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Jaime Levy 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. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

00:24

Hi, jamie Levy. Welcome to the Handbag Designer 101 podcast. So happy to have you Hi. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

00:29

Hi Emily. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

00:29

Nice to see you. So you too. So Jamie was the SVP of handbags and accessories, the SVP of sales and merchandising of handbags and accessories for Steve Madden. For how long were you doing that Past that? 

Jaime Levy

Guest

00:44

I believe I was there for seven years maybe around that, okay, and before that, where were you? I was at another handbag company called Accessory Exchange for 10 years. Before that I was at a luxury company called Richmont running one of their handbag brands, and then I spent several years in a family business of handbags. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

01:05

Oh, let's talk about the legacy of the Levy handbag business. So you were born into handbags and not the sexy kind. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

01:12

That is correct and it was the Ginsburg family. It was actually my mother's side of the family. I was fourth generation and really during all my summer breaks I used to go to New Jersey and work at the factory, slash warehouse, slash offices and work in accounts payable, do anything that they would allow me to do, because my mother said you need to get a job and I said okay. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

01:37

It's funny when you're born into it you don't see the allure or the cool part especially handbag garmendo angle of it. You see it as product that needs to be sold, that needs to be shipped, that needs to be moved, and you know the markup from day one. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

01:52

You know, I remember as a kid in high school, my mother who ran a handbag division for her family's company was a children's handbag division and she would come home from work and she would sit at the table with those gigantic blue and white computer sheets, you know, with the perforated edges, and she would go through the customer list, the selling list. She would really have to think with a ruler, with a highlighter and a ruler during dinner. And so I always saw her working and she was really into it, because she had a couple of really good years with some very, very good licenses and I sort of understood the business a little bit, certainly more than my sisters, but had no interest in going into this business like none zero. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

02:40

You know it's funny, someone prolific, and it's so. They're so prolific that I can't remember. Who told me once that we inevitably follow the footsteps of our family without even knowing it. As much as you fight it, it ends up being what you do In so many ways also. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

02:56

But really I mean, I was fourth generation and I graduated with a degree in radio, television and film and really hoping to be like the next Hannah Storm and do sports broadcasting. But you needed to know somebody and my effort wasn't exactly golden and I finally said you know what I want? To make money, I want to start and I know I'm going to be paid nothing, which was very true and I started. I worked for a cousin of mine who was like an uncle and really started the business with the math stores, with the, you know, walmart and Target and Kmart and JCPenney, and those were really. You had to sink your teeth into those stores to make money at the time and that is what I did selling those kinds of handbags I mean. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

03:45

I always say Kmart, put me through college. That was the last, my dad being a converter, that was the. As far as I know. I could be totally incorrect, but that was the last big retailer that he had worked with and the volume was so big and it was like perfect timing path to send a kid to college and having a family member in that part of the business, as opposed to the higher end business or the luxury business that kind of like, holds the curtain from the whole Oz element of what makes this business so sexy and exciting. It's like no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. We have to sell product. It's, they're not Van Gogh's. They need to sell move. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

04:25

Right, and I think that you know that was like. The first lesson I learned was you don't have to love it, you have to understand who's going to buy it, and that is so key in understanding sale. At part one of sales is that it's not about what you like, it's about what's trending in those stores, it's about what's trending outside of those stores, and the one thing I learned was that I was a good salesperson. I could sit with somebody that I didn't know and I could figure out a way to connect with them, to then get to the next level of how can we service you and build a relationship. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

04:58

Yeah, I mean, part of the reason why I wanted to have you on, even though you were technically no longer in handbags, is because the breath and wealth of technically that's why it's handbag air clutch quotes is just because you understand this industry and business so much of the inside outs and the dirty stuff. And, like my first job, to your point, I was the only one in my family I didn't work for with my dad, like my grandmother was there, my sister was there, my mom was there, like you name it, every family member. My aunt was there and I didn't. I think they didn't want me there, which was fine. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

05:31

My family I don't think wanted me there. I think they thought I'd be fine, but I don't think that that was the goal. I mean it really ended with the generation above me. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

05:39

Yeah exactly, but I worked in media and I remembered my very first internship where it was really hot to have agencies. I worked in an agency and to have like the TV networks take you out at the big lunches and I remember asking my dad like why don't you go on these fancy lunches and fancy dinner seats? Like because I'm here to sell, I don't need to spend more time with these people. It's transactional, like we're meeting, we're doing business and then we're leaving. 

