To kick off our Local Mompreneur Series, we had the honor of sitting down with Sage Aubrey, local mom and Accessory Designer, who launched her eponymous handbag brand, SAGE AUBREY, in 2015. The brand is best known for its distinctive geometric designs, clean esthetic and rich craftsmanship detail.
As beautiful as her handbags, is Sage's determination and her enormous heart for women. Here is her story in her own words. (And don't miss the giveaway at the end.)
"I lost my first fashion retail business in late 2009 after the market crashed, I closed the doors on the business in early October, got married in November, and found myself on a flight moving overseas with my husband to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (a job opp for my husband).
This was the first time in six years that I had completely sat still. Which for my personality type—isn’t GREAT! I went to a local book store looking for some inspiration and came across the book, HALF THE SKY, Turning Women’s Oppression into Opportunity. Little did I know this book would set me a FIRE.
I was so disappointed in myself that I hadn’t known the atrocities that are committed on to women and girls globally. I not only wanted to meet these women, I wanted to hear their stories and to find a way to change their lives. I just so happened to be living in the epi-center of where this oppression runs ramped.
I contacted many of the organizations founders that were mentioned in the book and Ruchira Gupta of Apne Aap Women Worldwide fully embraced my desire to learn more. My husband and I were invited to come and visit her action centers throughout India and meet the women and girls within her centers. (The women and girls are survivors of sex tracking, intergenerational prostitution and child brides).
After day one with Ruchira, I was forever changed- I wrote my family and friends back home to explain what I had witnessed that day and asked for their help with donations. This turned into a 501-C3 organization that began fund raising events.
A year and a half later I was at a prominent event in Cambridge, Boston at a round table discussion on women’s issues that exist globally. I was presenting my current efforts and a woman who headed up a women’s activist group- berated me about the copy in my pamphlet. I was shocked and hurt because my husband and I had invested so much time, energy and heart into our efforts. I mentally checked out for the rest of the evening and began questioning what we were doing there… I left that evening and had an AHA moment in the back of the cab to the Hotel. I told my husband that I was at the right place at the wrong time. That I needed to come back to my charitable efforts, when I had built a company that was authentically me—one that could financially sustain my global efforts for women and girls….
In early 2012 we moved back to the US and I decided that I would get back to my fashion roots and finally get on the other side of business and design something! This was when Rebecca Minkoff had launched a successful handbag collection and she was getting a lot of buzz. I read her story and said, “IF SHE CAN DO IT I CAN TOO,” and so my journey to creating SAGE AUBREY began.
Little did I know what I was getting myself into. I am a fashion school dropout-I didn’t know how to draw/sketch- I had no idea what it took to make a sample, the time it takes to create beautiful product- to manufacture- to market etc. I began sampling with an American handbag manufacturer in Downtown LA. The gentleman who owned the facility tortured me; he would yell at me and tell my designs were SH*T and throw things around the design room- would leave red faced and frustrated with my lack of skills… At one point he told me to just go to Louis Vuitton find a bag style I liked, and he would copy it and emboss my name on it!! I knew I would be an instant failure if I stayed with this gentleman, if I had embraced any more abuse and listen to his horrific advice.
This is when my obsession with creating/designing was born and so was my signature shape.
Back to the trade shows I went with shitty ugly samples but at least I had something to show the next manufacturer.
A side story- I was at Magic (a fashion tradeshow) and sat thru a panel discussion on the handbag market… at the end of the discussions I went up to the woman whom ran the panel introduced myself all chipper and naive- told her what I was creating- she did not look at my designs- she just asked me what my price point was going to be- I said somewhere between $350-$700 and she looked at me point blank and said, “DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB.” I was devastated and didn’t even have a day job to quit. So, on I went throughout the show completely deflated. I met a gentleman in the sourcing department who said he had done some manufacturing for Coach- so being that I had no industry contacts I basically latched on to that man and refused to let him tell me that he didn’t think I was ready to sample let alone produce bags… although he insisted on me NOT COMING out to visit his factory—I still insisted.
“I am the stray cat that nobody wants that you eventually take in because it just won’t leave.” The relationship with that manufacturer ended terribly- they couldn’t produce my bags-although they did and charged me too much money too-they tortured me to tears just about every day- the only nice woman at the facility told me that I needed to be stronger and stop crying and suggested multiple times that I should just be traveling the world with my husband. GETS WORSE>>>they sent my bags on freight in such cheap paper-thin boxes that when they arrived at my house in Phoenix they were all smashed… LITERALLY FLATTENED OUT…
The silver lining of this story was that I met a gentleman at the facility that was an industry vet, he said “Sage your killing yourself to make this work here and you are never going to get what you need- you need to be in Italy.” I snapped and said I have no contacts, I have NO OTHER CHOICE BUT TO BE HERE!! I am making the best of what I have!! He assured me that when he arrived home he would go thru his contacts and email the Italian manufacturers he had worked with in the past and make a connection for me. He did.
Three weeks later my husband and I found ourselves in a small town outside of Milan, Italy with smashed bags in hand building a relationship with a century old craftsman family whom decided to take on my collection and help me build a proper one.
I launched my first official collection in late 2015, I was found by the fashion director of BLOOMINGDALES MIDDLE EAST in 2016 and launched my collection in store with them soon after.
Since I have built several large and small retail partners all over the world, run pop up shops nation-wide and also run a successful online business. Although I have been at this for almost 7 years, I feel like I am just getting started.
I have been met with fierce opposition in building this company, it seems like at every turn there has been someone there waiting for me to fail and preparing me for it. I learned that this is a closed-door industry, no one likes a beginner especially a self-taught one and there are very few willing to throw you a bone. What “THEY” don’t know is that I have the strength of these women and girls inside me. I feel their stories within me and remind myself when all winds are against me that nothing compares to what they have experienced- their spirit is what has helped me thru a lot of hard days. I did not cry in the facilities because I felt bad for myself, I cried because I have invested all of my heart and soul into these bags and into hope for a greater future for all women and girls.
I believe when women start businesses they do it to improve the lives of women and this is simply what makes ‘WOMAN OWNED BUSINESSES’ powerful and different. The handbags that I design are strong, but the women who wear them are stronger; and these bags won’t change the world, but the women who wear them ARE.
Somewhere in-between all of this I’ve had two girls Sena 2.5 and Beaux 9 months…. My days with the girls and the business are insane- I have a rigorous schedule and LITERALLY zero advice for working moms the struggle for balance is for real. BUT I am here to tell you that if you follow your HEART and START before you’re ready, you will build your DAY DREAM.
Lastly, I will know I have ‘made it’ when I can get back to my "greater work."
Sage is also generously giving one lucky Desert Moms reader a Hera Clutch (valued at $425). Head to Instagram to enter.