It’s easy to spot a Vssel bag as you walk through Stripe. The design is strikingly simple, clean, and beautiful. And the moment you pick one up, you can feel the quality of the materials. In this interview, Agnes Ysselstein, the woman behind Vssel, shares her story of how she started and what it’s like to be a designer in Santa Cruz.
How did you first get started making leather goods?
Growing up, my mom would take me with her to fabric stores. She was a big influence with my love of sewing and taught me how to use her sewing machine. She encouraged my creativity which led me to have the best dressed dolls at my elementary school.
I had never worked with leather until a few years ago. It was a challenge at first, I started making little leather wallets... My sister was getting married so I decided to make gifts for her bridesmaids. I found some shiny gold leather and made ten little wallets. The girls loved them! Their excitement got me started.
What was it like when you first started?
I loved it! Working with leather was different, it's a 3-dimensional medium that allows me to visualize shapes differently than fabric. I started making little things like wallets, key chains, water bottle holders — using every bit of leather. Then I started making bags. My husband asked me to make him a grocery bag so I modeled his after a paper bag. He got compliments whenever he used it. I then started making these as birthday gifts for my friends. They all suggested I start selling them.
What’s your design process like? Do you have an imaginary customer in mind? If so, could you describe them?
After my first bag, I started making bags for myself. I designed it around the needs of an active mom. As a mother of two boys and always on the go, I wanted a big front pocket, inside pockets, it had to hold their water bottles, snacks and their gis for Jiu Jitsu. I would describe my design process as combining practical function using beautiful materials and clean lines. I have never thought of an imaginary customer, I imagine they would be my friends since they are my biggest supporters. They like me want a bag that is versatile, using it for whatever is going on that day.
Santa Cruz has a thriving community of artists and skilled makers. How has living and working here been for you?
I love downtown Santa Cruz! First Fridays, pop up events, etc. I see artists selling their work in our local shops and it inspires me. I'm very shy when it comes to presenting my own work. I was sooo nervous the first time I went to Stripe with my bags. But with the encouragement of my friends, I'm so glad I did. I'm thrilled to see my bags every time I walk into Stripe.
I'm very thankful for the support that the Santa Cruz community has shown me!
Lastly, what advice do you have for people who are considering starting their own business?
There is a lot of support here in Santa Cruz for small, local artisans. I think many of the stores and customers appreciate well-crafted work and are willing to support new local people like myself, if they believe in the products they're making. Store owners like Suna and Dana have great knowledge, and I have found they are more than happy to help out a new business person. I've been happily surprised at how well my work has been received, and I would encourage anyone who is passionate about what they are doing to get it out there. This has been, and still is, a learning process for me, becoming a small business owner has been more gratifying than I anticipated it to be.
Follow Vssel on Instagram and come shop Vssel bags next time you're at Stripe.