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Meet the Handbag Muse

by Christy

Sometimes you go looking for inspiration, and sometime it’s dropped right in your lap. Fitting to her shop name, the Muse, Shannon Hird stepped across the Craftygal porch and came knocking on our door. After checking out her site, I knew there was a good story or two behind the bags that were so perfect, so lovely. From the Sara denim bag with cheery contrast stitching, to the ultra-feminine floral Lilly bag, the Muse has something for every gal in every mood. Join me as Shannon reveals where the Muse goes for inspiration and how her career has progressed.

Shannon was brought up in a creative, freethinking household. Her father was an artist, as was his father before him, though neither of them practiced art professionally. She drew constantly as a kid, and recalled a specific time in 4th grade when she got the chicken pox. "I remember waking up one morning and thinking ‘I have the greatest idea for a pair of pants I would love to wear!’ so I began drawing clothes and putting them on my little paper dolls. So I guess you could say I’ve always known what I wanted to do."

Craftygal: What sort or training have you had, formal or informal?

Shannon Hird: I haven’t had formal training as far as fashion goes. I studied art for five years and I do have a BFA from the University of New Mexico, but UNM doesn’t even offer fashion courses. I originally started out at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, but I never took one fashion-related class because I got so caught up in the other courses they offered. I took everything from silver smithing, to photography, to printmaking. Towards the end of my college education (I finished my last three years at UNM) I started taking the classes that I knew I could bend the rules in. I was interested in pursuing fashion again, so I took photography and printmaking, and instead of printing on paper I started printing on fabric and making dresses out of the material. I don’t think that my professors liked the idea all that much, but it provided the outlet I needed to start creating fashion before I was finished with school.

As you can see, I had been jumping from one art form to another and finding that after a year or two I would get disenchanted with whatever it was I was doing at the time. I was searching for something I loved that I could stick with and develop and that would continue to make me happy and fulfilled. Then a friend came to stay with me temporarily and she brought her sewing machine. It was summer time and being a poor college student I wanted to get some new summer clothes but really couldn’t afford them. So I decided to teach myself how to sew and I made the clothes myself instead. That was over five years ago and designing and sewing has continued to serve as a great outlet for my creativity ever since.


"I knew I not only had the ideas to begin creating on my own, but I had the skills to produce my own creations."


CG: I understand you worked as a costume designer/maker at a theater and some shops, tell us about that experience... and how did that job lead into your current occupation? What was the evolution there?

SH: I got the theater job out of necessity, and I was trying to stay somewhat within the field, but it proved to be rather boring. The woman I worked for was not all that interested in teaching me how to sew better and she definitely wasn’t looking for any design advice or opinions. Through that job, I got a job at a Costume Salon (a very upscale costume rental store) in Santa Fe, NM. I decided to take it because it seemed to offer a lot more creative freedom. The job did exactly that, but I discovered two things while working at the Costume Salon: one was that while I loved creating these really amazing whimsical costumes my real love was for straight up fashion, the second thing was that if I wanted to pursue fashion I needed to perfect my sewing skills, which was not happening at the Costume Salon.

I found another job working for an independent designer in Santa Fe that specializes in Tango clothing called Tangoleva. It was here that I found the perfect job and mentor to help me perfect my sewing and the personal creative expression I sought. However, the main thing I discovered at Tangoleva was that while I appreciated all that my boss had to teach me I was longing to set out on my own to design the way that I wanted to for my own company. I needed to be self-employed working towards my dreams in the way I wanted to go about it. At this point I knew I not only had the ideas to begin creating on my own, but I had the skills to produce my own creations.

CG: Why hand bags and not something else? What is it about bags that captivate you?

SH: There is no easy answer to this! The direct inspiration for making the first bag came from some material I got while in New York City. I brought it back home and let it sit on the shelf for quite some time. When I finally went back to it, I realized that there was nothing I could make with it that made any sense to me but a handbag. So I made a faux fur leopard print messenger bag with this beautiful, lush burgundy velvet lining. And when I wore it around everyone just freaked over it. They loved it and I started getting orders here and there for similar bags. As I continued to make more and more handbags they just started to feel right. All the ideas and inspirations I was receiving translated well into handbags. So that is the basic story of the birth of Muse handbags. I enjoy creating other items; I also have a real affinity for designing skirts. I would love to create a line of skirts every season along with the handbags, but what really keeps me from doing so is that, at this point, I am a one-woman-show. I design, shop for materials, cut, sew, and produce almost every single item I sell, not to mention the fact that I also designed and maintain the web site as well. In other words I am a busy woman! I don’t know if I’m ready to take on a line of skirts until I can find someone who can help me out in the sewing department. I’d like to be able to focus more on the designing at some point. I have found over the years that the part I love the best--the part that gives me the most fulfillment--is the designing and seeing that first sample finished.

CG: We are always interested in where other cratygals find their inspiration for the specific craft they are into... so what's your muse oh Muse?