06:03

And I spoke to this woman and she was like, listen, you would never out Open up a clothing store if you didn't know how to shop. And that never left me and I'm like, wow, she said you can't. Because I was like, oh, the buyer is the salespeople. The salespeople live the coolest life because they go on you know the big trips and the meetings. Then they go and they go on the shopping trips and they all this cool stuff, at least from the outside. And she said you have to learn how to be a buyer. You still learn at the people with the tightest budgets how they spend, why they spend, where they're putting their money, understanding the why of everything they do and understanding the why of who this customer is, before you can be that cool salesperson that's making money and commission Yep. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

06:44

Yep. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

06:45

So I think you know, you have all people understood that from a super young age. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

06:49

Yep, absolutely. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

06:52

So you were in the family business. How did you end up going from like rags to you know? 

Jaime Levy

Guest

06:59

just from rags to rags. Now I, after about five years or so or six years I had left to really sort of pivot into something else, potentially. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

07:11

Was that a big deal Like leaving the family business? Was anyone insulted? No, no, they cared no they wanted me to fly. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

07:17

They didn't really care where I flew, they just wanted me to fly. And I wasn't that happy and I actually was going through a big change in my life. I was getting divorced and I tried. You know I was. The music business was interesting, but the music business was changing very much. So at that point a lot of the record labels were closing. They were changing how they promoted music and then my family's company ended up buying another company that was a leather company that had multiple licenses and it was a change from doing denim and non-leather bags to something that I was more interested in. 

07:54

So all the bags before were not leather, non-leather Totally. I mean, denim was really the way that again in the 90s or late 80s, 90s or maybe even before that. I just wasn't there because I wasn't born yet, but they did a lot of bags in denim and they really sort of like hoarded the market at Walmart and other retailers. So I started learning about what it was like to do licensed brands when I started working for this company, susan Gale, that my family's company had bought and they were making bags in New York. They were using like Harong Snake. They were, you know, making expensive bags and I never really understood how they could make money when they were making them in the back room of a 33rd Street showroom and they were shipping them from the back room of a 33rd Street showroom which is again to people that don't know handbag alley, and eventually they had to sell because they couldn't make money doing that. So my family's bought them and I worked there for the next six years. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

08:54

Now, just to be clear what is a licensed handbag brand? What does that mean? Just a clown? 

Jaime Levy

Guest

09:00

So we looked to in order to get into the department stores and to expand our distribution. We looked for brands that were hot in clothing at the time apparel so Ann Cline, ellen, tracy, susan Gale, which was the main brand, was a great brand, but it definitely was a brand that had its heyday 20 to 30 years earlier and even though we still stole to specialty stores, it didn't have the cache of a name brand. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

09:28

So we did a license is taking a brand that is not in the handbag category and then inviting them and saying, hey, we will produce. We might have been in the handbag category before we're just writing that license now and you have to work saying and saying we will produce these bags for you with your name on it and a lot of times you have to work directly with them. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

09:48

Which I've done throughout my whole career is that you have to make sure that you're following their guidelines and, besides the royalties and everything else, you have to make sure that the aesthetic of the bags is in line with the aesthetic of the apparel or whatever category that you're-. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

10:01

I respect to the overall DNA of the brand. Yeah, so now you're working in leather, and now the company that had had these brands licenses per se were not profitable, so it was your job to figure out how can we make them profitable per se. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

10:17

Well, it really started getting those licenses when I started there Not because of me, I just happened to start there when they were diversifying their strategy and it was good. We had presence in a lot of the department stores that we wanted to be in. The department stores were constantly changing. We sold stores that are no longer in business. We saw the whole end of federated. So many stores that we sold are literally have been gone for years, and that's where I really learned about the off-price market, which, again, is such an important piece of anybody's business. As long as you manage that process the right way and make sure that you're not known as an off-price retailer, it is crucial to make money by having some form of an exit strategy, for whether it's leftover bags or a strategy of doing a symbiotic relationship between mainline bags and off-price bags, with the halo effect being the mainline bags. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

11:12

Oh, my God, so many things that I want to clarify, so this is perfect. So what is an off-price retailer? 

Jaime Levy

Guest

11:19

So an off-price retailer could be anything. I mean there's so many different ones now, but it could be anything from a TJ Maxx and a Ross to Saks, off Fifth to Guild and Rue La La to Amazon. You can have an Amazon shop that does off-price Poshmark. I mean there's so many different distribution items of off-price now. There weren't when we had Century 21,. We had Nordstrom's Rack, we had a lot of the ones that are still not Century well, even though it's back, a lot of the ones that are still big today. 

