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Elyce Arons of Frances Valentine on Handbag Designer 101 Podcast every Tuesday



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. Please, Elyce Arons, welcome to Handbag Designer 101 on the podcast. As I said before fangirling out beyond, I am a huge Francis Valentine fan. I love a print. Don't know if you knew that, but obviously you know the legacy of what you've done for handbags is unwavering. But if you're cool with starting from the beginning, beginning that would be great. If you're cool with that, absolutely. So you are originally from Kansas. Yes, what's your story with that? You're not there anymore. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

01:00

A very unlikely beginning. So I am the youngest of four daughters who grew up on a farm in Kansas and my mother was an artist from the East Coast and created fashion ads for the local newspapers, among other things. And do you remember her doing that? Oh, yes, absolutely. And she would create ads all the time and she took a subscription to Women's Wear Daily and somehow I think I just picked all that up and I loved fashion from an early age. My sisters and I would go vintage shopping Back then. It was great because there were so many good things that you could buy handbags and pick them up for a dollar. So I graduated high school, went on to college at the University of Kansas and it was there that I met my best friend for life, katie Brosnahan, and we had always planned on having a business together. We were both majoring in journalism, mostly because of a love of the Mary Tyler Moore show growing up. So once we graduated I moved to New York. Can I ask you a? 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

01:58

question before all that. Yes, so I teach. I teach at FIT and the one thing I do is that the beginning of the semester part of my list is asking students what number child they are. So you know I have three kids. The difference or the level of not interest but effort with kid number three is like kibble on the floor compared to kid number one. You know like you'll be fine versus like we're going to do this. Do you find like is your oldest sister a doctor or lawyer? Like very responsible person coloring the lines. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

02:32

My oldest sister is a teacher and now I'm a lawyer teacher. Yes, yes, middle sister was a ballet dancer, moved to New York, which is how I even came up to visit and moved up here, fell in love with New York City and I just thought, wow, everyone is so well dressed and good looking and I want to live there. And it just. You know, when I came to visit at 14, it was the top of the world, you were in high school, the first time you went to New York. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

02:55

Yes, yes, it's quite the defining moment, isn't it? It is when you see things that you know. You go to New York, you put on your coolest clothes and then you go there and you're like I am so uncool comparatively to the random person on the street. You know, like it's a game changer, like here, you have women's wear daily and then you see it in real life. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

03:13

It's like oh damn look at that, exactly, exactly. And I, just I, fell in love with New York and knew I wanted to, you know, move as soon as I graduated from college, which I did. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

03:22

Luckily. But, drew, did you apply to any schools in New York, or it was understood you were staying in Kansas? 

Elyce Arons

Guest

03:27

No, no, I had only applied to a couple of schools it was so different back then and I applied to University of Kansas. It was a beautiful campus and very close to home and really easy. It was, you know, three hour drive from home. So oh. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

03:39

So you drove to college and said I am here, you go, and that's it. And drove to your door and by yourself, and that was it? 

Elyce Arons

Guest

03:45

Exactly, exactly. And Katie, once we graduated, we had planned on going to Europe together. And I said, katie, I've got $2,500 saved and I can either move to New York with that money or go to Europe with you. And so she went to Europe, I moved to New York, and when you live with your sister, I did for a couple of months and then I got my own apartment and Katie came back from Europe, you know, hysterical, at the JFK airport, saying she had $5 left and she didn't get to get home. And I said, just, I waited for all this stupid. I was like, get an attack. They come here and move in with me. I'll take the cap. Right, right, exactly. She moved in with me. And then, you know the rest, we both got jobs in fashion and I in marketing for various fashion companies. Katie got a job at Madam Mazzell as an assistant, and you know we kill so hard jobs to get, though Like I know you've told the stories so many times. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

04:38

But like to get into the nitty gritty, like getting a job in fashion is not easy. It is like everything you've done has not been easy and you know, I know it's been many, many years since. But like you show up from Kansas in New York, hire me in a fashion magazine Like that does not just happen. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

04:57

Like a friend of my cousins who worked at L magazine, which is I was just dying. I would have loved to work there. She had said to me you know, try to go to this one temporary agency called Career Blazers, because Condon asked, uses them for everybody. So that's what I did and I got sent everywhere great opportunities, by the way now at MasterCard, visa, in their marketing department, at just a lot of different cool companies, but not to a fashion magazine, of course. Katie, the day she gets back Got a job like that Mademoiselle on her first day and gets the job and got the job. You know what we both wanted to work. So I was happy for her that she got that job and on top of that, my first job, I was making more money than she was and it was helpful to both of us. She got the person connection and eventually I started working at different fashion companies in marketing, just because I'd had other marketing jobs before. 