SH: My inspiration comes from all over the place. Sometimes I get a great idea walking down the street and seeing a combination of colors in the scenery. I’m a dedicated people watcher, and sometimes as I sit and observe I’ll be inspired by something they might have on or a combination of materials or colors they choose. I also have this strange obsession with magazines about the home or interior design. I get a lot of ideas from looking through these magazines. I think someday soon I want to start a line of really cool pillows--in fact pillows and handbags are very similar. People need to get more into pillows as a design element in their home. Throw pillows are great interior accessories. You can really change the entire room by changing the throw pillows on your couch just like a handbag can change an entire outfit.

One of the main ways I get my inspiration is through my dreams. I have always had very vivid dreams and it is not at all uncommon for me to wake up and run to my studio in the next room and draw the vision in my mind of the next handbag I want to create. I just get a vision in my head and then I go about trying to find the materials to make it a reality. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all the ideas I have. That’s why I’d love to be able to find and work with someone who could translate my ideas into handbags as quickly as I get them.


"I realize that some of my bags are less practical than others and they are anything but a necessity, but honestly those are the ones I like to design and create the most!"


CG: What does the handbag say about a gal? Small vs. large... hand clutch vs. over the shoulder...

SH: As a handbag designer, I have noticed that there are some women that just don’t like handbags. They don’t feel comfortable carrying something with them all the time. It’s kind of rare but the situation exists. Then there are those women who need to carry a handbag but it has to be HUGE. It’s practically an overnight bag. They carry everything they can fit into it and nothing smaller will do. For this type of woman, it’s hard for them to convert to the cute little clutch but I believe they wish they could. Then of course there’s the woman who just adores the little clutches and evening bags. She loves to shop for purses and probably has about a hundred of them. This, of course, is my kind of gal. I realize that some of my bags are less practical than others and they are anything but a necessity, but honestly those are the ones I like to design and create the most! I consciously try to design an equal number of bags ranging from somewhat impractical but really cute, to the more practical tote that’s still stylish but fits into your everyday life a little easier. Overall, no matter what size bag a woman carries, the mere fact that she carries a great handbag at all says she is thoughtful of fashion.

CG: What's an average day in the life like? Or maybe an easier question is, what's the lifeline of one of your creations like?

SH: An average day in the life of a muse handbag would look something like this. It would start with the vision of what I want to create. Then I sit and think about the materials that would work best. I search around my studio to see if I have what I need and if not I run to the local fabric store or flea market to see if I can find it there. When I return home I’ll start on the pattern or check to see if I have one that can be adjusted. (I make all my own patterns as well.) Then I start the cutting, I get all my pieces together, and then begin sewing them together. It takes somewhere between one to two hours from cut to finished product in most cases. Fortunately when I have made the same bag over and over it takes a lot less time. When the sample bag is complete I look it over and see if I like it, see if there any changes I think should be made. If there are, then I’ll start in on the new one, and if not then I usually test-drive the new bag. I like to wear the sample bags around for a while to see what kind of reaction they receive and also to make sure that they are sturdy, practical, and comfortable. If they pass my test, I make a new one to be photographed to post to the web site.


"It still amazes me sometimes when I get an order from a boutique in Japan and I think about the days when Muse handbags was barely a thought in my mind."


CG: I see from your site that your bags are sold all over the world in a handful of shops, how did you get your product out there? Was it a friend of a friend who knew someone who owned a shop in Tokyo, or was it more structured and focused than that?

SH: All the stores that are listed as retailers on my site found Muse through the Internet. That’s the amazing thing about the Internet, you can sell to boutiques all over the world right from your home. Right now I am working on the biggest wholesale order I’ve received and it’s going to a boutique in Ireland. I also sell to individuals who find me while searching the web from places like Scotland, England, Japan, Ireland, and all over the United States. My biggest piece of advice to someone who wants to get their product out there is to get a web site going, register it on all the major search engines and be prepared for business to come. It still amazes me sometimes when I get an order from a boutique in Japan and I think about the days when Muse handbags was barely a thought in my mind.

CG: What kind of crafts do you do when you aren’t hand crafting your beautiful bags? What's your current crafty project?

SH: I am one of those people who love to get their hands on anything creative. Sometimes I get really into painting--I’ll run down to Hobby Lobby and grab some paints and just go for the afternoon. One thing I haven’t explored yet but really want to is furniture restoration. This is probably spawned from the fact that I’m moving soon and we are getting rid of all the furniture we own and starting fresh in San Francisco. At first I was thinking about heading for Ikea and furnishing our whole house, but then I started watching shows like "Shabby Chic" and "Trading Places." Now I’m into the idea of going to the flea market instead of Ikea. So I’d say that’s my next crafty project.

CG: And now for some of our Craftygal questions du jour: Prada or Gucci bags?

SH: Fendi!

CG: Heels or flats?

SH: Flats--but I want to be a heels girl! In fact I think when I get back to the city I’ll work on that.

CG: Is Madonna a small clutch type of girl or a large satchel gal?

SH: Large satchel--she has kids!

CG: What about Bjork?

SH: Definitely a small clutch girl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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