Sydney, Australia-based entrepreneur Lana Hopkins can pinpoint the moment she had the idea for her revolutionary customizable handbag line, Mon Purse: An unsuccessful search for a handbag at the Bondi Beach Westfield mall led to an hour creating a plush toy at the Build-a-Bear workshop. While sitting in her car afterward, she realized those two activities were not mutually exclusive. "There's something in this. I had my come-to-Jesus moment all of a sudden," Hopkins tells Fashionista.
And the timing was perfect. She had just sold her customizable phone case company, iCoverLover, and was looking for a new endeavor. After extensive online research, reaching out to contacts in the leather manufacturing business and boots-on-the-ground perseverance, Hopkins found a factory in Turkey willing to work with her seemingly fantastical idea. She flew back to Sydney, taught herself how to code and savvily bartered her marketing skills with fellow co-working space tenants to develop the e-commerce back end.
Since launching in late 2014, Mon Purse has seen sales increase a whopping 8,000 percent and projects $20 million in revenue for 2017. After meeting Hopkins, I could immediately see how her cutting-edge idea came to fruition so quickly and successfully. In person, she's full of energy and armed with a vocabulary robust with tech-y buzzwords (yes, "disruptor" was thrown around quite a bit) and MBA-level operations management terminology.
She walked me through the innovative customization process so that I could familiarize myself with a few of the six billion ways to design a Mon Purse bag. For instance, a bowler can be created in five different leather textures (from smooth to croc-embossed) with 28 different color choices for the body — and with the options to have the front and sides (and the top handle and long strap) in contrasting hues. Plus, there's the monogramming option, hardware selection, fringe and so on. A bag takes four weeks to manufacture and deliver, and the price points won't make your eyes bulge out of your head: starting at $480 for the classic bowler and $380 for a bucket style. "It's not for the super elite," Hopkins says "It's for everyone."
Behind the scenes, a proprietary manufacturing technology developed in-house makes this possible. "We've got systems, like the Kanban method, where you use certain methodologies to produce different workflows in terms of what gets produced first and what gets produced second," she explains. "On Monday we do clutches, on Tuesday we do tote bags and Wednesday we do Bowler bags." Her development team, which has grown to eight from two, is continuously innovating and improving workflow processes, too.
"This year, I was standing on the production line in Turkey and at that time, there were 1,000 different bags being manufactured all at the same time," she says. "I had a tear in my eye."
The Mon Purse development team also created a proprietary 3-D Bag Builder interface. The model, based on PBR — a gaming technology that simulates leather armor and skin — also offers precise color matches. "It doesn't look like a toy," Hopkins says while demonstrating how to zoom in and analyze the bag-in-progress from all angles, even the inside lining. "The experience needs to be as realistic as possible."
While its desktop and mobile interface creates an experience for the shopper, Mon Purse is also bridging the gap between online and in-store shopping.
In mid-2015, Hopkins spoke at an online retail conference in Sydney and sat next to Richard Umbers, the then-new CEO of Myer, Australia's largest department store chain. He invited Hopkins to debut a Mon Purse shop-in-shop in the Melbourne location. Then things started to move fast. Around the same time, she was also opening the brand's first flagship boutique in the trendy Paddington section of Sydney.
A week after the first Myer shop-in-shop opened, Umbers informed Hopkins it was the location's "number-one store" and announced he wanted to open one in Sydney. Fast forward to now, and there are Mon Purse shop-in-shops in five Myer outposts in Australia as well as Selfridges in London and Manchester. (The storied British department store just launched a customization destination, where Mon Purse lives alongside other similar concepts.)
Next stop: the United States, more specifically the Bloomingdale's New York flagship, which will debut a Mon Purse shop-in-shop — or "Mon Gallery," as Hopkins prefers — on Dec. 15. (San Francisco will open at the end of 2016.) "'Stores' is a word that I don't love," she says. "When you walk [into a Mon Gallery], you feel like you're transported to a theatrical, magical venue. It's all about looking at the hanging leathers, looking at the inspirational designed bags and having your monogram."
To usher Mon Purse into the U.S. market, newly minted InStyle Editor in Chief and fellow Aussie native Laura Brown designed a capsule collection, available online Wednesday. A mutual friend introduced the two, who immediately bonded in the Sydney flagship, despite Brown's extreme jet lag. "I remember being so dazzled by everything [Hopkins] was doing — and totally out my head at the same time," the EIC says.
The company has worked in the past with influencers who feel "authentic" to the brand, like blogger Margaret Zhang and actress Jodi Gordon. But "we're not in a business of paying 50 different bloggers to represent us," Hopkins says. "We want to find alliances with people who believe in our brand." New York-based Brown, always eager to support fellow Aussies, also wanted a fun challenge. "I like to test myself a little bit sometimes just to see if I have any taste," she laughs.
The capsule features "three bags to fulfill three needs:" a plush carry-all tote, a boxy bucket and soft evening cross-body. "Every single one of them, what I love about them is: You don't have to use your hands for any of them," Brown explains. "I'm a bit of a basic bag bitch."
The styles, customizable by leather texture, hardware and monogramming, come in neutral, chicly versatile tones, as well as a pink-flecked leopard print, inspired by a favorite vintage Dries van Noten dress in Brown's closet. "[The capsule is] for women who really know who they are and know what they're doing and they love elegant and cool things, but they gotta get on with it," says Brown. Sounds a lot like the editor herself — and the message that Mon Purse wants to send out as a whole. "We're about empowering interesting, amazing women," Hopkins says. "I look up to Laura and everything she's achieved." (Us, too.)
Despite opening Mon Purse locations in the U.K. and the U.S. in an uncertain post-Brexit and pre-Trump retail market, the founder is boldly optimistic. After all, the brand's price point is accessible and the product and concept are unique.
"Bricks and mortar aren't dead. It was never dead," Hopkins says. "What it comes down to is: We need to make the experience super, super special for people. We need to remember that those people are us. We want something. We want more. If I keep thinking, 'what does Lana want?' then everything will be okay. I want a lot of things."
Shop the Laura Brown x Mon Purse collection Wednesday, Nov. 30 on monpurse.com.