail, you've seen how the people behind the scenes it's all very rough around the edges and then the further up they go, they get offices out of cubicles and then the offices get bigger and then they get views. And we made it to this lovely woman's office and she said I think the program's amazing. I think the collaboration construct is amazing. However, our customers have absolutely no interest and our floor staff is only there to check you out. They're not there to educate, they're not there to sell you. They're there to who's going to ring me up and who's going to get me in Macy's credit card and who's going to be there to say do you want to use your Macy's card for this? So it's completely environmental and it's completely transactional and it's unapologetic and that's fine.

27:07

But as a designer going into it to say and I've spoken about this before to say things are bespoke or limited edition, nine times out of ten it's because the designer doesn't have economies of scale. The designer is new. The designer is green not in the sustainable sense, but they're new and they don't know how to make something and they over-purchase stock and they don't have the ability to replicate what they've done to bring their costs down. So I applaud you for being able to do this and to last this long. I mean it's been like six plus years that you've been able to evolve and grow into that. So after year five it's like okay, I'm in it.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

27:45

You know I'm doing this. Yeah, it's not been easy and I mean it's really really, really hard because basically, you're fighting against all of these other brands and all of these other price points. But I think that was one of the key things that I'm now super thankful for is because, after winning, I did start out and I produced stock and looking into retail and everything else, and it's still a lot of money, it's a lot of stress, the cost of doing business at retail and I always tell designers don't poo poo the boutiques, because the boutiques they pay you upfront.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

28:19

You ship UPS, you get your money immediately, but you go into retail it's like you're in the minus as soon as you start, like getting the UPC codes getting approved. You know having to read the fat book to get it in, having to have a DC, a warehouse and so forth, and then learning the difference between you know shipping from the factory, overseas shipping from landed. You know it's like the learning curve in itself. You better hope you've got someone or else assume you're going to lose at least 20 grand on the learning curve.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

28:51

It's so for sure At a minimum.

28:54

I mean, I listened to Rebecca Minkoff's book recently and she speak of these things and I think there's a distinct difference in location where one is based. Like I mean 100%, a business model like this will be tricky in the United States. Yeah, because there is like there's people buy, like I mean they want to know and do everything else, and especially because retail or retail shopping in department stores is that's a big thing. Yeah, it is kind of difficult to carve out a niche in a place like Singapore and other countries. Like it takes a long time to build a brand around that, because there is this immediate thing like, oh, but they're small, like they can't produce stock and put it into a store.

29:32

And I had to kind of sit with that concept like what is my value as? Oh, no, what is my goal as an entrepreneur? Is I might be driven by just want to make money, or am I being driven by just ego when, oh, because it sounds great, like oh, I mean bird of soaring makes things or so forth, but you've got to be actually, but then what? You got to be very strong, like I mean financially strong to to be able to get you, like into that space. So what I've done was like I really analyzed my customer.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

29:58

I was like and that that is what I always talk to like, yeah, what does she eat for breakfast? What card does she drive?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

30:06

What does she drive, yeah?

Emily Blumenthal

Host

30:07

yeah, you have to know those things.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

30:09

And that is what kept me on this road and I built I mean of course I can grow much more successfully in in in Donna value as an entrepreneur. But I mean if I look at it factually, like what is my cost of operation versus my margins and what I sell for and what I do and what I really enjoy as a business owner, because I don't worry, have to ship about shit like I'm sorry my language about like inventory and all of the administration that goes into into into running retail business, like I get a lot of joy from the products that I sell, which is the artistic element. The product margin made sense because you are in the luxury space, like you are people like, when, if we think you as dollar, like it's, it starts at about $1,800. And I mean I recently sold the bag for $12,000, like, which is like quite a good margin on it.

30:54

And the other bit is the way you get to know your client. That is gold Because, firstly, you don't just have a client who purchases from you, she speaks about who you are, she tells people, she knows that, she trusts you and this was a really great gift, like most of my clients and I think I can't know the exact numbers now, but we're looking at about, say, maybe between 55 and 60% are all returning clients like you can keep on, so you have the loyalty element as well.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

31:21

So so I had to like make do with my ego, that's your 20%, that's your 20%, because 80% of your business comes from your 20% of your customers. Still, that's a pretty amazing percentage rate.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

31:32

We return? No, no, absolutely. And I think one of the main things, like I had to sit with myself and have a conversation with my ego, quote unquote like, do you want to be world famous and big and massive, because that's one direction or do you want something beautiful and manageable and a really cool business? And I chose the latter because what do I enjoy? Like, I enjoy traveling a lot, I enjoy taking good care of my health that includes my physical and mental health. Like I have time to do the things that I love, which means to live in Singapore, to have great friends and everything else.

