Our studio is located in Vancouver's beautiful Chinatown; this is where all our handbags are made. In our own studio we can ensure the methods and practices are to our standards. We start each handbag by cutting out the leather, edge coating, punching holes, setting grommets, rivets and hardware by hand. Then we skive the leather on a skiving machine. The skiving machine has a drum blade takes off a specific and predetermined amount of leather to reduce thickness at seems. All of our bags are sewn together on either our Juki walking foot machine or Signer push pedal machine.
Each design starts with an inspiration. Sometimes it's the leather, a person, or a piece of hardware. Once Stephanie has an idea she starts by drawing out the design in her note book. From there she draws out a pattern on recycled paper, then assembles a mock bag using these paper pattern pieces. Usually each bag takes several variations of paper prototypes before the pattern and design is resolved. Once the pattern/design is finished in paper, Stephanie will use this new pattern to create a second prototype in recycled leather to see how the pattern will work in the leather. In this second prototype; construction methods are worked out and the design is further solidified. Feedback is key in this step. When the bags are in this second prototyping phase we often allow the staff, friends and family members to wear them and see where improvements can be made. Once the second prototype is resolved we make our pattern pieces in a computer aided design program so the pattern can be laser cut out for accuracy.
We are obsessed with leather. We spend meticulous hours searching for a perfect leather hide. We require a leather that is going to really work hard for our clientele and provide them with a product that will last decades and beautifies with wear. Once we have found a leather we love we will ensure the manufacturing of the leather mets are local economy and ethical practices - when possible. Majority of our leather comes from North American tanneries such as our Oiled series from Massachusetts.
This adds the finishing touch to every bag. We believe that hardware should have a purpose and work just as hard for you as our leather and designs. We work with a company in Ohio for 98% of the pieces. However, for our custom chain and handles we work with our manufacturer in China. Although our brand ethos is to work with local manufacturers as much as possible we were not able to do so for every aspect of the handbag.
Local economy, voting with your dollar, and creating a community.
Another reason why we keep our manufacturing in North America is the benefit of a local economy for our community. When a handbag is purchased at Sonya Lee it goes directly into the business, supporting the women of Sonya Lee, paying rent, utilities, paying other creatives (photographers, graphic designers, and web developers etc) and buying supplies from our north American suppliers - this chain of money provides more to the north American economy which in tern hopefully creates more jobs and distributes this wealth through out the community.
Stephanie's brother taught her the importance of voting with your dollar. If you don't believe in the ethics or ethos of a product, don't buy it, thats the best way to 'vote' against their practices. Stephanie lives buy this rule and as the companies owner she insures her best that Sonya Lee abides by this rule.