Holly Aiken aims to make her eponymous bags distinctive and instantly recognizable
Growing up at her family’s clothing design and manufacturing business, HOLLY AIKEN got an early look at the world of color and textiles, as well as the work that goes behind running a fashion design company.
“My mother and father designed and manufactured children’s clothing, and their brand was called Patsy Aiken Designs,” Aiken says. “So, I grew up in that environment of manufacturing, having sewing machines around, and a shop (where I could) go to play, learn, and be creative. That was all I knew growing up.”
Fast forward to 2008, when Aiken founded Holly Aiken Bags, a bag and accessory design and manufacturing business in Raleigh, as well as the former Stitch, a retail store that carried its products.
About five years ago, Aiken moved to Wilmington. And, last year, she decided to move the business and retail store here to be closer to home.
Her venture into bag designing started after she graduated from college.
“I went to N.C. State (University’s College) of Design. I graduated in 1997, and I had done some product design and furniture design while I was there,” Aiken says. “But, after I graduated, I started making bags for friends and selling them to small local shops on the side. And then, I evolved that into what it is today.”
The bags, which have distinctive patterns and colors, are inspired by geometry and architecture, Aiken says.
“I did a lot of graphic design while I was in school, and I think a lot of it – the graphic quality of the simple patterns that we use – is inspired by that,” Aiken says. “The bags have very simple yet practical designs that are well-made and stand the test of time.”
Holly Aiken bags are made primarily from nylon webbing and vinyl fabric that is cut, sewn, and finished in Wilmington.
Aiken’s designs make the bags stand out from others to the point where people can recognize one of her creations when they see one, Aiken says.
“We get comments all the time that a customer has been traveling to California, for example, and they see someone at the airport, and they know right away that they have a Holly Aiken bag,” she says. “I think that’s what customers like: that it is unique.”
While the bags are pretty enough to take to an elegant dinner, they are designed to be everyday workbags sturdy enough to withstand constant use. Bag styles include tote and crossbody bags as well as diaper, messenger, and beach bags.
“The bags kind of have a casual vibe to them because of the bright colors and the graphic designs,” Aiken says. “Our customer base ranges; we do some male messenger bags and wallets. But, most of our customers are female.”
Manufacturing its products in Wilmington allows the company to maintain quality as well as serve its popular “Design a Bag” feature that allows customers to pick the style, graphics, and colors of their bag through an app, Aiken says.
“I always just wanted to have a little more control over the quality and do things in small batches and be able to change things on the fly,” she says. “I have always used local seamstresses, and (the process) evolved out of that. We found seamstresses that sew at the high quality that we require for our product and it turned out just to be a good fit for us.”
Holly Aiken Bags has six employees, and its inventory is carried in boutique brick-and-mortar stores throughout the U.S.
While Holly Aiken Bags has left Raleigh, it still has a presence in the city that saw the business’s growth.
“There’s one store in downtown Raleigh called DECO. They have a large amount of our inventory there,” Aiken says. “We sell to a few other stores in downtown Raleigh as well that have specific items designed just for their store. We make a running bag for Runologie. Port of Raleigh is another really great shop downtown. They have modern furnishings, and we do some designs just for their store as well.”
With her move to Wilmington, Aiken hopes to continue to grow the business online and bring more awareness about its retail store, Holly Aiken, at 7232 Wrightsville Avenue.
On the creative side, Aiken continues to explore design and material possibilities to keep building the brand.
“I try to develop and design what I think people are looking forward to,” she says. “Styles change over time, and we have some bags that we’ve had since the very beginning. They’re still our classic line of styles that we always have, but then we’re always rotating styles in and out.”
To view more of photographer Stephanie Savas’ work, go to stephaniesavasphotography.com.
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