32:03

And my business is manageable. And the money that I get from it, yes, it's volatile because you're basically quote unquote selling code to a type of pieces, but financially, looking back at what the brand has achieved, like I mean, oh, we are much more steady now than we were, say, maybe three years ago or four years ago. So there's always like in place for growth. But I was like, oh, am I comfortable with the place that I've carved out for myself? And that's the key, because I'm taking that core element of what I've built this business on and I'm extrapolating some other ideas onto that and it seems to be working.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

32:39

No, but the thing is that I really want to point out that you cannot become a single brand, solopreneur, entrepreneur, blah, blah, blah and hit that luxury mark overnight. And I think that's a very important point to emphasize to designers who listen, that so many of them assume when they start that people would be willing to spend 800 plus for unknown designers, and that is not true, and I think that's important just to point out, because you've been in business since 2017. Granted, you weren't at this point when you started. Nobody is, but the evolution of your brand has taken you to this place, right.

33:24

And so many designers assume that limited edition, like no one gives a crap, you're too new, you don't have a customer base. You have to build that, and that does not happen overnight. Right, like you know, like to have an Adrian Verstenberg bag aligned with the Louis and so forth. Like you have to be very, very clear of what your USP, your unique selling point, is in order to get to that point. Right, like this may have been accidental to get you where you are, but to sustain that cannot be Right, and that's a very key point I want to emphasize, because what you're doing is scale, but not scale Like you streamline the online process of purchase. However, what you're putting into it for a small business is justified because you can afford to. You've just spoken about your quality of life. You're able to manage this. So perhaps when you continue to grow, maybe you'll have other people doing it. Maybe the drawings you know.

34:21

But today this makes sense, and I think that's just a very important point to point out, because so many people when they start, because they don't know how to buy materials, or they've overbought, or they spent too much, or they've purchased materials that are from Italy, not knowing any better, with no brand, no design. No, you know, I think it's. I think it's a cautionary tale of every designer. I want an Italian bag and I want this and especially to female designers or people who identify as female in that regard that they assume that they're creating a bag that they think is missing for their day to day life. However, number one I've seen more designers not carry their own bags, which is a mistake because that writes off marketing expenses. You wear your bag out. That's a marketing expense. Number one, all the time. And number two the retail beyond D to C, the retail who will purchase said bag are not department stores, and if you yourself are not shopping at the boutiques, then you're not even your own customer and therefore, like you, miss the mark 100%.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

35:22

You know what you hit. You hit the nail on the head because if we take this, I'm sure the listeners are like really much like young designers, people who want to make this. Like me, people have either been part of handbag designer awards or want to be part of it, and I think there are some key elements to take into consideration, like what does it mean to be a handbag designer? Like, because, even to this day, many people like, oh, that's interesting, that's not the typical career choice. So, firstly, put yourself you're not in a typical career choice. Number one, like it is tough, it is different, it's got all of these things.

35:54

If I rewind the clock and I think back about what got me into this. So, for example, when I applied to handbag designer was like I applied twice before I got in and that was like the last I would like. If I don't get in, I'm not going to make it. But I had to look for something that's going to make someone else believe in me as much as I believe in myself. And that is hard. That is really hard because there are brilliant designers out there with a lot of money who can have all of the connections and it can do really well, and they are struggling as well. So I think that the important thing is like Okay, what is what really drives me? Is it just profit? Then I would suggest, do something else, because it is really really hard, because you need something like that kind of takes you through those really difficult times. And this is I'm not saying this to anyone, I'm saying this to younger Adrian You're not that special.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

36:45

Oh my God, I've had to tell people that and it's so awful. Like you know, I call it basement to Beyonce. You know where you get a little bit of attention. You are a quote, unquote, overnight success and then, boom, you forget that. You know what. The sun is still going to go up, the sun's going to go down and you are replaceable. You are so replaceable, like for sure. I mean, you know.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

37:07

I think it is about. I mean, of course, I mean I'm being really honest here. There were times that I was like thinking did I make the right decision to choose this career? Like it's, it was really hard, and especially moving countries and setting up shopping and new place and everything else. That was unbelievably hard.

