Handcrafted leather bags that are ethically made domestically and offered at an affordable price point may seem too good to be true, but that’s exactly what you’ll find with Shana Luther’s eponymous line. The Pennsylvania native and longtime Brooklyn resident formerly got her start in the business when she was creating costumes for some of Broadway’s biggest productions at a well-known costume shop, which is also where she developed a particular affinity to working with leather.
After lending her talents to a few other handbag labels, she launched her own line in 2012 and since then has been constructing stylish yet functional crossbody bags, backpacks, totes, and more inspired by the needs of women she sees walking her city’s streets. In fact, Luther has both a BKLYN and NYC collection — a sort of love letter to where she lives. That made us want to learn a bit more about her brand, including how her surroundings drive the collection, why she’s still making everything by hand, and what she’s listening to on repeat to keep the creative juices flowing.
In what ways do you get inspired by where you live and work?
I live and work in Brooklyn so I’m always observing the women here. Whether she’s a mom, a student, a single professional, I’m always asking myself what she needs. From my experience, the Brooklyn woman is a bit more laidback, a bit more casual and all of the styles within that collection are handcrafted — something that I think that woman appreciates. That’s the ethos behind my BKLYN collection.
My NYC collection is produced at handbag manufacturers within the garment district. This collection is for the woman who’s a bit more styled, a bit more professional and needs something to compliment that lifestyle. All types of women inspire me, and I love creating original modern bags that compliment their lifestyle.
What do you love about working specifically with leather?
Leather is a natural material and it’s unforgiving. It came from an animal and I wholeheartedly respect that. I work with minor scars to show my customers that even though there’s a slight blemish, it’s beautiful and natural. If you mess up a stitch, there’s no coming back. It’s tough and just gets better with age. It’s just badass.
I used to work in a costume shop and I made countless numbers of leather chaps for the character Scar in The Lion King. These were for the Broadway and touring productions so many, many chaps were made (and are still being made). They were double layer, geometrically stitched and super heavy duty. I think this is where my love affair with leather began.
The brand is made locally and you even source your materials domestically. Why was that important to you as a designer?
I’m a huge stickler for quality, and I think that stems from my background working in the theater world. We built costumes to withstand 14 shows a week; no wonky seams on these costumes! I’ve carried over that craftsmanship into my collection. Everything is made in-house by myself and a small trusted team so I can ensure everything going out is made the best it can be. I always say it, but I won’t sell an item with uneven stitching or a weak rivet. I make everything here because I can oversee it, craftsmanship is so important to me. For the most part, I source from American vendors and I try to know where all of my materials are coming from.
I work with minor scars to show my customers that even though there’s a slight blemish, it’s beautiful and natural.
How does your customer — the Shana Luther woman, if you will — dictate how the line evolves over time?
She definitely does! I was actually just contacted by not one, but two customers who told me the Hill Maxi backpack was not a large as they thought it would be. I actually had the same thought in the back of my mind for a while so I went and drafted a new pattern (the beauty of making everything in-house). Now the Maxi Backpack is a bit larger and if it weren’t for me listening to my customers, that wouldn’t have happened as soon as it did.
My line has definitely evolved over time. When I began the brand, everything was crafted at local handbag manufacturers. It was great, but I didn’t really have anything to do with the actual making of the bags besides the design aspect. I slowly switched over to making my styles in-house and I find that my woman appreciates the handcrafted aspect more. I can prototype, sample and make a finished product in half the time it would have taken me at a manufacturer – and not to mention a third of the cost. Because of all of this, I’m able to retail a well-made leather bag at a really good price point.
Fill in the blanks:
The first thing I do when I wake up is _____.
Check on my daughters (and wish I could get another 20 minutes of sleep).
I can never have enough ______.
Bags (of course)!
The song that's currently on repeat in my studio is _______.
“Ball and Biscuit” by the White Stripes.