05:51

Yes, it takes time to get there. I don't know if temp agencies still are viable. You got me but I know they still exist. But I don't know if that's the entree in or it's difficult. You kind of have to know people. We at Francis Valentine do a lot of college tours. So if a fashion group is coming to New York, we'll host anywhere from 10 to 40 students up here and everybody in the whole company stands up in front of that group and tells them where they went to college and what they do. What they do then and what they do at our company, that's spectacular, and I never had that opportunity. I never knew about all of the different jobs that were available in the fashion business. There are a lot of them and there are different skills for each and just a natural inclination to be able to be good at something. So we really try and mentor as many people as we can every single year with the groups that come to visit us. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

06:45

So I feel like you know, I listen to other podcasts and I hear the host like, ah, you know, they're like jumping out of their skin. So in my book I quote and the wild thing about the Kate's fake brand is and this is much like what happened with Rebecca Minkoff, because there are very few designers that had a ripple effect amongst the sample making industry in New York when I started my handbag line clearly not as prolific the one hook was that every manufacturer and every sample maker said we were Kate Spades, we did this for Kate Spades. Every single one said that I joke you not. Yeah, we did this sample and I was like, oh yeah, which silhouette. What color Was it? The one, because the one without the zipper. That one was the first one. So which one was it? Let's talk. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

07:34

Well, strangely enough, when we started in New York, we had one manufacturer here right in New York and we moved into the same building where he was on West 29th Street. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

07:44

I knew who that was. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

07:47

He's retired now effectively, but what a lovely man. So he couldn't handle all of our work, so we had to find other ones and in the end we had about five different manufacturers in New York, both in Manhattan and the Bronx and Brooklyn, and I just remember taking the subway out to go check on production and pick up bags. Lucky you, it was a different time. New York was grittier and a little scarier. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

08:11

Yep, I'm Garmento Osprey, so my father was a converter. So I grew up we drive to Port Authority and then walk all the way to the garden center and my mom would get my dad coffee and then he would walk ahead because he was a fast walker and we'd see the drums of fabric and understanding what gray goods were. That gray spelled G-R-I-E-G-E. You know the whole thing. And then, yeah, and it's funny, I'd never heard so much profanity until I'd walked into their office and I was like, oh, he curses, he curses a lot. I did not know that, so it would be real. 

08:43

But the one thing I learned was because and this is one of the things, because I practice what I preach so many designers and I think the reason why so many people go into handbags is that there are the least barriers to entry in terms of any classification within fashion, right, apparel, it's very different Because at the end of the day, it is a bag and you can teach yourself, or learn at least the rudimentary basics and doing your bags out of construction paper, which was in the papers in all her stories. So that's what I did and I have that in my book and saying if you don't know how get the nicest construction paper. Get some oak tank and bag, do it the basics, because that's what was done with Kate Speed Were you part of that whole narrative of on your hands? And he is cutting up construction paper Because this is the meat that I don't think anybody knows. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

09:32

Yes, yes. So we all kind of did everything together. When we first decided to start a business and I have to give credit where credit is due it was Andy Spade's idea, katie's husband. They weren't married at the time, right, and Katie and I had always wanted to have a business together. When we were in college, we just didn't have any idea what it could be Right. And so, after many years of working in New York probably about eight we were both working, we were close to 30 at this point, Right, right, andy and Katie approached me and said we know what business you guys are going to have, and it's handbags. And it's because Katie, as an accessories editor, had realized there was a real void in the market and there were no chic, simple, american designed bags. And I knew it was going to be a hit right off the bat. So I quit my job, started immediately, immediately. What was your job? We? I quit my job. 

