Photo: @UpstateDiary by KateOrn (AgnesBaddoo.com)

What’s the handbag that would give you life—if only you could find it? Agnes Baddoo answered that question for herself, and it became a business.

Formerly a fashion stylist for Elle magazine, Baddoo cut her teeth on the international fashion circuit of New York, London and Paris in the ’90s. When The Glow Up caught up with the designer over the phone from her headquarters in Los Angeles, she was celebrating the fifth anniversary of her eponymous unisex line of handmade leather bags, now sold by some of the most exclusive retailers in the world.

Sac 1
Photo: AgnesBaddoo.com

“Minimalism, maximized” seems the most fitting way to describe Baddoo’s dramatically understated and deeply distinctive style. To illustrate her deep commitment to subtlety, look at the bag in the photo above, and time how long it takes you to find the trademarked logo. It took me a good five minutes. (Hint: It’s in the stitching.)

Baddoo became a designer out of necessity. She had taken a favorite bag that once belonged to her mother to the shoemaker so many times, they had to change the proportion and move the handles and closures until they couldn’t do it anymore. Undeterred, “I set out to find someone who could make the bag for me,” she says.

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Wanting a single bag made to replace a favorite is one thing; starting a business is quite another—especially as a fashion insider who both knows the fierce competition in the luxury sector and how easily an original idea can be copied into oblivion. How to survive as a fledgling designer in the world of fast-fashion insta-rip-offs?

Manufacturing in the Garment District where imitators abound was a no-no for Baddoo. Instead, to execute her bags, she sourced a saddlemaker by the racetracks in Los Angeles, with whom she still works today. She tells us, “I just got to the point where I wanted to have conversations with myself and agree with myself and be my own boss.”

Baddoo got a handle on her business when she became part of the design collective at the Echo Park Craft Fair in Los Angeles. Some 5,000 people a year attend the biannual fair, featuring 200 highly curated vendors. The two-day affair draws discerning design professionals and luxury retailers from as far away as Tokyo. Launched at the fair in 2013, the 10 bags she had produced sold in two hours, with orders placed for more. “[T]hat allowed me to own my own business,” Baddoo says.

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Each bag retails between $400 and $600 and takes an artisan three days to cut and assemble by hand the 10 panels that make up each bag. Baddoo’s top-selling bag is Sac 1, the first model she ever made. Belt Sac 1, which can be worn as a fanny pack or a cross-body bag, is inching up to become a top seller. Baddoo makes five styles and produces about 100 in each color, which are often sold out on the site.

“It’s about desirability and covetability,” she tells us. “This is slow fashion. It can’t be ubiquitous; otherwise it’s just going to peak and die.”

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Baddoo makes what you could arguably call the “anti-it” bag. “What I like about fashion is the way that well-made things make people feel,” she says.

While designer “it” bags can be a lot of fun, for sure—they scream status and call our attention with bells and whistles—“My bags are not about being ‘hot’—which is kind of [a] shallow experience, because it’s over so fast,” says Baddoo, without an ounce of contempt for the fashionista who lives from trend to trend. “My business is based [on] creating a timeless quality.”

Baddoo is someone who thrives on continuity and a personal connection to the places where she lives and does business. She’s a bicoastal resident who divides her time between the “classic neighborhoods” of both Hollywood and New York City’s Upper West Side that resist developers and chain stores, and is steadily growing roots in Los Angeles. “It’s important to me to own a business and manufacture where I live and pay taxes,” she says.

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Though both output and profits could increase tenfold literally overnight if Baddoo were to outsource her production to Asian factories, the six-person production team of artisans who make all of her bags by hand in Los Angeles is a precious resource—and one she sees dwindling before her eyes.

“When I go to look for people who make things, they are all of an age, and I don’t see young people coming to look for those kinds of jobs or learn the craft,” she says.

Fair wages for people’s skills are also something that’s important to Baddoo: “I know I take a hit when it comes to the bottom line. [But] it’s important to keep independent businesses in neighborhoods.”

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What’s next? Baddoo has just finished writing a business plan projecting the next five years of her business, including a storefront “artelier,” combining retail and manufacturing under one roof.

“I’m a destination brand,” she says. “I want to give people the thrill of the hunt.”