11:51

But then that was it. I mean, online was not in existence at the time and just starting. But yeah, it's a really important part of your business because and what's mainline? Mainline is when you're selling regular price handbags, even if they do discounts within the stores. The mainline is regular price handbags. So at the department stores, at the specialty stores, anywhere that you're not, it doesn't mean that you can't go into that store, like Macy's has last call, I believe. It is where you can buy off-price bags there or your bags could be discounted, but it's a mainline department store. It's not known as an off-pricer. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

12:27

And then, in terms of what do you mean by halo effect? 

Jaime Levy

Guest

12:30

Just, so the halo effect is that you know a lot of people immediately get into. Well, I did so much business at TJ Maxx in another life, I'm just gonna make sure that this brand that I'm doing goes back there. But unless there's that halo effect where you have a good business with a good reputation in your mainline sector, it's not important at the off-price sector. It's just not that. You know, the customer is not stupid, the customer understands. That doesn't mean that there aren't thriving businesses that are primarily off-price because, again, as long as the customer likes the bag and it's the right price, that could be enough. But in general, when it comes to sort of fire end brands or recognizable notable brands, they definitely wanna make sure that there is some type of presence that doesn't seem diluted and only at the off-pricers. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

13:23

Just a question about off-price with your experience. So now people are producing exclusive collections lines for off-price? Yeah, that was not the case so much. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

13:36

Yeah, I mean, remember, I try to explain this to people. There is truth that in off-price stores, depending on the store, you know if you go to certain areas of the store there is going to be cuts from the line, meaning extra merchandise from the line, you know excess merchandise. But if you're going to really service a really big store like a TJ Maxx or a Ross or a Marshalls or you can't possibly have overcut that much merchandise and make money by the time it goes to off-price. So you make again, keeping the integrity of the brands, of the look, but trying to get to that price point and not lose money where you're gonna close. You have to make sure that you are making bags that are supposed to go at an off-price price. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

14:26

Now, that said, in your opinion or expertise, are these off-pricers? Talk a little bit about who the customer is, and is she looking for leather at a significantly reduced price because the merchandise gets shipped to mainline stores at the same time as it gets shipped theoretically to off-price because the collections have to rotate? 

Jaime Levy

Guest

14:47

Yes, but they're generally not getting the exact same stuff. I mean, look, there are some bags that they'll pick in shoes and they'll send to some of their top-tier off-price accounts because it's good faith, it's never gonna hurt anybody, it's a tiny portion of their brand. It makes the buyers happy, it makes everybody happy, and then it leads to much bigger orders of stuff that's cut specifically for these off-price accounts and everybody's best interest to make sure that they feel the same. But you know it's hurt very big companies. 

15:17

You know, I mean like a Michael Kors that you know they saw the light and eventually it became they choked the brand, it was huge, yeah, and that could happen with anybody. But there are some brands that that does not happen to. Because when you're not talking about a leather brand, the customer is still either getting it at a regular price store, possibly at a discount, or at the retailer you know of the name brand at a discount not all the time, but sometimes or they're buying it at an off-price store. It's not as detrimental as when you're talking about a high-end brand of leather bags. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

15:52

Right, right. No, I mean I am a show From what I've seen. Right, I've been here for 4,000 years. Yeah, I don't know what the handbag dinosaur is, but whatever it looks like, I got to go to AI to say design a dinosaur that's made of handbags, ai or looks yeah. 

16:09

I'm interested to see, like, what those capabilities are with design, because I actually I don't know how many people handbag-oriented have tinkered with AI and handbags, but I have gone to town like design a crossbody made of Croco inspired by this. I mean, like it's so interesting, especially with collaborations, that I'm working with so many brands that are not in handbags to bring them to handbags, like what would a bag look like inspired by bananas, and that's not literal Things like that. Okay, so you go to Richemont. How has that must have been an interesting change environmentally, say, I was wise, I was wise. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

16:49

I was terrified. I would be too. I met a woman who I had known for a few years because at the time I was fortunate enough to be able to take a seaplane to the Hamptons every Friday because I was lucky enough to have somebody else pay for it, that I was dating. And oh, well done, very well done. Well, it was a good run. 

