Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight
with one of her creations.
Laurie Kaufmann '99
creates trendy purses
In fashionable circles, when Daily Candy (the Website for all things
chic) anoints you the next big thing, you're instantaneously huge.
At least that's what Laurie Kaufmann '99 found when her handbag
company, Lorelei, made the Daily Candy "It" list. That
very day 67,000 hipsters clicked onto her Web site to check out
the new must-have handbags.
What they discovered at www.loreleinyc.com
was Kaufmann's well-designed collection of adorable purses and make-up
cases, made of sumptuously touchable leathers and elegantly-patterned
plastics. For Kaufmann, who opened her business last fall, it's
been an incredibly busy and creatively satisfying enterprise that
started with a simple passion for handbags and became a burgeoning
business. According to Kaufmann family lore, Laurie's grandmother
started calling her "the bag lady" when she was just three,
because even then, she'd run around carrying several of them simultaneously.
(We assume this was the reason, and not that Grandma thought little
Laurie a no-good-ne'er-do-well.)
After graduating from Princeton, Kaufmann took some summer courses
at Fashion Institute of Technology, and then landed an internship
at Calvin Klein in the public relations department. At Calvin Klein,
she met Sara Dennis '87 who, Kaufmann says, took her under her wing.
Dennis secured her a full time job at the company, and she worked
there for the next two years. But Kaufmann realized that she wanted
to be designing as opposed to working in a more tangential capacity
of the fashion industry.
So she left Calvin Klein and headed back to F.I.T. for its one-year
accessory design degree program. Before she enrolled, she spent
the summer learning how to sew and started making her first handbags.
When friends and former colleagues saw the bags, they immediately
began asking if they could buy them.
At the end of her year at F.I.T., Laurie's final collection of
pursesinspired by Janis Joplinwon the award for "best
handbag design" in the Student Design Contest sponsored by
Elle magazine and the Accessories Council. Kaufmann says that winning
the award gave her the confidence that this was something she "really
could do," and creating a company, "was something that
really could work."
But though Kaufmann said she learned how to design at FIT, she
still needed to figure out elements like production, branding, and
delivery before she could start her business. "Production was
the biggest hurdle," Kaufmann admits, but now that she's found
New York-based factories to handle her orders, has converted her
bedroom into an office, and set up a Web site through which her
bags can be ordered, things have started running smoothly. Now,
it seems her biggest problem is trying to ship all the incoming
orders from boutiques and individuals as far away as Tokyo.
In December, Kaufmann's handbags will be featured in an event
run in conjunction with the National Museum of Women in the Arts,
in Washington D.C., for its exhibit "Enterprising Women: 250
Years of Women in Business," featuring artists who have turned
their work into a significant business. With Kaufmann's creativity,
intelligence, and beautiful aesthetic sense, no doubt she'll make
bags of money for years to come.
By Robin Epstein '95
Robin Epstein is a writer based in New York.