Bags of style: an interview with CEO Keri Andriana
9 min read
Born in 2017 and quickly spotted by Vogue, Tatler, Vanity Fair and London Fashion Week, Amschela is the beautiful Bristol handbag maker with beautiful ethics to match. Excitingly, this month it’s looking for a local brand ambassador…
Confidence, resilience and transparency are the cornerstones of CEO Keri Andriana’s Bristol-rooted brand, and the qualities they hope to inspire in the Amschela wearer. With luxury and ethics on equal footing at the centre of the ethos, this year the brand has made the pledge to transition into becoming fully vegan, and two of its bestselling handbags – the Thais croc mini and the Rene Brunel – already hold PETA-approved vegan status. Proud to be a part of our creative, culturally diverse city and keen to celebrate its home and reflect the city in its content, the company has made its next challenge to find a Bristol ‘face of Amschela’. We’ll let Keri tell you all about her journey and values – maybe you’d make a great fit.
My grandmother was a seamstress and as a child I would spend weekends with her. I became fascinated by watching her sew. She used to make clothing and it amazed me. She was a great lover of handbags and as I grew up she would give me her old bags and I would revamp them to make them current.
I was made redundant while working in the legal profession in 2016 and decided to take six months off to source my next role. I began to spend more time on that old hobby of mine: making bags. My children suggested I do it full time and that’s really how it happened. I wanted to go to handbag design school and learn the trade formally, but I could not afford it, so I turned to free courses and YouTube tutorials for a year and taught myself how to make more functional bags for the consumer. It became my full-time job. I was scared but I already had the basic skill and I knew if I just applied myself correctly I could do it.
Appearing in British Vogue was our breakthrough moment and it took my breath away. We have now featured twice – June and September 2018. The feedback was amazing and led to us appearing on BBC Points West. Amazing opportunities started to come our way.
It’s important to be honest and real as a business owner, especially in these tough times. As a brand we like to show our human side and relate our handbags to real-life women who have worked hard to be successful in their own right. Our bags serve to enhance character and individuality as opposed to overpowering it. I think the consumer has had enough of the ‘gloss and glamourisation’ of life – they want to see real people who they can identify with. They want to see something of their life in yours. We are all human and no-one is exempt from hardship and challenges – being a business owner doesn’t take that away. It’s important that we are able to relate to what the real world is feeling – people are losing their jobs and their homes during this pandemic, both of which are things I have experienced. I hope my story inspires someone in either situation to hang on in there and know things will and can get better.
I really like abstract art – I like to look at things with no concept and then create a concept of what I think it is. My designs are also quite open-flowing, so I never have an idea of a particular bag but once I start designing, the layers usually just form. I also get inspiration from ancient architecture and recently I have been looking at flooring.
I love Fendi because they stepped out of the normality of what a handbag should look like. I think it’s definitely where I get my love of embellishments from. They set the trend to be daring and bold and this resonates with the current Amschela woman.
I had wanted to take the brand in a vegan direction for some time so we designed ‘Thais’, a vegan croc mini bag made of 100% polyurethane and tencel cotton. It was a great day when we learned that it had acquired PETA approval; she is now one of two vegan products that we hold. We are one year into a three-year pledge ➲ with PETA however I hope to have made the full transition by spring 2021. I no longer wish to contribute to anything that is damaging our earth or supports cruelty to animals. There are so many eco-friendly and sustainable materials that can be used for fashion production. We owe it to future generations to make the planet as safe as can be.
The business is in a transition phase that will encompass going fully vegan and, with the introduction of our own unique print, define who we really are. As a small brand we can make some distinct changes without losing the essence of the brand, and as we grow, we learn, we make mistakes, but these things allow us to retain our humanity within the business and shape who we are and what we stand for.