17:13

And I met a woman who at the time was the chief merchant of Saxford Avenue and we became good friends. We were the only women on the plane, it was all like Wall Street people and we met and she knew I was years in a family business and she knew I wasn't necessarily in a place that I wanted to spend the rest of my career. And she was very, very good friends with a lot of people in Richemont, which, again, if you don't know what that is, it's like LVMH, richemont. They're big luxury companies that own a lot of brands and Richemont owns Cartier and Van Cleef and a lot of high-end brands. And she was very good friends with the CEO of North America and they were bringing back a heritage French brand called Lancel to the United States and she said I want you to meet him, I think you would be a good fit and you would be able to run sales with the president that was coming from Cartier IWARE and she introduced me and it was done and it was fantastic. 

18:11

How long were you there? I was there probably for oh God. I probably worked out of my house for the first six months until we had a showroom and then until I left. It was about maybe three and a half years, something like that. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

18:25

You stayed in places. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

18:26

I'm always impressed by people. I mean I've been to a lot of places, but I definitely am a thankfully stayer, if they'll have me. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

18:34

I stay Right, right, no, I mean, I hate making these vast gender-based blanket statements, but women typically stay longer because we commit to the work we put in and the loyalty and like I want to see this through. And then you're like well, the new collection's coming, the new market's coming. Let me just keep seeing this through to make sure what I've done is good, right. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

18:58

I mean I also think that this industry even though I've worked with many salespeople that are men and a lot of executive management that is male and designers it's very heavy female based. I mean it just is Handbags have always been. I mean, yeah, not really when I was younger, but as I've gotten older, right right, right. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

19:19

Well, historically, tailors and anybody you know craft-based were men, and you know you go way, way back, even Indigenous cultures who? So I mean, those are all men, yeah, so you know evolution has changed. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

19:35

My great-grandfather that started my family business in. Maybe it was 1929 or earlier. Whenever it started it was called Leather Novelty and it was on in your neck of the woods. It was on Orchard Street or Orchard Street where yeah, it was right by where you live and you know we can have lunch right by there. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

19:53

There's a good place that has fabulous avocado toast and bacon. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

19:57

I mean I love all the food down there. I don't go there to hang out because I feel so young, but I go down there to eat. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

20:05

Me too. So what was your take working with bags that cost significantly more, and how did that affect how you sell and the perception of the customer? 

Jaime Levy

Guest

20:15

I think that, you know, handbags were going through a change at that point. This was in the early 2000s when we were really pushing the bridge price point. So the bridge price point was generally under $300. You had brands like Coach and the department stores were trying to move the needle. You had Monica Bacchier on the other day and trying to move the needle and do more volume at a higher price point and try to make some more money. 

20:44

And it was tough. I mean, it definitely was tough and I just thought, in general, that brand didn't resonate with American customers. It really stuck to the heritage part of it which was, you know, the customer base that was buying those bags in Paris and in, you know, all over France, in parts of Europe, in China. I think that they didn't evolve and sometimes your name's not enough and you're talking about a name that, even though it had been here before, I just think that everything went too fast and they were still producing in France, which again was the beginning of the end, in my opinion, because you know, profitability is what matters and you know it was great. It was a lot of spoken mirrors. We got into every single department store. You know it was the start of the shopping shops. So Michael Kors had shops everywhere. We wanted a shop everywhere. You know you have to pay for all of that and our distribution was great. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

21:44

But I think a lot of people don't even realize that a shop and shop meaning when you go into a Bloomingdale's and you see a little carved out section that says coach or Michael Kors, like they pay rent, that is all you know. Real estate cost per square foot. So not only do they have to pay rent, but they also have to make money above and beyond whatever they need to to be profitable. Yep, I'm going 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. 

22:47

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. 

22:58

I'm going to show you like I have countless brands to create in this in depth course from sketch to sample to sale, whether you're just starting out and don't even know where to start to begin, or if you've 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 Emily Blumenthalcom slash masterclass and type in the code on cast to get 10% off your masterclass today. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

23:39

It was a shift in my career then, because it was the last time that I was going to go work somewhere where I didn't have an opinion of the merchandise, and I think that that is something that not all salespeople can do or want to do, but for me, I thought my knowledge of the market and the understanding of who shops and what stores was so crucial that selling a line like selling hardware or selling a handbag line I wasn't just going to do that for somebody else anymore. I was going to try to have a say in what that should look like. So not per se design it, but absolutely be part of the creative production of the bags. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

24:16

It's funny because when you're in sales, I know a lot of salespeople and this goes both ways A lot of salespeople who say, oh, I don't have any design experience, but by the end of not even so much their career but their time working at whatever handbag company, they end up being de facto designers and they're like okay, I know that this handle is trending, people want this handle, the buyers want this handle. This is what the handle looks like. Here's a picture of it. Do something that is, cousins with that handle in order to make it more sellable, because that makes it better for me, which makes it better for everybody. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

24:51

Yeah, well, I mean, first of all, you have to work, for I was lucky enough in my last two gigs to work for incredible bosses that saw something, and let me do that. They let me have a say and they let me work directly with the designers and at some points, became the creative responsibility of the brands or of the lines that I ran. And you know, I never considered myself a designer. The designers that I worked with over the years have been fantastic, but I think that the best working relationships were ones where the designer continued to do their job which I do not know how to do, but could collaborate with me so that we could be successful on sales end, because that's key is that you have to do. The worst thing is a designer and a salesperson that butt head. 