37:22

But one of the things that I still hang on to today is, as silly as this may sound is who am I doing this for? If I'm just doing it for myself, then just do it for yourself, then keep it as art, right, like that's the one thing. And one of the things like I love wearing my own stuff because I think they're really beautiful and well made and all of these things. But when I do a personal unboxing or have someone that I deliver a bag to personally, they bought that because they really wanted it. I managed to have hundreds, maybe even thousands of conversations with women and ask them what do you want? And that's how we developed the design terror technique, which is like it's literally like a terror reading and we have certain key points to get to like a beautiful bag for them. It's not an it bag. I am next to Chanel, hermes, louis Vuitton, prada, everything else, and there's the rest of, like you mean, kate Spade and Tori Berger and everything else, like in that one it's also fighting against. But it comes down to like I had, like I said, hundreds, maybe even thousands of conversations with my perspective or current clients on what is it that you want? And then I'm married with I'm not going to give you everything that you want. Like I mean, I'm still the designer. Like I mean, this is what I think. So having a little bit of attitude and a little bit of flair because if you're a designer, like I mean, you got to that point where you believe in yourself enough to say, oh, maybe I can build a business. So having these two things marry one another, like I mean and I use the word marry because that's exactly what it is Like I mean, does it make sense for your client and does it make sense for you. And I think finding that is really, really hard because it's not overnight, it just takes time. And I think and I've heard you, like when you and I have had a number of conversations and I've listened to you speak and I've seen something on social media, and it is the guidance that you provide is very simple Know your customer, really really know your customer. And I think the thing about being a handbag designer is like this is one of the things that helped me on part of the Singapore Fashion Council and we mentioned some of the young designers and so forth.

39:24

And the other question that I would add to that is like what is the end game? Do you want to really big business or do you want something to take and small or something in the middle? Like I mean answering and not answering that immediately, like when you say I want to have a really big business, what is involved in that? Because then you need to know taxes, distribution, legal shipping, environmental impact, it's admin, admin, admin, admin, admin. It creates, it's accesses, all of these things. Are you up for that?

39:53

If you wanna be just a designer, like if you feel like, oh my God, all I wanna do is create, I don't worry about selling, I don't worry about this then I would say you know what? Apply for a really cool job. Like I mean, there are great opportunities for people who can do beautiful design. If you wanna be an entrepreneur and if you wanna make millions and millions and millions of dollars quickly, do something else, because this is not a get rich quick scheme, like it is very much a Long game. It's an art, it's a long game, it's an art and a science. Like I said earlier, I've been out about five, six years in Now. Only I'm like, oh, there's momentum and there are still some very bad months. Like I mean, they're still like. Oh, that's the nature of entrepreneurship Is like I stuck onto believing in myself as an artist, as a designer. I coupled it up with what my client wants, which is absolutely crucial, and I kind of like zoomed out of the whole picture and I was like what is the end game?

Emily Blumenthal

Host

40:49

Yeah.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

40:50

Cause I think, like once you have those three things, I mean it's not there's no such thing as a recipe for success, but it is essentially like I mean knowing yourself, knowing your client and knowing the industry Like those are the main things.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

41:00

I agree. So, just to wrap up, talk to us about the material you've created. You know we don't have that much more time, but I would feel guilty being able to give you an opportunity to talk about it.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

41:15

No, no, no, Thank you. That's very, very exciting. So, of course, as a designer like mean, sustainability, environmental impact, human impact, like all of these things are always at the forefront of many, many discussions. So I work with leather, mainly bovine. Like me, we use Epsom from France, but I follow a vegetarian diet, so I always, ironically, yeah, yeah, like I'm sorry, I work with leather, but I don't even eat. In New York, 2017, I had a conversation with Modern Media around like lab grown leather and everything else, and it was like modern metal does the mushrooms, I believe.

41:46

Modern no, that's my micro works. Yeah, Modern metal does by polymers. Like they started in lab grown leather. It was still very early days yeah, last year May, hearing that Ernst Gritchie in particular the big holding company, invested a large chunk of theories around intercompany called Vitruel Labs in Silicon Valley to do lab grown leather. So that's when I realized here must be something. So in Singapore there's a tannery that's owned by LVMH that does crock skin In the luxury leather goods industry crocodile and ostrich and these leathers are from animals that are bred and culled, usually only for the leather.

