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The Build-a-Bear of Handbags

Can't find a bag you like? Just make your own with Mon Purse.

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A woman creating her own handbag off a website Photo: Mon Purse

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Mon Purse is a fully customizable Australian handbag company that was founded just two years ago. It already has six shops-in-shop in its native country and two customization outposts at Selfridges in London and Manchester in the UK. Last week, it arrived in New York, and a San Francisco location is set to follow.

On December 15th, a “Mon Gallery” — as founder Lana Hopkins calls it — opened inside New York City’s flagship Bloomingdale’s with large-format touch screens, instant monogramming, and gorgeous leather bags on display. And if you don’t like any of those, that’s okay — there are six billion different design combinations you can choose instead.

A Mon Purse white bag held by a model Photo: Mon Purse

The idea for Mon Purse came from a pretty unexpected place: Build-a-Bear, the mall store that lets kids make their own custom teddy bears. Hopkins found herself inside one, and wondered why there wasn’t anything similar for handbags. “I literally spent an hour building this little teddy bear from scratch. I threw him into the machine and watched his body come to life,” she says. “I was so bloody excited.”

She thought, “If that’s how I feel spending an hour building a little bear for my nephew, how are my girlfriends going to feel when they spend time building the perfect bag?”

Mon Purse is tackling a big issue in the fashion industry — overproducing product that not enough people buy — by making custom bags where you can choose everything from the shape to color to texture before an order is placed. “Companies are betting on the fact that everybody wants a yellow bag with navy lining, but actually, how do you know that everyone wants that?” says Hopkins. “That's something that I want. It's unique to me. But you might like a black wallet.”

A woman touching hardware for handbags Photo: Mon Purse

After the Build-a-Bear trip, Hopkins began researching how to produce a handbag line, which quickly brought her to Turkey to find the best factories — and they all were requesting 10,000-piece orders. “I finally found out what it’s like to be an actor,” she says. “Getting rejected left, right.” After eventually finding a match, Mon Purse raised capital three times to get where they are now; the most recent round of funding comes in at the tune of AUD $3.1 million (roughly $2.1 million in USD).

Through its website, Mon Purse uses 3D technology that’s based on PBR, a software used in video games to show hyperreal visuals. You start by choosing your silhouette, which ranges from bucket bags to shopper totes. You can then choose a size, different colors for various parts of the bag, and different leather textures. Finishing touches include monograms and selecting the color of the hardware. In total, there are more than six billion possible outcomes.

Bag hardware and straps Photo: Mon Purse

The bags are only produced once a customer places an order, and are delivered about four weeks later. If that sounds like a luxury, it’s not reflected in the price tag. Leather accessories start as low as $35, and the customizable bags go up to $480. Shoppers can also choose from pre-made bags on the website and at brick-and-mortar locations, and have it monogrammed on the spot.

To kick off the US launch, the company partnered with InStyle editor-in-chief Laura Brown on a collection of customizable bags based off of her favorite prints — leopard spots and an abstract pattern from her favorite Dries Van Noten dress. (Hopkins had previously met Brown, also Australian, through a mutual friend.)

“This is the future of fashion — putting the consumer at the front,” says Hopkins as she scrolls through color options for straps on a bowler bag she’s creating while we talk at her publicist’s office. “It’s about me,” she says as she adds rose gold hardware and, appropriately, her initials in a blind emboss to the top.

Watch: The history of clutches