25:40

That is such a disaster and I've had that happen in my career, even recently. But because we're all in the same team, we all have to make the bank sell, we all have to sort of like kumbaya on the selling reports and everything that you need to do to come to market. But some you know, designers and creatives don't care about that input. They want to do what they want to do and that is a recipe for disaster. And some of the most successful things I worked on were, you know, truly a collaborative effort and that is really important to being a successful salesperson today, I think, in that industry. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

26:12

Did the designers sit in the market meetings, which the market meetings were? How many times a year? Where their markets per se so basically four times a year. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

26:23

it just depends on the brand. Some of them had a little more or a little less, depending on what, if it was a license, depending on what the licensor did. So if they had like you know, it's Steve Madden if there was a shoe market and it wasn't the headbag market, we'd still participate up in the shoe showrooms. Otherwise we had the traditional four markets a year from four seasons, and absolutely I mean designers and well markets. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

26:45

and markets were when the buyers came in and you, as salespeople, would present the new lines of what they were to buy yeah, recommended, suggested to buy. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

26:56

Yep for the future. Yeah, and design came. Sometimes I mean, I worked in a situation where I mean I wasn't even allowed to practically sell because the creative director wants to do it all which was her prerogative, and you know, ultimately things like that don't work out. But it's always great to have the input of designers and you really get the respect of the buyers when they see that design is listening to what they're saying. You know a lot of buyers come in. They want to make adjustments on the bags. You know whether it has to be like one big collaboration because, just like a lot of salespeople feel they have an opinion about design, a lot of buyers feel they have an opinion about your brand. Or, you know, because they know we shop in their stores and they know that our average customer needs a longer shoulder strap or, and if the designers in the room and can actually, you know, take notes on that make an adjustment about that, you get a lot of points for that. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

27:49

But you know, to that point sometimes, and this is why I feel like you as a salesperson have to kind of be the politician between design and the buyers with anything, because sometimes the buyers come in saying I need this, I need that, I need this, I need that, and then they overbuy. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

28:11

Well, that's not that's really your responsibility. You know you need to work with planning or if you are the planner yourself, you know a lot of the salespeople and planners. You need to work on that because stores will just buy as long as you clean up the financial mess. At the end stores will buy whatever they feel they need, even though you know you can't possibly reach the salaries that you need to be profitable. So ultimately it really does fall on. You know you get your budget from the stores but it really does fall on the salesperson to figure out. You know it's a little convoluted because the wholesale companies want to make money and they want. You know it's a little bit of a mess and they'll end up bringing your private or public and they want to make money and they want to show that your brand is growing, even if you know that the stores can't handle. 

28:54

The amount you're shipping into them is a cycle. You know it's a cycle which again, is great when business is good as a whole. The pharmaceutical business is good, fashion's in a good cycle. Accessories are in a good cycle. There's something driving the customer to buy handbags. You know that's just. It's like this and then you can eke out a profitable business, but that's not easy when the market is not where you are, and that's why we have a good cycle. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

29:36

I mean, handbags have gone up and down. We can get into like finish with how handbags were at the pandemic because anybody who wasn't in that business took a, not took a dive, took a punch in it. Yeah, like I took a punch right into real estate, yeah, I know. So you end up at Steve Madden. Talk a little bit about that kind of brand, working for a brand like that, how that works with sales and design and volume, because that to me I mean that's when we met and listen, I could talk about this all day and it's painful and uncomfortable because it's business and there's so many dark sides of it. And then listening to what you did and how you sold, and I bumped into you on the floor of Macy's I was just creating a program and I was like look at that. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

30:28

And I was probably on the floor making sure that all the bags were out of the stock room. It doesn't matter how high up in title you are. If your bags are sitting in the stock room, they're not selling. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

30:39

So that's what happened to me. I did it, Listen, my bags were a bulk. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

30:44

I want to say oh, I've been there too, taking bags out of the stock room. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