42:23

It's not like regular bovine skin that is by a product of meat and in massive supply. So there's a lot of pushback from organizations like Slay and Petra. So a client of mine who has spent a lot of money with me already, her husband, invested in a lab grown meat business in Singapore and I asked for a meeting and this fellow who's in the lab grown meat space, like I mean, who wants to meet this South African handbag designer, which is just so strange. We had a coffee and I was like what is the possibility of growing exotic leather in a lab and culled? Long story. No, it's short story, long, short story, medium bred back to his team and they have IP in growing skin and then they offered me a joint venture with them. Would you like to partner with us to create this product, because I've got experience in leather and luxury and we have the tanning like right earhands in Singapore and Singapore is one of the leaders in the whole world when it comes to the biotech or lab grown space, because it doesn't grow any of its own material. So lab grown meat is the very first approved lab grown chicken was having it in Singapore, wow, so we have all of the ingredients. With that, we won the Vogue Innovation Award.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

43:35

That's amazing. Vogue Singapore.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

43:38

Vogue Singapore. Yeah so, which opened us up to a lot of publicity and really cool connections. Former CEO Cartier is on our board. So the goal basically is, like the Asian first and birth brand exists on its own, but myself, as an entrepreneur, is venturing into another startup called Project X for exotic leather, so Non-X, like what Twitter is?

Emily Blumenthal

Host

44:00

Oh god, no, I know. I just want to clarify that that it's Project X.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

44:05

Project EX for exotic.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

44:08

OK.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

44:08

So we're kind of in a bit of a race, but we want to grow the world's first exotic leather in laboratory. So we're off to Geneva in about three weeks time. We have conversations with some of the luxury brands over there. We're part of the luxury innovation summit, so, yeah, so the goal is how do we yield a real leather product, Genuine leather that has a great quality, that has a lesser impact on the environment because we're not using formaldehyde and chloroform to remove the muscle and fat from the skin. It's a genuine leather product, less environmental impact and is quote unquote cruelty free.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

44:44

And also luxury.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

44:45

And also luxury, and that's exactly what we're doing.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

44:48

So it's very exciting, that is so exciting.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

44:51

Yeah, and that's big business. But like so, as an entrepreneur, following my dream and my passion, like building this handbag brand, that is like really loving and amazing and gives me a lot of joy, pays. My salary, has given me the opportunity to keep a wide scope on what is out there and I believe, from a financial perspective, like this is going to be a big thing. Like I'm still at early stage, but I think this is a big thing. We've had some really cool conversations with brands like Dior and Lulee, time and Ginchin, which are hot in Efsondor, so yeah, Right space or right place, right time.

45:26

Look at you Right place right time, yeah exactly.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

45:29

It's about time when you encapsulate it Like Jesus, like about time, come on after everything's put in.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

45:35

Exactly so, yeah, so it's interesting, so it's full circle. So I'm kind of going back to the farm Materials. Yeah, exactly, back to materials. Yeah, that's the thing.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

45:45

Is your dad still around to see all this?

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

45:47

No, unfortunately, he unfortunately passed away in COVID, but we still in contact, like I mean he's still here in spirit, but yeah, like I mean he guides me in those ways, so that's good.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

45:57

Well, adrienne, thank you so, so very much for your time. This has been enlightening beyond. I can only wish you good things, because only good things should come your way. Tell everybody how they can follow you and find you, because they absolutely should.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

46:12

OK, cool, and I've put. Firstly, I just want to. Before I get to that, I just want to thank you, because, thanks to you and the Handbag Design Awards, I am who I am today, and I remember when I won, you were one of the first people that I sent a message to, because what you have done for me that people like me is unbeleivable.

46:27

So I just want to give like a huge shout out to you as an individual. You make the most country you really do and thank you. For those who want to like, I would say the best is just get me on Instagram, very easy. Adrienne Firstenberg, b-u-r-g.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

46:41

I was going to say got to separate that.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

46:44

First got to separate that. Yes, that's the same. So you're Adrienne Firstenberg on Instagram and then, of course, all of the other links to the website and TikTok and so forth, and on there as well.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

46:52

Oh, my god, and everything else.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

46:54

And everything else, and everything else.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

46:56

Yes, all right, Adrian, thank you. Thank you so much, and thank you for being part of the Handbag Designer 101 podcast. I can't wait to see what you're going to do next.

Adrian Furstenburg

Guest

47:04

Oh, my god, so exciting. Thank you, so good to see you there.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

47:08

Thanks for listening. Don't forget to rate and review, and follow us on every single platform at Handbag Designer. Thanks so much. See you next time.

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