10:20

It was this was 1993, 1993. Yep, and was that terrifying? Were you like? Oh, screw it. You know, I was young, I had no other responsibilities, no children, no pet. No, I had no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, except my student loan payments Right and by that time I had amassed some money in a 401k and I thought that's how I'll pay my rent and eat for the next year. You used your 401k. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

10:47

I did, I did. What did your parents say about that? Or you did not tell them that part I didn't even ask. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

10:53

You know, I was the last of four, so I think they were like what? I'm worried about me, then I think my other sisters. But you know, of course parents are always nervous. I'm sure they just didn't tell me at the time. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

11:04

Wow, so she kept her day job, correct? No, she had left her job. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

11:11

So he was the only one who was still working. Andy was working. Yes, Andy was still working. And how did Pamela Bell fall into all this? So what's funny is we met Pamela in the summer the summer before and we showed her some of the bags. She loved them and she said OK, Pamela had owned her own hair accessories business and sold it a couple of years before and made a fortune in that age money to me, but she knew all about production and she knew how to get things done. So, and that was what did you think about her? 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

11:42

Did you and Katie? Were you and Katie like at coffee? Like what do you think? Because, like that's a lot of people and honestly you know people don't realize when you take on a partnership, you spend more time with them than you will with your family, your real partners, anybody. So to take some rando in, like, ok, so she went all right, what do you think? Like the two of you or the three of you do have a sit down like, should we let her in? Should we get? What was the thought? Because to take that new person in is a big deal. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

12:09

I think we all felt that we needed the skill sets of all of us, and Andy had to keep his job, so he was in charge of all the branding and marketing. I mean, we couldn't afford to pay for it then, but the whole tone of the brand. Andy worked on it. Andy didn't have to be there in order to do that. So it was the three of us and Pamela had all this production experience and really knew how to get things done, knew how to buy materials and all of those things. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

12:35

Were the two of you like oh OK, sure. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

12:38

Absolutely. We were excited about the idea and Pamela missing length, yeah, it was great because I could do all the sales and marketing, Pamela could do all the production and Katie worked on the design. So I mean we all, honest to God, for the first three years we all did everything. We were all steaming and packing boxes together, Right. But in the end we all kind of moved into our own areas and oversaw those areas. But Pamela and I, the first year and a half, got in a lot of beefs together. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

13:09

That sea. And then there's always Katie, like the middle man, like OK, I see where she's coming from For sure, no-transcript. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

13:16

We both see what needed to get done, but we disagree on how to get it done. And you know, in the end she's a fantastic businesswoman and I loved working with her. We're still very, very good friends today, but you need to have those early squabbles and discussions because you all have the same page in the end. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

13:35

So so now and then, I know the story of that fateful trade show. I think it may have been Accessory Circuit, where the label went from inside to outside, you know, at the back of the store. So the Accessory Circuit used to be, and they've since folded it three different times. It's now once again part of Coterie To get into Accessory Circuit. Back in the day was so like are we gonna make it? Are we gonna make it? Are we gonna make it? You met that okay. I mean, when I first got in I had eight samples. I didn't, I wasn't even ready, but I was like, screw this, I got in, I'm gonna do it, I don't give a crap. Was that like, okay, we finally have the samples, they're finally what we think they're gonna be? How did you come to the conclusion? And were the labels even, like you know, camera ready per se? 

Elyce Arons

Guest

14:23

It was the night before the show and the whole idea was to use men's shirting labels for inside of the bag, which is how the original label looked, and it was the same material as a men's shirting label with the tacking on the four corners. And the night before we're steaming all the bags and getting ready to go, we were up at Katie's apartment and she just said it needs something else, because our bags were very simple, we had no hard go, it was just that wasn't our thing and it wasn't leather. She said it needs somewhere for the eye to go. Well, it wasn't leather, because we couldn't afford leather at the time, honestly. But what? 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

14:56

were they Just at? 

Elyce Arons

Guest

14:58

what were they? They were oh, we never nylon bags, the you know the ones that you're talking about, where we really because there was no grain to you know no pattern what he was looking at she said it needs somewhere for the eye to go and she pulled one of the labels and she put it on the outside, you know, half an inch underneath the seam, and we started sewing and we had to sew all the labels on that night and I swear our fingers were bleeding, but it was just. You know, it was one of those. Did you hand sew or use a machine? Oh, yes, we hand sewed. We didn't have a machine at her apartment. All of the samples have been done, you know, by a manufacturer, by a sample maker. So yes, we did it by hand. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

15:37

Were you guys critical of each other Like that sloppy stitching, because I know how I'd be, and not that my attention to detail isn't as good as other people being like do it again. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

15:46

Yes, and some of them we had to glue on just because we couldn't get through the. We couldn't get the material and the lining, and you know some. We had backing in between to give the bag shape. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

15:57

So we couldn't Do you think that was your unique selling point, that was your USP Like? 

Elyce Arons

Guest

16:02

I do, I do. I think it was a stroke of brilliance that really turned these handbags into a brand. And we got to the show, we were in the worst place, pointed the back, by the bathroom, by the hot dog stand yeah, next to the hot dog stand and in the back of the Javits Center. I know exactly what you're talking about and Katie was so upset. I just remember trying to talk her Hot ledge. 