30:47

Oh, my God, All the company numbers were coming in zeros and I'm like what is going on? And they said, okay, we're going to drop your line. And my line had just gotten in and I said to the CEO of the company I was like I need to get on a plane, I need to go there. And I got there and crack of dawn, and I said it's not even on the floor, so why is it at zero? So I had to go to this room, open it up. I carried the tea stands out myself and I'm like I don't know how we can work this out with markdowns, because now I'm in the minus for something that was never even brought on the floor. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

31:21

That's just a Wednesday or a Wednesday, that's just. That is part of. I mean, it's one of the reasons why, ultimately, you should never have issues at Harold Square on 34th Street, because everybody's offices I mean now a lot of people are remote, but everybody's offices are right there. So if you're not in that stock room at least once a week, you know you don't know when the stuff's going to arrive. But if you're not there at least once a week, putting your stuff on the floor, figuring out what needs to go where, you're never going to be successful. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

31:46

No, it's a full, it's a two independent designers. Like it's a full 360, just because your bags or product get into a store Like you have to get it. That's number one yeah. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

31:56

Yeah, like it needs to sell after. That's right, that's right. People just you know, when everybody's a handbag designer I mean I noticed that trend come. A lot of people say to me why don't you just have your own line? I don't want to have my own line, like. 

32:09

I know how difficult the business is and actually having my own line, and I know how many people have their online and fail, and I know how many people think that this is, for whatever reason, like entry level fashion, like you can do. You know, every celebrity, everybody has a handbag line, but it's a tough business. You know, I was a tough business too, but handbags is, you know, I forget it. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

32:33

A parallel, I would say it's a crowded business. Anything that has sizing, not for me. I don't want to go near that because the charge backs alone of things. I don't want to be part of that. I remember that from my dad's business. Like you know, legs one leg is being longer than the other. I mean that's the stuff that we would get, like here's a pair of gas jeans with a bad dye job and the dye lot didn't match this, and so that was the clothes that we got to wear. Yeah, the labels that were the mistakes you know, funnily enough, as what you were just talking about going in and working and making sure the stuff is merchandised and all of that. 

33:08

When I got my bags into retail, knowing what I knew I would go. And the turnover of the people who work in these stores, because people don't seem to realize that most people who work in department stores only less than half are career department store workers. That you know the women at Bendles when my stuff got into Bendles she was there the entire time, down to the store shut Like she was there for 20 odd years and lovely woman and she was in candles and she was in this because the turnover was so high and no one knew my brand. I would go there every six months to have a meet and greet, organizing it, to meet the floor staff. Have muffins, have juice, have coffee. 

33:49

This is the brand, this is what, and I always say don't bring bagels, because that's like that distracts people. They've got to cut and put stuff on. Only have muffins, like food you can sit and eat. Have a juice. I'm going to introduce you to my brand. This is what it is. This is the DNA. This is what makes it special. This is the customer. People don't realize that that needs to happen. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

34:07

I mean really how it happens now, or at least it did when I was in the business for many years and I did many of them myself and other times we had companies do them. But the regional managers said that people that work on the floor report to these regional managers and it was really important that you go and many brands that I did that you go and explain everything about your bags and how to wear certain things and why certain things are done and what they relate to, and then they are supposed to then go down to their floors and have their bagel meeting with all those people. There's so many layers to have a line be a success and people don't realize that. I think one of the most important things that people don't realize is you need to go look who's shopping. You can put 300% blah, blah, blah, but if you actually sit there I mean that was something that Steve Madden did the day in and day out. He always showed up and he sat in his shoe departments and he watched how people shop. 

35:02

That is so key. That's how you figure out. You don't have one customer. You have customer bases in this region and in this region or this store, and it's the same with handbags. I mean, I've worked on brands where people assumed a certain customer was buying them and really the core customer that was buying them was nothing to do with when the design went into it, nothing to do with who the end user was. I think that's super important is to understand it's not necessarily how you see things, but it's how things are. I think every store has a different take and has a different customer base, and one of the two is the complication of doing a fashion. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

35:44

I want to speak more about how the sales process was for handbags at a brand at the level of volume of Steve Madden. Could you talk a little bit about that process? 

Jaime Levy

Guest

35:55

I mean again, I was in a little bit of different position because most of the time I was there I was in merchandising, design and sales. So I had certain brands where I worked with the most amazing designers I think you know some of them who I could never do it alone. I don't know how to draw a pencil, but I was able to go to Europe and to different regions in the US and shop for a type of look, a feeling, especially of a brand that didn't necessarily. You know, steve Madden is great. It's a great inspirational brand. So they know they're going to have a home run when they do a similar version to something that's happening big in luxury. It's their success in shoes, no secret. It's their success in handbags. That's just how it is. But that's not necessarily the case for a lot of the other brands that are at the company and other businesses that I work for. 