Celebrity fans include soul singer Beverley Knight, TV presenters Naomi Isted and Sarah Mulindwa, actress Emily Milburn, Strictly’s Shirley Ballas and TV personality Imogen Thomas. I am so honoured each time one of our bags is worn, and seeing them in the press or on the red carpet always feels surreal as we are such a young brand.
Our biggest challenge has been funding. I started the brand from home, in my kitchen. I shouldn’t say this but at the beginning I really had no idea about how much it would all cost, I just liked to make bags and dived head on in. I had no idea that it would be spotted by British Vogue – when that happened it became really challenging to transition from it being almost a hobby to a fully fledged business on a non existent budget. At the time I was doing everything by hand and running all parts of the business myself and it was definitely very challenging and still is. I hope to crowdfund next year or at least look into equity investment to help us scale up effectively.
My advice to other small business owners is to keep going until the brakes literally fall off – you have come too far to give up. Pace yourself, operate at your own speed and stay true to your vision. The universe will do the rest if you just have faith in yourself and your capabilities. Never be afraid to also ask for advice and, where you can, look back and help others.
I adore my former university, the University of Bristol. They taught me so many transferable skills in my law degree which I now use daily; great research skills, how to work logically and methodically and be organised. I am a student mentor and have recently taken on two summer interns in our social media department. I was able to offer part-time positions within the business after their internships ended. I hope to always be in a position to help students wishing to go into fashion to get work experience, and for those wishing to go into law, practical advice. Giving back is very important to me.
The current climate has been very difficult, even for e-commerce businesses. No-one could have predicted Covid-19 and the destruction that was to follow. The obvious negative was that sales just stopped overnight for all businesses – we are slowly trying to rebuild. The positive is that we have engaged so much more with our loyal consumer base and created a really good digital footprint in the last few months which we think will help us to rebalance. The thing is that you cannot cry over spilt milk, so we are just cleaning up and getting on with it, learning to pivot in the process.
Moving into TV and film is exciting – our first film placement is in On The Other Foot by director Fredi Nwaka. Cast members include Tim Faraday and Quinton Aaron and our bags will be worn by the female leads. We have just finished designing our brand print and hardware for our signature line as we seek to enter the high-end market more permanently. From the brand’s creation, I have wanted it to have its own bespoke print and I felt that now, having watched our consumer base take shape, it was time to do that. I worked with an amazing textile and graphic designer from Philadephia who took my vision to a new level. We will always do an affordable luxury range as that is at the core of who we are but we want to be diverse in what we offer. There are some special things coming within the next 12 months.
Could you be Bristol’s Face of Amschela?
Throughout November, Amschela will be looking for a local brand ambassador to help create eye-catching fashion-focused and Bristol-centred ‘out-and- about’ content including Instagram reels, outfit-of-the-day images and videos showcasing the handbags, and editorial shots with an in-house photographer.
You must be 18 years old or older, living in Bristol, confident in front of a camera and able to style interesting looks. You should have an engaged social media following, be experienced in taking high-quality photographs (iPhone quality is fine – they’re looking for correct angles, lighting and positioning rather than a fully kitted-out runway photographer), alignment with Amschela brand values of respect and inclusion, understanding of the vegan and eco-conscious values, and a willingness to have fun with the role and produce innovative content.
Benefits include a range of luxury Amschela handbags, experience working with an emerging fashion brand, a chance to build your personal portfolio, content you can use on your social media pages, contacts in the fashion and influencer industry, chances to attend industry events and being a part of the fun-loving Amschela family.
Send up to 10 full-length OOTD-style photographs of yourself modelling a handbag you love, ideally in a Bristol location; create a 15-second video suitable for Instagram reels; perhaps a flat-lay of building an outfit around your handbag, an OOTD showcase or you and your handbag out and about in Bristol; and tell the team what drew you to Amschela as a brand, what you would like to gain from the ambassador scheme and what Bristol content you would create.
Send all of this with your full name and Instagram handle to firstname.lastname@example.org by 30 November to be in with a chance of becoming the Bristol ambassador.