Made In St. Louis: Carnivorous Fish, Exotic Hides Inspire Handbag Designer

By Debra D. Bass
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Brief profile of a unique handbag designer in St. Louis. Allison Mitchell says that she’s always been creative and crafty. As a teen, she used to make her own clothes and jewelry which she would then sell. So for her, the handbag business was just another project.

St. Louis

Allison Mitchell

Age —31

Home —Central West End

Family —Ryan, husband of two years

What she makes —Oversized exotic leather bags crafted from python, crocodile, South African springbok hide and pirarucu, a giant carnivorous fish, priced at $900 to $3,000.

How to buy —; and soon she’ll be among the featured designers at the St. Louis Fashion Incubator showroom and headquarters, 1533 Washington Avenue.

Squiggly line —Allison Mitchell graduated from Lake Forest College, near Chicago, with a philosophy degree. “I loved every second of it, but … yeah … it’s a completely unemployable degree.” So she ended up in marketing for a corporation in Chicago before moving back to her Dallas hometown. That’s also where she met her husband and decided to go to culinary school.

After finishing that program, she worked assisting a few Dallas chefs. “I’ve had a squiggly line of a career path from marketing and catering to sales and having my own marketing agency.” Her marketing career accidentally led to next venture in handbag design.

Clutch groove —As she hit the social circuit to drum up business for her marketing agency, Mitchell was a regular at cocktail parties. Finding a bag that was the right size and style to fit in for business affairs was a challenge. “So on a Sunday when I was really bored, I wanted to make a long, oversized clutch to take to meetings and events that was more chic. At the time, I used what I could easily find, and that was an ostrich-embossed vinyl. I made this thing from a picture in my mind,” she said. And then off she went. An avalanche of compliments and inquiries followed. She said that she was flattered but not confident that this was a new career until the compliments and requests led a boutique to say, “I’ll take 10” and another said, “I’ll take 15 of them.”

Always crafty —Mitchell said that she’s always been creative and crafty. She used to make her own clothes and jewelry as an adolescent. She would often sell what she made then as well. So for her, she said, the handbag business was just another project. She was still surprised when it became a business. “It got crazy really quickly, so I developed a brand, which was easy because of my background in marketing and branding.”

St. Louis Fashion Incubator —Mitchell is among the first six designers in the two-year residency. And she’s approaching the entrepreneurial start-up with her usual zeal and efficiency. Instead of waiting to relocate, she found a residence and relocated in November. Her husband, a financial analyst, left his job in Dallas to support her. “He’s one of my biggest fans,” Mitchell said. “I was the one saying things like, ‘I can’t have an agency and a bag business … I don’t trust entrepreneurs that have more than one business.’ And he was like, obviously this has legs.” She found a manufacturer to work with and a steady supply of exotic animal skins with little effort, meaning the right connections and some luck. “There just weren’t a whole lot of obstacles in my way, so it was obvious that this is something I should be doing.” She moved to St. Louis early to settle in before the holidays. They’ll be traveling to visit family, so she said it just made sense to acclimate early so that she’ll continue sprinting ahead in the new year.

Why St. Louis —“Honestly, when I first got the email about being introduced to the (St. Louis Fashion Incubator), I was like I’m not interested,” she said. Then almost by happenstance, she agreed to a meeting with Tania Beasley-Jolly, who is on the board of directors for the St. Louis Fashion Fund supporting the incubator, and Eric Johnson, executive director of the incubator, during a recruiting trip in Dallas. “As soon as I started talking to them, I was really glad I took the meeting,” Mitchell said. She was impressed with the program and the connection to the art community, art patrons and a national design community. “I knew I’d be a fool not to do it. I’m so glad I was accepted.”
Two for the road –When Mitchell got the offer, she had a decision to make and so did her husband. But her biggest fan made the decision a lot easier when he agreed to follow her dream. In a way, it’s their first baby. She launched her first collection the weekend that they got married.

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