16:24

Yes, she just kept saying we're going to do any business here, so we're doing the show, and several stores walk by and it, you know, give us, you know, break marks, et cetera, took a line sheet. And then Katie said I'm going to walk around, I have a lot of friends. She knew a lot of people there because she'd been an editor and she'd always attended those shows. So she walked away and went to meet with a couple of people she knew and just then Barney's walks up and they're I'm looking at them like who are these well dressed people? Wow? And they loved the bags and they took notes and they, you know, I said hello, got their card, the whole thing, and saying they walked away. Katie walked back up and I said Barney's just walked up and she's like no way, of course, the one time I leave. During this whole show Did she go chase them down? No, they were gone by then and they could be elusive at those shows, as you know. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

17:10

That's when the bags was had colors that you know that buyers were one color, press were other, Right, so like yay, yay, yay, yay, they moved through those shows really fast. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

17:18

Yeah, I remember that. And then so cut to. A few hours later she sees a friend down at the end of the show and she said I'm just going to go say hi, I'll be right back. Shara Vare walks up and, for listeners who don't know, shara Vare was the coolest small group of specialty stores in New York. They had three or five stores at that time and they were just so chic. And Shara Vare walks up and said oh, absolutely, we can put these in all stores. We love them, got their card, they took a line sheet. 

17:48

Katie walked back up after they left and she's like I guess I'm the lucky I just have to leave, just leave, right. So you know, we left the show. We finished with the show and I look over to her in the cab. I'm all smiling and I see this worried look on her face and I said what's wrong? And she said I don't even know if we got enough orders to pay for the show. And I said but this is how you start Like, this is the beginning. And of course everything worked out great. Orders started to flood in and we moved offices and got a new space and things really started to happen after that. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

18:25

OK, so there's four of you at this point. Right, there's Katie, andy, pamela and you. Out of curiosity, how were you able to and this is so trite of a question handling your name not being part of it, because that is a difficult pill to swallow, or were you like I don't share? 

Elyce Arons

Guest

18:45

Well, you know, katie had always said it's the four of us. Kate Spade is the four of us Because she wasn't Kate Spade and Andy was Kate Spade. It was his last name and it just it was so catchy. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

18:59

It is catchy, I mean obviously catchy and, honestly, you know it was there, did you bounce? 

Elyce Arons

Guest

19:04

other names. No, there was an original name called Alex Noel and that was Katie and our other friend, also named Pamela. When I was out of town and I said, you'll have to find another partner, I can't do this yet. And I moved back six months later and then did it with them, but the name started as Alex Noel and then we changed it to Kate Spade. But it was really Andy's brainchild and using their names did not bother me at all because it sounded so good. And Katie said I will never be Kate Spade. It's the four of us I think cut to. You know we win the CFDA award and she wins it for Best New Accessories Designer. 

19:45

She became Kate Spade and we liked it or not. I mean, she was the most shy person in the world, the funniest but most shy and private person. So for her that was something I don't know if she was prepared for or not, but she handled it really beautifully and learned how to speak in front of people and get better as she moved on. I don't know if she ever got more comfortable with it, but she got much better at it and she was so good at the social part of it, so friendly, and she becomes everyone's best friend, and you really feel that about her. You really do. She was really short too. She was tiny, wasn't she? Yeah, I used to call her bird because she was really. But she was tiny, but mighty. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

20:31

Yeah, big presence. You see her and then you're like, oh my God. I remember I saw her at an event and I was waiting to talk to her and then I was trying to be polite and then she left and I was like, oh damn, there goes my window. Same thing. And the two of them I remember they're both really short and I said that's wild because you just assumed the aura of who she is. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

20:50

And her presence. You know what's funny? I never have thought of them as short and they've been my two best friends, for you know, my God, my God, because we're 18 years old, because of their personalities, yeah, exactly. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

21:03

So the four of you, which is so interesting that organically, each person took its own role within recognizing you know what are the four P's of the company and it was like each one of you captured a P, right, Right. How were you able to matrix and all this stuff? People didn't do that back then. There wasn't any matrix to analyze, at least at the way that they have now. How are you able to recognize and take into consideration that needs and the wants of what your customer was and evolved the product Like? How were the four of you like OK, she needs a slip pocket, she needs a zipper. How are you guys able to like, grow the brand? Because at first it all starts with one cool, really cool bag and then what? 

