I forgot my purse in a bar. Actually, I forgot several purses in several bars. At 19 years old, I was quite new to the chic, wild-yet-well-mannered club scene in London, where one is expected to gracefully keep command of a full cocktail and a fashionable clutch purse while seemingly effortlessly flitting about a crowded dance floor.
When on separate occasions, my bag, and with it my ID, cash, and credit cards, stayed behind in bars without me, my girlfriends mocked me mercilessly for being so forgetful. As a starving student, whose social life was supported by the generosity of club promoter friends granting free entrée into VIP parties with open bars, a weekend without my ID meant no ‘going out’.
As a lark, one night I emerged from our apartment for an evening out with a vintage bag from which I had removed the handle and replaced it with a handcuff chain of my own design. My friends and I all had a good laugh as I cuffed the bag to my wrist, and off we went into the night.
That evening, at the birthday party of a prominent hip-hop artist, the guest of honor’s socialite girlfriend took notice of my strange but striking handbag. She asked where I had purchased it and how she could get one for herself. Perhaps it was martini that made me bold, but I told her I was a fashion designer, and that this piece was from my own collection. I said I would be happy to offer her a sample bag for purchase. I was thrilled when she ordered two bags at what I believed was an outrageous price: her order was more than cover that month’s rent.
In the next few weeks, the word-of-mouth orders and the attention the bag received on the street made it clear to me that this was a business opportunity. Upon finishing my study-abroad program in England, I moved back to California and worked two jobs as a fashion buyer and as a cocktail waitress to fund the production of a sample line.
My partner, Kyle Eliason, and I hired a team of three interns and dressed them up in my then extensive wardrobe, yet another earned benefit from my time as a fashion buyer, so they “looked the part” as I sent them to deliver bags to various PR offices, celebrity stylists, and chic local boutiques. At one such boutique, the notable Lisa Kline on Robertson Blvd., Paris Hilton purchased a bag in every color, ten total.
With the press attention that followed, Nordstrom took notice of the brand and wrote a large order. After purchasing materials for their order, we could not afford the labor for finishing work. Enter Sigma Chi fraternity! We maxed out my last credit card purchasing enough pizza and beer to fuel my brother and his fraternity brothers for two straight days of assembling bags and packaging them for shipment.
Within 48 hours, 12 extra large pizzas, and 6 cases of Coors Light, we shipped to Nordstrom. “Paris Hilton’s favorite purse”, the Cuffz “Barfly” bag, was the must-have holiday item for 2004, and the “it” bag for Spring 2005. Within 3 years, the brand gained recognition within the luxury fashion community, and was eventually acquired by a major multinational fashion company, Theory Clothing.
Over the years, our team enjoyed a great deal of success in the worldwide accessories market: Cuffz handbags now adorn the shoulders of celebrities, grace the glossy pages of top-tier fashion magazines, and ornament the shelves of fine department stores as well as our own Tokyo boutiques.