How the Founder of Purse & Clutch Started an Artisan-First Brand

Wearwells co-founder, Emily Kenney, chats with Founder + Executive Director of Purse & Clutch, Jen Lewis, based in Austin, Texas about her favorite styles, the importance of sustainable employment, and her tips for shopping slowly.

Emily Kenney: Hi, Jen! We’re so excited to share more about you and your brand with the wearwell community. To start, can you tell us about your favorite piece of clothing and why you love to wear it?

Jen Lewis: I love my secondhand sleeveless black jumpsuit - it’s so incredibly versatile! I can dress it up with jewelry and a blazer for a work event or slip on my Birkenstocks to pick up my kiddos at preschool and feel put together. It feels like I’m wearing sweats but I still look polished. Discovering that I like the look of a crew neckline has been a game changer in picking out items that I love and reach for again and again.

Jen Lewis of Purse & Clutch holding her child while wearing the ethical, sustainable Ellie Handbag | Wearwell

Jen wearing the Ellie Handbag. 

Emily: Versatile pieces like that really are the best, and versatility is also something that you’ve brought to your brand. What motivated you to start Purse & Clutch?

Jen: I couldn't help but start Purse & Clutch after I heard about the work my friend was doing in India. Back in 2011, I first heard about the idea of direct partnership with artisans to create products that would sell well in the US market. My friend told me about the lack of employment opportunities in India and how many of the traditional art forms, such as block printing, were at risk of disappearing since there was not a large enough market for artisans to sell their items and make a living wage.

This kind of company that worked in true partnership with artisans, providing design input and financial stability, really caught my attention. At the time I was working on piloting a non-profit, community-centered organization for supporting the chronically homeless in my neighborhood. This work allowed me to see that stable, dignified job opportunities are a key factor in long-term solutions to poverty alleviation, and this perfectly mirrored what my friend was describing.

I immediately asked my friend how I could help from the United States and she told me about this new kind of store – e-commerce! I sent them a check for $500 and the artisans started block-printing handbags for me. As they were being made, I Googled everything I could about starting a business, taking product photography, shipping, etc. Looking back, I can see now that I had no idea what I was doing, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Jen Lewis of Purse & Clutch holding the sustainable, ethical Connie Crossbody in Camel and Black | Wearwell

Jen holding the Connie Crossbody in Camel and Black, a wearwell bestseller. 

Emily: How did your interest in sustainable fashion begin?

Jen: I actually discovered sustainable fashion through running Purse & Clutch! It was in learning about how to produce things ethically that I began to see the contrast between sustainability and how most fashion is made.

Emily: What’s one piece of advice you would give someone who is trying to shop more consciously?

Jen: Start small and slow down your purchases. Find one category where you can direct your focus. Maybe it’s shoes, for example. Notice what style of shoes you love and find yourself wearing often. Then, the next time a pair wears out, do the research to find a brand that truly aligns with your values before purchasing your next pair.

Linda Wallet, Tan | Sustainable, Ethical Clothing Accessories, Bags | Wearwell

The Linda Wallet, Tan 

Emily: That’s such great advice! How do you define “sustainable fashion?”

Jen: My focus within sustainable fashion is on long-term job creation. To me, creating a sustainable job is one that stands the test of time – it’s committing to partner with an artisan group for the long run and treating our partnerships with respect and generosity. It’s creating a job that sustains an artisan’s family which then builds into their community and the ripple effect continues on and on.

Emily: Absolutely; the partnership you have with your artisan groups is one of my favorite things about Purse & Clutch. In 3 words, how would you describe your brand’s aesthetic?

Jen: Timeless, thoughtful, and cheerful!

Two women wearing the sustainable, ethical Ellie Handbag in Brown and Black | Wearwell

The Ellie Handbag in Brown and Black

Emily: What are your favorite styles from Purse & Clutch?

Jen: Oh, this is tough – it’s like picking a favorite child! Currently, I’m loving my Linda Wallet tucked into my Ellie Handbag – it’s what I carry every day. I’m also enamored with our Embossed Circle Crossbody. The handcraft that goes into each detail is truly astounding and I absolutely love that each crossbody is completely unique, as the artisan dreams up a different embossed pattern for each bag.

Embossed Circle Crossbody, Red | Sustainable, Ethical Leather Bags, Purses and Accessories | Wearwell

Emily: What’s next for Purse & Clutch - any exciting sustainability initiatives, new designs, or new artisan group partnerships that you’re looking forward to?

Jen: We’re about to launch two new artisan partnerships! One partnership with a group in Guatemala that’s fun and bold and a new line of gorgeous leather wallets from India that are timeless and perfectly functional.

Emily: Anything else you want to share with wearwell’s community?

Jen: Shopping ethically doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Give yourself grace in the process and choose to do better when you have the opportunity.

Shop Purse & Clutch on wearwell.

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