36:47

And I think that you know you start with sort of the inspiration, and the inspiration comes from lots of different places. I mean one of my best friends. We were out at her beach house Labor Day weekend and my daughter was there and she always gives my daughter old bags that she has that she just hasn't worn for years. And my daughter said, let me pick one. And she picked one and she held it up and she says, can I have this one? She goes, that's one of your moms and it was like you know something that would have vintage Steve Battons per se, actually before that, but it was like a vintage nineties, which is what's happening now. Especially if you're a teenager, everybody wants to wear like a night. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

37:22

And I think that you go so many different places for inspiration and, again, I always had my sales hat on. So it's great, you could see something amazing, or the structure is great, or it's a little wacky, or, but you have to keep your sales hat on who's going to buy this? And then you come back, you are with the designers during this whole process and you come back and you work with the designers and you let them do their thing and if they're good designers which thankfully, are always worked with amazing creatives they know how to put out again an align that embodies both this sort of feeling that you had as well as a line that is going to fit into, because you know every store comes and they want to make sure, unless it's a one-off item, right? They want to make sure that they're getting a collection that represents their customer and also can fill their fixtures and you know, make sure that the colors are correct and all of those things, and that is what you work with design and merchandising prior, and then it's showtime. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

38:23

How many pieces were sorry, how many pieces were in a collection for that I mean? 

Jaime Levy

Guest

38:28

that depends, because a collection like Betsy Johnson was super different, because even though sure you had hobos and satchels and totes, there was such a big element of bags that didn't fit to any category. Right, you know, kids bags or just anything. You know, right, a clock bag. But in general, you know, the buyers were coming and they were looking for, certainly, a work tote. They were looking for cross bodies, because hands-free is still, I mean, how everybody lives their life, and then, depending on the season, our hobos in, our satchels in is handheld in. 

39:01

You know, there's so many different ways. It used to be like you had to have five standard bags. It's not necessarily at least again, I'm speaking a few years ago that's not 100 percent necessary, because they may be filling that need with another vendor, like, let's say that they're already getting a athleisure tote from an emcee Wallace, they don't necessarily need yours. That doesn't mean there isn't going to be a distribution, that will take it, but it may not be part of your department store collection, right, but you definitely, you know the tote, the cross body and like a handbag, is definitely where you want to start. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

39:35

And then you know what's your take on clutches, Because I know clutches have a place. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

39:42

Clutches are amazing if a store commercialized them. So that's the issue. You know that soft. You know not naming names but that soft clutch that was very big and still is for the past several years from a designer brand that everybody has now, you know, people are not carrying them with their shoulder strap. It's nice to offer a shoulder, whether it's a chain strap or a leather strap or a PU strap. You know it's nice that you could tuck it in the bag. 

40:08

Some people need their hands free so when they're drinking their drink they can't be holding a clutch that has no handle. But in general, clutch is a great category and it's in, you know, some departments, stores have evening areas, some you just merchandise it. It's just making sure that you, even if you as the vendor have to provide the fixtures, you just have to figure out a way, because a lot of times if you take a beautiful clutch and you hang it up on a T stand or you hang it up on a whatever those things are called, on a, no, but the racks, you know, oh, yeah, yeah, if you hang it on a waterfall, on a chain, the bag just doesn't look right. Waterfalls, yeah, the bag just doesn't look as good. So you have to just make sure that you're not only designing it, but you're figuring out what it's going to look like when it hits the floors. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

40:49

Yeah, and I just want to speak to this last point before we wrap up the that look, I'm like, do you know how long we've been talking? No, it's what happens with you and I, emily handbags. But the fact that a lot of people don't seem to realize that, as a bag cannot sit on its own, it will die. It will die a sad, slow death. The bags always need to be able to sit up straight without any help or or look. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

41:17

Some bags can sit up straight, that's just the nature of the bag, or they just have to have the right holder, urgentizing Clutch holder, I mean that's. I mean we, even for small other goods. I mean we used to have to buy for the stores because they won't buy anything. A lot of them Plastic loose site, you know, containers, so that you can, you know, line them up so it looks more boutique, because in certain stores everything's under glass and that's fine, but in a lot of stores it's open, sell and you still have to hang out there. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

41:48

So I know you're not in handbags anymore. What is your take on what's going on in the market right now? 