Elyce Arons

Guest

21:51

Well, I think it's because we were consumers ourselves of exactly those products and we knew what we wanted. And when you carry those things every single day, you know what's missing. A zipper pocket inside is missing. Or, if you want to make the first baby bag, pamela was having children before the rest of us. She knew exactly what should have been in a baby bag. So I think us being the ultimate consumers of those products made all the difference in the world, and it's such. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

22:18

A downside to so many brands is that they don't. I always say you have to take your bag for a test drive, not just once, not just twice, but you need to keep wearing it Right, and we do that at Francis Valentine. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

22:28

He wear tests every single thing and try and get everything corrected before we go to production with it. Just because it's important, you got to do it. Your name's on it, yeah, exactly Forever, oh that. So I also think Andy had the vantage point of not being there every day and being able to see things from the outside, so we were lucky enough to have all perspectives that really mattered, if you ever wanted to start a handbag brand and you didn't know where to start, this is for you. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

22:58

If you had dreams of becoming a handbag designer but aren't trained in design, this is for you. If you have a handbag brand and need strategy and direction, this is for you. I'm Emily Blumenthal, handbag designer expert and handbag fairy godmother, and this is the Handbag Designer 101 Masterclass. Over the next 10 classes, I will break down everything you need to know to make, manufacture and market a handbag brand, broken down to ensure that you will not only skip steps in the handbag building process, but also to save money to avoid the learning curve of costly mistakes. For the past 20 years, I've been teaching at the top fashion universities in New York City, wrote the Handbag Designer Bible, founded the Handbag Awards and created the only Handbag Designer podcast. I'm going to show you like I have countless brands to create in this in-depth course, from sketch to sample to sale. 

23:51

Whether you're just starting out and don't even know where to start or begin, or if you had a brand and need some strategic direction, the Handbag Designer 101 Masterclass is just for you. So let's get started and you'll be the creator of the next it bag. Join me, emily Blumenthal in the Handbag Designer 101 Masterclass. So be sure to sign up at emilyblumenthalcom slash masterclass and type in the code on cast to get 10% off your masterclass today. Was it weird to handle fast growth? Like, how did you because that's again the biggest, best blessing curse all packaged into one? Like what do we do? What do? 

Elyce Arons

Guest

24:37

we do now. Right, I guess you could say it's weird. We were just running constantly. The business was our lives 24, seven. We were there till 1030 at night and I was back there at 730 in the morning and it was our first child and all we did was that and I loved it. It was great. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

24:57

You know it's kind of a dream come true. And then you were only bags. And then what made you guys realize all right, this is a lifestyle brand, this isn't just a handbag brand. What was that turning point moment? 

Elyce Arons

Guest

25:10

Yeah, you know, I think part of it was just sort of how we live and stationary was one of those things that was. Stationary was the first thing that came out Right. Right, we all write personal notes and we had a lot of companies saying this would be a natural progression for you to go into stationary. And we were friendly with the folks who we eventually signed with and each used to write a lot of personal notes. It seemed like a really natural, easy thing to do. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

25:38

So stationary and then choose because you're first license. The stationary was the first license. Yes, yes, was that a big deal? That's a big deal to hand over your name to somebody. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

25:48

Yes, well, you have total control over all the creative and the paper stock, like every single little detail you have to approve before it gets produced and every account that's opened, everything. So it's a lot more work, but you know, in the end licensing is such a great thing because if you find the right partners who want to uphold, you know, the same aesthetic and quality, it can be a huge business for you, which is great. And we had really great partners with Shorts and Benjamin for shoes all those years. And then we moved into a lot of other categories fragrance and beauty, tabletop bedding. There were a lot of licensed products, which was really fun. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

26:31

But you know, by this point it's the four of you plus Plus. You have now new people, you have to hire, you have to fire. You've got new overhead, you've got, you know, offices that now need to look the part and the expenses are growing and growing. And was it hard for the four of you to start relinquishing control? Because that's a downside of a lot of brands when they grow so quickly, is that? You know, the plus is that they want their hand in everything, but the minus is that they need their hand in everything. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

26:59

So right, like that's a gentle balance, I don't know if we ever did relinquish control, because you know we're overseeing our various areas and as we hired more people, you know all the folks that had started with us would move up with us, and they would have, because they knew exactly what to do. 

