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What all goes into a custom handbag?

Reporter watches local business create her purse

Nov. 20, 2012

A stylish reception area filled with beautiful handbags greeted me as I walked into Pursenal X'pressions in Waukesha. I was about to spend the afternoon with founder and CEO Michelle Strunsee and co-owner and vice president of sales Michelle "Emme" Ekstrom to learn how they make their one-of-a-kind handbags.

The ladies explained that what's so great about PX Handbags is that women can express their creativity and personal style by designing their own bag, wallet or accessory.

"What makes us unique is that it's an interactive experience," said Strunsee.

Get a party started

The ladies said this design process typically takes place in a home party setting where girlfriends design bags together with the help of a "pursenal designer," name given to the sales representatives. It begins by picking out an item(s) to customize. I chose to customize City Girl, a large yet simple purse. Michelle and Emme explained to me that each item has a number of components that can be customized, from the exterior and interior materials to the type of bag strap. With 130 fabrics to choose from, the ladies tell me that there are up to 284,000 possible combinations. Chances are, you won't meet another person who has the same bag as you (unless, of course, you and a friend purposely design the same bag.)

I flip through dozens of fabric swatches; from metallics to reptile prints, and solid colors to cotton options. A bit nervous at deciding upon a combination of fabrics, I ask Michelle and Emme for their expert advice. With the help of their friendly suggestions, I select a silver snake print for the largest section of my bag and a red snake print for the accents and the strap. For the inside, I go with a red floral pattern resembling paisley.

Purses with 'purse-onality'

"Our pursenal designers are trained to walk women through the (design) process," says Strunsee.

Next I follow my bag through the manufacturing process, which is something most women won't see. Robert Rodriguez, production supervisor, begins the process by cutting out each piece of the bag in the material I've chosen using a template. Next the pieces are given to one of the two seamstresses who specialize in different parts of the bags assembly, including straps, interior, exterior and finishing touches. The inside portion of my bag is sewn first by one of the seamstresses, who installs a zippered compartment and stitches pockets into the lining. The strap is sewn up in a jiffy using the red snake material that I chose as the accent to my purse. Next, the exterior of my bag is sewn together, creating the shell of the bag. Decorative stitching and the PX emblem are added to the exterior before the interior is sewn. Finally, Rodriguez rivets the strap (which I'm told is detachable to allow for versatility) to the rest of the bag. And, voilà. The bag I designed is complete.

While my bag was sewn in one afternoon for demonstration purposes, women will receive their order in three to five weeks. It will be shipped right to your door.

It's in the bag

"It's amazing how much they accomplish," Strunsee tells me of the seamstresses. On an average month, Pursenal X'pressions manufactures around 400 items.

"It's very consistent and growing," she adds of sales and production.

I ask what differentiates their bags from other designer bags. Strunsee tells me that customers are "recognizing it's quality," and that each bags represents a locally-made product. It's something that women can be proud to carry on many levels. "We're offering women another option to carry a great bag."

Ekstrom and Strunsee are proud to be successful female business owners, and offer other women a flexible and rewarding career as designers. In the seven years since the company began, PS Hangbags has grown to around 30 pursenal designers. Ekstrom and Strunsee hope to reach 50 by the end of the year.

With the success that the ladies have accomplished in their business, Strunsee and Ekstrom make it a point to give back to the community. PX Handbags offers Mend a Beating Heart (MBH) key fobs, a lovely heart wristlet key holder. Thirty percent of the proceeds from the sale of the key fobs are donated to cardiomyopathy foundations.

For more information about PX Handbags or to become a pursenal designer, search "PX Handbags" on twitter, Facebook, pintrest or instagram or visit their website, www.pxhandbags.com. To set up a "pursenal" appointment to design a bag, email ekstrom at mekstrom@pxhandbags.com.

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