Jaime Levy

Guest

41:56

I mean I'm still in the market because I'm still in the scoomer and think that there's still a lot of recovery from COVID. I still shop at a lot of the stores that I worked at. I have a 15 year old daughter, so I know what's going on in the stores and you know and I have friends right now that are in the market looking for jobs and I think I know that off-priced is doing well from what I'm probably not as well as they did, you know, in the Tay Day. But I think that the market has a lot of recovering to do still. Just, every market has recovering to do, but it's never going to go away and handbags is always going to be a much easier purchase than a pair of pants. You know, handbags and shoes are the first thing that a consumer wants when they don't want to have to take their clothes off, go into a dressing room or buy something online that they don't know how it's going to fit. I think that it's going to. We'll gain momentum again. Will we will gain momentum again? 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

42:47

What do you think the sweet spot of handbags are right now? Price point, in your opinion. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

42:53

Price point. I think, if you can, again designer's, designer, and some of the prices are absolutely ridiculous. I mean I just can't with Chanel, I just can't, oh my God, I hold onto every one of those articles. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

43:08

It's crazy. It's like now $6,000. Now $8,000. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

43:12

And yeah, I mean it's just also coming from handbags. It's like it's crazy. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

43:16

I know, I know, you know. I still think that the customer seems to be analabastic and still coming back because it still carries that I don't know. There's also a resale value. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

43:25

Now you have straight faces that you can sell your bag. So I think that. So the resistance is not as much as it could have been if we didn't have online channels to resell your bag Right or even go on Instagram. You could resell it. You know, I'm right, it's easy. But I think that if you can still for an aspirational customer, if you can still hit a again, I'm not talking about somebody that is making, you know, $75,000, because I still think that $350,000 and under is a super important price point and really harder to hit with inflation and every. You know everything went up in price. You know, the peace goods, the, the hardware. So I think that either the companies are going to make less profit, which they're not going to do, especially if they're a company or they're going to have to take price points up. So I think it's a tough market for that reason. 

44:17

But I think, if you can get the under six, a lot of vintage brands are coming back. I mean, I just bought an ill-bissonse bag because I needed a tote, a new tote. I'm carrying something I bought years ago, which is fine, but I needed something new that felt like me and I didn't want something structured, because that doesn't feel like me with my job and I'm running around all the time, so it has to be super light, so something unlined and the Kedah and you know. But I was happy to see that, even though they're under $600, that made me happy. But I think that that if you can continue to do bags that are $495, $395, you're going to get more wider leather and leather leather look non-leather. There's always going to be a customer. 

45:04

But a lot of these stores are doing private label now. I mean, you know ink is doing it for Macy's, so everybody that does non-leather is competing with ink, which means they're just not making them as much money. So I've been in that market so many times and it's hard. You know what I mean. Definitely energy sales, but you're competing against a division that they are making more money on their own bags and it's like that in a lot of the stores. So you know I don't know I could tell you about that the Fed was announcing a new interest rate today. I don't know if they did it already Listen. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

45:36

everything is going up, eggs are going up. I always say, like, look at how much your state costs and that should correlate to how much your handbag, because it's coming from the same animal. 

Jaime Levy

Guest

45:44

Everything is everything, lumber everything. I mean it's not. You know, everybody took a hit. And if fashion is still a priority to you and you still need a new handbag, like I did today or yesterday, whenever I did it then you do what you make, you prioritize what you can. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

46:01

Jamie. It has been a pleasure. Jamie, give everybody how they can follow you, what you do now, and if anybody has any more questions. You are the oracle upon oracles of handbags. You are the clutch to my cross body. How do we find you? 

Jaime Levy

Guest

46:19

And you are amazing and I've loved you for years and somebody that actually has a book. I see right behind you handbag designer 101. I mean, come on, who's better than you? I am at Douglas Eleman Real Estate. I am in sales. I do sales and rentals. I can be reached at Jamie J-A-I-M-ELevy, at elementcom or follow me on Instagram if you like. 15 year olds, it's. Jamie, not that kind of 15 year olds, yeah exactly my dog, j-a-i-m-ellevy, l-e-v-y, l-e-v-y on Instagram and again always here for handbag questions too. Certainly on the front. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

47:00

We're totally going to have you back. This is so like. There's so much more to talk about. Oh my God, it has been an absolute pleasure having you on handbag designer 101. We will absolutely be talking soon, for sure. Thank you so much. Thank you so much I am Thanks for listening. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

47:15

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






Jaim

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