When Jöelle Andrew told veteran carpenters that she was going to build a purse out of sheets of veneer wood, they said it couldn’t be done. Despite their doubts, Jöelle pursued a proprietary process by which she could bend the wood into the shapes she wanted. One year and many failed prototypes later, Jöelle created a handbag where the wood was the shell, hinge, and interior department all at the same time. Even further, all of the materials that she had used were from the U.S.
When you walk into Jöelle’s studio in Austin, Texas, you can see that a creative person inhabits it right away. The high ceilings are lined with ledges filled with books and prototypes of her bags that didn’t work. She keeps them there to humble herself with the process it took to create a bag that has sparked interest from British Vogue, InStyle, and designer Kenneth Cole. The ledges are also lined with books, which she and her husband “agreed would be a thing we never set a budget on”, which range from interests in design to the classics. Her couch has a quilted blanket draped over it that is decorated with hand-painted designs, but more about that later. The start of this creation came from Jöelle’s natural curiosity.
“As an artist, I am always building new things. A few years ago, I started focusing on how to extend the bentwood process from home furniture products to handbags and accessories. I shared a few prototypes and received great feedback, so I figured ‘Why not?’”
Her inspiration for the material came from her love of organic and natural materials, and the thought that other people shared that fascination. However, it is hard to bring natural materials into fashion and accessories, which is Jöelle’s other passion. She created her dream purse and started to take it out on the town, where people would stop her and ask where she had gotten it. It started to become a bit of a joke between her and her husband, where he would say to keep the purse at home so they wouldn’t have strangers approach them. However, it proved her suspicions that people did like the organic look but also as a fashion item. After all, she says one of Suppii’s sayings is, “Supplii wood purses, because you can’t take your Eames chair out for a night on the town.”
The product is beautiful beyond just the design. Despite being made out of wood, it is extremely environmentally friendly because the woods that Jöelle uses are highly renewable. The simple design doesn’t require much of the material and she also uses a non-toxic glue to layer all the fine sheets of wood that bend into the purse form. The wood is also responsibly harvested. All of those are reasons that Jöelle cites as why people like her purses. She says, “I believe people respect that we haven’t moved our production overseas… It’s about supporting the communities we aim to serve. This philosophy spans from materials through production.”
Greetings from Austin Mural
Jöelle showing us how she shapes each purse.
Jöelle and interviewer, Kelsey, talking about upcoming designs and new launches.
The outside of Jöelle workshop. The doors give her the opportunity to let nature in and inspire her designs.
A cute way to tie an extension cord.
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That community is the city of Austin. Austin is known for many types of art, being home to major film and music festivals as well as nurturing up-and-coming artists. Jöelle cites her location as being important to her creativity and that “Austin must have the most artists per capita than any other city in the country, and the support from the local community astounds and motivates me.” She talked about how Austin has many places where artists can work in the same studio, like a co-op, and how that vibe permeates the community in a positive way.
“We are all in this together… and the city is our collective studio, both communal and uplifting.”
While operating locally is supportive to her craft, it doesn’t come without challenges. When asked what is hardest about keeping her products American made, she answers quickly, “Easy question: the price.” However, that challenge doesn’t mean there isn’t a large silver lining. Jöelle says that while it is more costly to produce domestically, “Quality is the advantage.” The artistic, supportive community of Austin coincides with how she views her company’s values and production process. She states, “It’s our brand to be art, not mass-produced. Staying local is an important part of that equation.”
Artists in Austin pride themselves on their supportiveness and helping others, so it was easy for Jöelle to give American Link advice on what people should do if they are looking to start their own businesses. When asked what one piece of advice she would give, she says, “Simple: If you’re doing what you love, you will never work another day in your life.” She found her community in Austin and how the city makes her feel like she is “doing my part in this community [by] pursuing artistic passion and just being myself”, so finding a community that values what your business is modeled after will be essential to having people around you that can encourage and inspire you. When it comes to making things all American, “do your math”. There are definite quality advantages that Jöelle found by making her purses locally but you need to “make sure your brand and market supports the sourcing and production challenges.” She also encourages people to “make your brand support it”, so setting that as a priority from the start should help the process.
The quilt that was draped over Jöelle’s couch from earlier now has inspired a new line of canvas bags with a wood handle. Her wooden purses also led to her creating other wooden accessories like earrings and bracelets. Jöelle had once dreamed that wood and accessories would come together, and eventually decided she would be the one to make them come together. With her passions encouraged by the community of Austin and her husband, there is a good chance you will see some wooden purses being toted by your fashion-forward friends in the near future.
If you want a purse of your own, check out Supplii’s website where you can get their purses, accessories, and canvas bags! www.supplii.com
Credits // Author: Kelsey Klemme - Photos: Richelle Smith