27:15

Right, they could oversee certain areas without you know anyone watching over them or telling them what to do. So it grew very organically and naturally. I would interview all everyone who came through the company, because one of our philosophies was we wanted to hire they had to be talented, of course, but really polite, gracious people, and it's a philosophy that we've even carried forward at Francis Valentine. And it's because you go into work every day, work there at least eight hours a day, all day, all week, and you want to be with nice people, and do you ever? Yes, and it really matters, and so that was one of our mantras. So it's why I personally interviewed everybody who was hired at the company. You know, once we started opening retail stores, that became more difficult, and Zoom was Terrifying. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

28:07

Like was that scary? Like okay, we have our first store. I remember the store, I remember the store opening. Was it the four of you you know the night before? Oh gosh, no. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

28:17

We were so excited, we loved it. It was amazing. It was the first time we could showcase our products the way we wanted it done, because back in the day it was really just wholesale Right, and it was either wholesale or open your own retail store. So we were really excited to open. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

28:33

So the brand's growing. It's still the four of you, you know. You get to a point. What was the moment where you guys said, all right, we're hitting a wall. I think we've done everything we could do, you know, because it was sold once, or percentage of the company was sold once, that I remember thinking like why would they want to do that if it's something that is so ours, Like it's us? Why did that all come to pass? 

Elyce Arons

Guest

28:59

So that was in 1999. We had a lot of bankers and strategic fashion companies really interested in buying the company, like they would just come out of the woodwork and approach us. And the more we started talking about it, we thought wouldn't it be great to partner with somebody who's done this before to really help us grow and we can take our names off of the leases? We can, you know, really be able to focus on the business instead of financing. And you know a little better, right, right, exactly. 

29:34

So Neiman Marcus came up in that discussion and they were interested in putting together a small group of companies that they would invest in and grow, you know, within the Neiman Marcus group. So that was really interesting to us because they were really one of the best department stores in the world and they were a good partner to us on the wholesale side. So we met with them. It was the Smith family in Boston. We really liked them and thought this is the right partner for us and they at that point they bought 56% of the business. Was that scary? It was funny. Harvard even did a case study on Kate's Bade at that time. I have that case study. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

30:12

Actually, if you want, I can send it to you. I have a download. I've got one, thank you. You might as well copy on it. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

30:18

No, they flew us to Boston to present to all the students. It was really fun, it was fascinating, wow, really great thing to do. But in any case, you know the whole question was why would you do this Right? And I feel like we were at a time in our lives you know it was we were all starting to have kids Seven years later, more or less after you started, Right Right. 

30:39

And we felt like it was the right partner and a really good opportunity. So cut to seven years later we sold the balance of it to Neiman Marcus, so it was about 13 years that we had the business Right. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

30:52

And it's not that long. In the grand scheme of it's not, but when we were in the age it kind of felt like a long time. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

30:58

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We, you know we all still loved it, but we were all having children in our lives, sort of. There were some other things in our lives that were becoming as important as the business, are more important, and I had just had my third child the day we closed on the deal, and then Marcus and Katie had had be a few months before. So it just felt like this is great, this is time you were in the hospital and it closed. No, I wasn't. I had the baby on, I don't know. We were negotiating the deal points on Thursday, I had the baby on Friday and we closed. I was back at the office on Monday. I think that tracks, but it's crazy. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

31:35

It's your third one, it's okay, it's sort of Trust me, I get it. You were like bringing her in, like whatever, just to yeah the baby. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

31:42

Yeah, it's your third one, so it's just different than having the first. Oh yeah, but you know it felt like the time was right in all of our lives to do it. Andy was starting his new branding competency Partners in Speed. Pamela had some things that she wanted to do differently and you know, katie and I were just, we were sort of like thrilled to not have to work, able to be moms, Right, and that only lasted, I guess, about seven or eight years, and then we started Francis Valentine. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

32:10

Did you guys have a non-compete when you left? We did. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

32:13

We did. It was two years, was that that went? 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

32:16

by so fast? Was that one of those things that you guys were? Like I don't give a crap. Like you take that non-compete, I'm fine. Like I need a break. I don't want to do this, I'm, you know we were totally fine and it felt reasonable. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

32:27

You know, I think it's a rather short period for a non-company, especially when one of them is the namesake Right, but that's what we all agreed to. I'll tell you after, we sold in December of 2006, and we had agreed to work for another six months. So we worked until June of 2007, and we had a great summer. It was so fun. All of our families got together, we had a blast. But I got back in September and I was dropping my kids off at school. You were like now what? I walked out of the school and I was like, oh my God, I don't have any place to go. I don't have an office to go to, no one's waiting for me, nothing. 

