Shannon Fisher talks FERAL & designer handbags
 FERAL - Beautifully crafted designer hand bags

FERAL - Beautifully crafted designer hand bags

It was a beautiful day outside. The Seattle sun was making itself known and the temp was low 80s. It’s hard to find a better day in Seattle.  It was time to head out of the office to meet Shannon Fisher of FERAL. We were to talk about her beautiful product line of Designer Handbags. I’d been anticipating this interview since it was scheduled. I pulled up to the coffee shop, and we grabbed a couple iced coffees before picking a nice place outside to talk shop.

Feral — I love the brand name — Let's talk about that!

Feral means a return to a natural state. I have over 10 years of private label design experience working for large National and Global Brands. I was part of the corporate machine and I wasn’t really happy about the sort of “Profits over People” mentality. After leaving the corporate world, I really wanted to build a company that was more mindful from the ground up. It had to focus on great design and sustainability, and not as a trend, but as a future way of designing. So the idea of returning to a natural space, really spoke to me at this point in my life.

Were you able to use your professional network?

I have a lot of manufacturing experience in India and China and such, but to build an arsenal of skilled American artisans, really took me almost 2 years. It was hard to find all the hardware... the zippers, the little things you never think about. Before, I could just send a development package to Asia, and they would easily source everything I needed for as cheap as possible. Here, there was a lot of knocking on doors and calling people. Finding American made components from other small businesses, and small batch manufacturers that could help execute an elevated aesthetic (And those are the keywords), proved to be a challenge.  There are a lot of beautiful, bohemian, and more traditional goods being made in the US, but I struggled to find manufacturers that felt confident in executing on something that was sleek, minimal and Modern.

It took some time?

Yes, it took a long time, but it was worth the effort and the wait. Now that we have made our first production run, I feel we’ve really found the perfect partners and I’m really proud of what we have created. The biggest compliment to our product is when I put our bags in stores next to a brand like Prada, and the women that buy designer bags reach for mine. That’s all the validation I need and it tells me I am doing something right.

 Feral designer hand bag

Yes, I love your backpack, it’s really beautiful.

Thank you, I recently had a client buy two of them so she could wear one on vacation and trash it and have another one perfect and pristine for when she got home. That tells me I am offering an extreme amount of value to people and really validates what I am doing. I want to give the designer handbag customer something that is beautiful, but at a more accessible price point so she doesn’t have to think twice about the investment. I want to give modern moms, working women, and everyday stylish humans, a killer wear to work bag, travel bag, or everyday bag, made in USA for under $1000. A foundation of sustainability, with a focus on high-quality, modern designs, and all the quality details of a designer handbag. Luxury for all. That’s FERAL — Who says you can’t have it all?

So how long have you been working on this company?

It has been incubating almost 2 years, but we just launched the brand online in February. I left a fantastic director position with a steady paycheck in 2014 because I realized I wanted to do something different, and money alone wasn’t enough for me anymore.

But that’s kind of this world, right?

I feel like the fashion industry lures creative people in, often those who are really looking to thrive in an idealistic world where your priority is visual curation... For children of working class parents like me, it doesn’t seem like you could make a career out of doing these fantastical things, but once you learn you can - it’s over, you’re hooked. Everything isn’t always sketching designs and European sourcing trips. Retail is a tough business. The more successful my career became, the more of a priority it became over everything else in my life. For a while I was in China every 6 weeks. I literally never turned off. I was always working.

Was that a wake up call for you?

I did it for 12 years and loved it. I’m extremely curious and love learning about the entire process. It was fascinating for me to go to the factories in China and learn about manufacturing and see the production line first hand. I enjoyed mentoring new designers, and guiding my designs from concept to completion through the entire corporate pipeline... All of it was really interesting to me. However, there came a point where making pretty things, and meeting my quarterly retail benchmarks, was not enough. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to be successful, I just want to challenge the status quo and do things differently.

What is the industry like now compared to when you started?

There are so many amazing brands emerging now. Instagram has changed everything. And I feel like there is an underlying consumer shift into wanting to know where the things we purchase, are made. We care about the foods we eat, the cars we drive, we care about the people behind the companies we support... I feel like this is a great time to come out with our brand and speak to those people who want a more sustainable wardrobe or support small women-owned businesses.

Tell me a bit about the product

All the bags can be worn in different ways. Versatility is extremely important to modern women, we’re always moving, always in demand and our bags have to keep up. The designs are sleek, minimal and at the same time luxurious.  It’s tough — You want to balance utility with being understated and elevated. But it is important to me that you can wear the bag, but that the bag doesn’t “wear” you. My goal is to appeal to practical people but still provide a bit of that luxury. Part of our manifesto includes adding elegance to errands, and we mean it.

