Some say great ideas are the products of intention and careful thought; some say they’re born of flashbulb moments fueled by inspiration; and still others lay claim to a sense of prophetic insight, perhaps from a mystic or dream.
Rochelle Thwaites, an L.A.-based interior designer turned handbag designer, decided to refocus her career in 2004 after just such a dream. “I woke my husband up at 5:00 a.m.,” Thwaites said. “He was not happy, he just thought it was another one of my crazy little ideas.”
Apparently it wasn’t that crazy, because three years later Thwaites is launching her first collection of personally designed handbags — named Mimeki after the Jamaican word meaning “I made it” — and the fashion industry is taking notice.
The Mimeki style is one that any modern woman can relate to: Classic meets funky, creating a well-balanced blend that appears chic, not tacky. The silhouettes are just predictable enough not to be outlandish, but always adorned with unexpected embellishments that set each bag apart. Whether it’s a strip of python or ostrich skin to highlight a basic patent, or a metallic tassel to add a little panache, these bags have character.
But why spend money on an expensive bag, only to discover a season or two later that it’s not only out of style, it’s an embarrassment to be seen with? Not so with a Mimeki bag, which is practically guaranteed to remain elegant through the years. Take the Sahara mini satchels: Their boldness relies on contrasting colors, textures and stitch patterns, rather than impractical shapes or transient trends. The corners also fold up to expand, and double-sided compartments turn this average-sized bag into an incredibly useful accessory.
You definitely can’t miss the line of Kennedy bags, which will make a statement no matter how you decide to wear them. Named after the inimitable Jackie Kennedy, these totes are absolutely gorgeous with their hard oval handles and exotic skin trimmings. Even the large black-on-black tote, free of superfluous trinkets, can act as the perfect accent piece.
Mimeki’s inevitable success relies on a formula so simple, but which few designers consistently adhere to. Not only is each bag uniquely stylish, they’re each also uniquely functional, referencing the hectic lives of women everywhere and the need to own a bag that can properly accommodate. Every tote is conveniently divided into smaller sections that make for easy organizing, and certain clutches and small bags gracefully unfold into equally beautiful — though greatly expanded — versions. Several styles are also made in a variety of sizes, with the distinct purpose of providing a matching set of bags for women who tend to carry their lives around with them all day, especially in large pedestrian cities like New York.
Functionality also demands durability, and Mimeki bags are built to withstand the day-to-day wear-and-tear that our accessories are forced to endure. “When I design a bag, I abuse it to see where it’s weaknesses are,” Thwaites said. She’ll overuse a single bag for a few months, just to be sure of its design quality. If it doesn’t pass her post-production test, Thwaites scraps the style and heads back to the drawing board, so you can always be confident that her bags will hold up no matter what.
And if you’re like most fashion-conscious women, a broken or worn-down bag is almost as upsetting as finding your latest purchase in the hands of another hundred on-the-ball shoppers a week later. Because Thwaites retains total control over design, local production and mindful distribution, your bag will always be unique. There are never more than 50 bags made in each style, and for the upcoming Fall collection, those numbers will shrink drastically, down to about one dozen.
Breaking into the fashion industry isn’t easy, but Thwaites was determined to see her dream unfold in reality. “Fashion is saturated with great designers, how am I going to fit in?” she asked herself. For three years she traveled the world for inspiration, acquired a solid foundation of knowledge and collected mountains of samples to begin the design process. Thwaites usually considers herself an open book, and found it frustrating that so few people were willing to share their design experiences with her directly, for fear of losing competitive edge in such a fickle market.
But Thwaites survived the uphill battle — even without detailed, expert advice — and thank goodness she did, because there’s only more to look forward to for Mimeki. A men’s accessories collection is in the works (including messenger bags, laptop cases and belts), canvas bags will surface next Spring for those who’d prefer to steer clear of leather goods, and Thwaites has even toyed with the idea of launching a line of shoes as well.
Beautiful style and quality design are required in high-end fashion, but the pieces we remember are always backed by an individual, maybe two, who bring something new to the design process. In this case, that person is Rochelle Thwaites.
“I know how much I put into it — it’s not just another product, it comes from passion,” she said.
That passion seems to pour from Thwaites, and I can only imagine how it will be reflected in her work as she leads Mimeki into the future.
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