33:04

My identity was so wrapped up in owning a business that I didn't know what to do with myself. I've got a little bit blue for a couple months and I remember putting on my headphones and doing a walk run from Greenwich Village up to the Upper East Side where Katie lived, and we'd go walk the park every day and hang out and talk and you didn't know what else to do. I didn't know what else to do. Finally, I started filling my days with. I took cooking classes, I took tennis lessons and then, of course, you get involved in your kids' schools and then you just get pulled in to do all sorts of things. I got really involved in my children's school, both as PA President and Board Chair and raising money, which was great. That was a whole different kind of experience and I learned so much doing all of those things and I'm grateful to have had that time to do it. That's golden times. You did it At that time, back Right Exactly, I had to get to school with my kids too, so that was really great. 

34:01

But we started to get an itchy to get back into the business and Katie and I both missed creating things and making things, and I guess it was in 2013,. We were out to dinner celebrating Pamela's birthday, I think and we started talking about a business again. And was Pamela like I'm the girls, I'm good, you do? Well, pamela had started her own company called Prink Shop and she was debating doing this with us and just said I'm so busy with my own business, I'll let you guys do it. So we started with handbags and shoes, did you feel? 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

34:35

like you had to ask her permission per thing Of course. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

34:38

No, it was a permission, but we all enjoyed working together, so ultimately it was her choice. I don't think we would have started something without any of the four of us being asked, so we started it in 2014, and Andy Spade was. He said if you don't get an office space, if you don't rent an office space, it's just going to kind of keep going along. Katie's never going to do it, but once she knows we have an office space and we're paying, she'll show up. When there's overhead, she'll show up. That's right. So he was absolutely right. So we got an office space in 2014, started working on all the designs, and we ended up launching our first collection to the public in 2016, in spring of 2016. And that was handbags and shoes. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

35:21

How did you and I know this, you've been asked this question so many times like talking about your customer, consumers, was it okay? Kate Spade has grown up. This is what she wants now Does she have the same? You know Kate Spade and Francis Valentine are 100% not the same brand. I can say that with my discerning eye. But coming from a namesake brand, how are you able? Was there any trepidation Like how it would be received? How did you deal with all that? 

Elyce Arons

Guest

35:56

Well, you know, obviously we couldn't use Katie's name, right? 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

35:59

Because we had sold the name with the brand. So there's your name this time, you know. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

36:04

Well, we actually picked two names that we both loved and they happen to have been Katie's family names one from her mother's side, one from her father's side and put them together and that's how Francis Valentine came about. We thought let's create this woman who's your best friend, who makes you laugh harder than anybody else, your favorite aunt with the best style. And that's who Francis Valentine is, and it was born out of friendship, and first I felt like, oh my gosh, it's a mouthful, but I was so used to saying Kate Spade, which rolled off the tongue so easily, but it really seems to resonate with people and I love the name. I feel like we've evolved from the old days. I mean, think about it, we were 30 years old when we started Kate Spade that is insane. And when we started Francis Valentine, we were 50. And we're different people, we want different things, we're one different thing for the brand, and so the word we've always used is we've evolved. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

37:00

You could say we've grown up. Did you have a question with the press saying, OK, if Francis Valentine is your best friend, then who was Kate Spade? Was Kate Spade the little sister that went off and did her own thing? How did we evolve? 

Elyce Arons

Guest

37:16

Kate Spade to us when we started it was the big sister and Jack Spade was a little brother, so I think the folks that ended up owning Kate Spade have done an amazing job. It's obviously a gigantic corporate. It's a big team now and they've done a great job growing it. I think we are really good at starting brands and nurturing them and making them interesting and providing great quality and value. I think part of the formula for what we do is really fantastic design, really great quality, and they're personal pieces. They feel personal to you. Everything we do, we try to add a little bit of something Like even on our knit sweaters we have this little XO and it's because that's how Katie and I had always ended letters XO Elise, xo Katie. And so the XO is part of our branding and we try to add it and I'll tell you if it's not on there, customers seem to get upset. They're like first the XO, I want it. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

38:15

And it's a good defining point. That's a good USP. Were the first bags with Francis Valentine in leather. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

38:21

Yes, Well, we did both. We did fabric and leather. Fabric's always been one of those things that we love to use, with prints, yeah, yeah, and just beautiful velvets and you can get these great jewel tone colors that don't, that aren't as deep as just a flat color, the velvets and corduroy and like all. There's some really great materials out there to use handbags and I love fabric and color and prints and leather too. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

38:50

I mean, I was just at your sample sale and I just wanted to sit there and just stay and like. There's definitely a point of view that I think you and she have very successfully captured in terms of people who want to stand out, but not in an obnoxious way, not in a look at me, it's. I'm tastefully. Here's my parting print. I am a fun person and I think you've had so much history and understanding your customer that this is such an organic progression of what you've done and I don't want to talk about this too much because obviously this is super personal but was a very difficult for you to move on with the brand after like. Were you at any moment like God, I can't do this without her, because everything you've done is what we go through in life. 