 Designer Hand bags from FERAL

That’s an interesting point to focus on. If I were honest, I don’t think of Seattle as a place where people tend to dress up. The Corporate world I came from assumed if I was wearing a suit, I must have an interview elsewhere. It seems a bit of a foreign concept to some Seattleites. How do you work with that?

I’m not looking for someone who is wearing head to toe CÉLINE. I am looking at the woman that understands how to mix “high-low”. Someone that might mix and match Dries with Zara or Mango with Prada... It’s about people curating their styles with bits and pieces instead of just going all out with a single brand.

So how did you get into Handbag Design?

I studied apparel design at FIDM in LA and later studied couture at Accademia Koefia in Rome, Italy. I focused on suiting, and loved the precision of tailoring, creation of the 3D form and just the art and technicality of Couture. When I came back to the states, everything was Von Dutch caps and low rise Frankie B Jeans. I had just come from this world of European Couture and high end fashion and suddenly I didn’t really know how to fit into this American reality.  

That’s quite a contrast. How do you respond to that?

So here I am in the early 2000’s, back from Rome and looking for work and no one really cares that I can hand make a bespoke blazer. I started looking for creative outlets through freelancing and began to make a name for myself as a designer that could “do anything”.  Even after working for a few years as an apparel designer full time, I continued to take on freelance work on the side and I became the go to for unique projects. At one point, a had a recruiter reach out to me and ask if I had ever done handbags. Of course I said yes, then I went home, did a ton of research, and built a handbag portfolio around the few freelance handbag projects I had done.

Did you get the job?

I did! During the interview they told me that although I had worked as a designer in apparel, I would have to be ok starting over from the ground up in order to prove myself in handbags. I felt the opportunity outweighed the risk, and spent the first three weeks just sketching handbags and braiding different leather handles for them. I absolutely fell in love with it. I loved that it was something where I could still use my hands and be highly creative. I also liked the challenge of learning an entirely new trade.

 Feral - Designer hand bags coming in new colors soon

Feral - Designer hand bags coming in new colors soon

How was that different from your previous career?

Previously my apparel career felt more technical, formulaic and less creative. However, with handbags, I found it was purely emotional. It was just about creating something beautiful and emotionally compelling.  

Fast forward three years, and I was running three different product lines at that company as a highly respected senior designer. I had been all over the world and had learned a lot about manufacturing, hardware design, merchandising, costing, production- the entire process. I was allowed to take risks and have complete ownership over my team and my projects. All these skills I gained from taking that chance and starting my career over. It really brought me to where I am now. I would not be able to execute with confidence at this level without having had that experience.

Sounds like you were at the top of your game.

I really had to be. I came into this industry with the understanding that this had to work out - there was no safety net. I chose to enter the fashion industry because I wanted to match my natural talent with what I saw as a lucrative career path and it was going to work. I was young, hungry, aggressive, and business minded with my career. I had some amazing people that really fed and nurtured that drive in me. If it wasn’t for the mentorship I had with a few key individuals, (good and bad), I would not be able to do this on my own. I had to earn this position.  I have seen success and failures... I have had great bosses and not so great bosses… All of that has prepared me for the successes and rejections that one encounters on a daily basis when you have your own brand.

What Was there a pivotal moment where you decided you were going to start your own company?

It really happened organically, I actually resisted having my own line for a long time because I liked being behind the scenes, getting the regular paycheck and having the buffer of working for someone whose name pulled weight. I am used to being able to call a manufacturer and getting instant respect based on whom I work for. It has been really humbling to have to prove myself all over again. And hard.

[Laughing]
This was all a humbling experience for me but it’s perfect because I find that it really makes me hungry to succeed all over again. As I continue to put myself out there, I am making these amazing connections with other local designers like Oleksandra of BAUH designs, or SUK of SCHAI, and these amazing creative people help serve as a reminder that through community we can elevate and learn from one another. There is really space for all of us. Seattle really needs to become the next big Fashion Market, there is so much talent here.

Can you share with me some elements that you see as a creative driver?

It would be impossible to say that I am not influenced by what I see on Instagram, or fashion shows but I don’t think those hold as much focus for me. I prefer to look to street style, youth culture and vintage references. Art is a big influence but I also have a lot of love for the minimal 90s era concepts because that was a formative time in my life. FERAL is about combining the artful mind with practicality, simplicity and functionality. A collection of elevated accessories built for everyday life.

Shannon is the Founder of FERAL designer Handbags and resident of Seattle WA. You can find her collection online at her website or through Clementines.com