39:42

You know love, loss, move on and who she was and who she is and the mark she's made. You know this is the crap that we all deal with. This is life. It's good, bad and the ugly. So how did you handle this next step of like? What am I supposed to do with the brand that I was always half of? Well, if you don't mind me, if you don't mind me asking, I just want it all, of course, I miss her every day, every day. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

40:08

You know, we were sort of at a crossroads because I kind of like, how can we go on without her? And yet I felt I had a responsibility to her family, to the employees of the company, and we all agreed that we were going to move forward and I think you know Katie would want that her not being there wasn't about Francis Valentine, and so one of the things that we did it was one of those things that just happened. You know, katie and I had both been huge vintage shoppers growing up and we continue to be today I continued to be today but two of the pieces that were her favorites one was a calf tan she wore on every vacation we took and the other was an embroidered sweater found, you know, 30 years ago in a vintage shop. And we made those two items, even though we weren't apparel folks. We remade those two items as a tribute to her and they sold out immediately and we reordered them and they sold out again and again and again and again and people started asking us for all of the things that we styled in our campaigns, which were all by vintage pieces and Katie's vintage pieces. 

41:14

So, you know, we started making different items and they continued to sell out and I think people love the nostalgia and they were sort of vintage pieces, but they were made modern. They were made modern with, you know, zippers and pockets and you know some elastic in the space and then the special things that make you want to pull something out of your closet, wear it because it's the most comfortable thing in there, right? And yet it provides confidence to women to have their own individual style, right, it's the. You don't want to look at me anything, but I meant to be able to put their own style together, have it be one of our pieces, combined with other things that they own. I love that. 

41:59

I love that she's combining all those pieces together to make it her own, right, and it's her happy. And I'll tell you, the vintage pieces that we had collected all those years ago sort of became the fresh start for the company after she was gone, and apparel is a huge part of our business now we you know I was saying, oh, we'll never make pants, well, when now we make pants, well, never make sweaters. And now we make sweaters. So all of the product categories really contribute to the whole brand, which is great. So we have apparel and handbags and shoes and jewelry, and then we do a lot of gift. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

42:36

You know gift items and soft goods as well was the first license you did, or this brand isn't licensed yet is a. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

42:45

We just signed the first license and it'll be a big surprise for next year. We actually did a home license with Annie Selke last year, which was great for betting, which is fun. I love what they did. They took our accessories and really went to town really, really beautiful. We're doing another one with them this summer and then we've got another license it'll be launching next fall. Is it stationary? 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

43:05

no, I just thought of the question, but it's almost like, based on what you said, that the attraction happens when she's gone. So it's almost, like you know, like going back to that trade show moment where the attention came right when she walked away. I feel like this is her way, and some twisted way, of giving back to the brand that, as soon as she left, people were more eyes were on you as a result of trying to find more of her right, right, and I, you know she's still here, she's still with us every day. 

43:35

I feel that all the work we do here- is it interesting now that because I know some of the people have been with you since she was there and now obviously you've employees who never even known who she was how do you educate them in terms of by the way, she still have the brand in terms of DNA right, you know, I think they get it the second they start working here and we go through a whole process of them spending time with everybody in the whole company. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

44:03

And you know we have several folks who work with us at Kate Spade who started with us here when we started this. Right, there's a lot of DNA, you know from our previous work together and you know it's Francis. Valentine is sort of she's on her own, she's not me, she's not Katie, she's, she's, she's. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

44:25

You know, I don't know, she's kind of up here have you recognized now that this is not a baby and this is a brand in a business? Have you been able to separate that? Yes, yes. 

Elyce Arons

Guest

44:34

I still treat it like a baby, but yes, I know I know, at least. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

44:41

This has been absolutely fantastic. I'm so very grateful for your time and contribution to handbags, the industry and, most of all, to handbag designer one on one, the podcast. You've been an absolute gem, much like the ones you put on your clothes and bags. Thank you so much. Thank you, la was lovely to be here 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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