Sometimes the most brilliant of ideas strikes in the unlikeliest of places. At least that’s what happened to Lana Hopkins, CEO and founder of Australian accessories brand Mon Purse, which opened its first West Coast boutique on March 7 inside Bloomingdale’s Westfield San Francisco Shopping Centre.
In 2014, the 33-year-old Sydney resident went in search of the perfect purse at a Westfield mall in Bondi, a Sydney suburb. Unable to find what she was looking for, Hopkins gave up and made a detour to a Build-A-Bear Workshop, where she found herself having fun designing a custom teddy bear for her nephew’s birthday.
“In that moment, I had an epiphany,” said Hopkins, on a recent visit to San Francisco for the boutique opening. “I thought, how would my girlfriends feel if they could design their very own perfect replica handbags? Would they not be completely over the moon?”
Despite her lack of manufacturing experience (she was working in sales at News Corp Australia at the time), Hopkins decided to jump on her unconventional idea of producing bespoke luxury leather cheap handbags, sold at affordable, nonluxury prices.
“I didn’t know the first thing about manufacturing, but that was probably a good thing,” Hopkins said. “When you come from a totally different industry, that’s how disruption tends to happen. You’re not thinking in a preconceived mold. You’re not thinking how things should or cannot happen.”
Launched as a beta site online in 2014, the fast-rising brand now has a flagship store in Sydney that, at just under 100 square feet, brings in nearly $1 million (AUD) in sales annually.
Mon Purse boutiques can also be found inside select Myer department stores in Australia, and Selfridges in the United Kingdom. Besides San Francisco, Bloomingdale’s New York is its only other U.S. retail location, although Hopkins is already eyeing other international expansion.
The company has grown exponentially, she said. With $12 million as its current annual run rate (the amount of money a company projects it will bring in this year if current business conditions were to continue), the brand is on track to do $25 million in 2017, she said.
While customers can shop the brand’s clean-lined, ready-to-wear assortment of clutches, saddle bags, backpacks and totes, the real draw is Mon Purse’s proprietary 3-D “bag builder,” which allows for the customization of almost every detail, from the color and texture of the leathers to the hardware, piping and lining. That means a dizzying 10 billion possible design combinations.
Using a technology common in the gaming industry, Hopkins says Mon Purse is the first fashion brand to use physics-based rendering, or PBR, for the production of personalized luxury products on-demand.
“What PBR allows you to do is capture light, color and texture in a realistic way and display that on a screen, much more so than displaying photographs,” said Hopkins, who compared her actual red, pebbled leather iPhone case to an identical virtual image on her laptop screen.
Made from quality Italian or Turkish leather, the products are manufactured in one of three Mon Purse factories in Turkey. After placing an online order, the bag arrives at a customer’s doorstep within four weeks. The company is working toward reducing that turnaround time, Hopkins said, which may be available in the future for a premium.
In San Francisco, the 850-square-foot boutique is located at the main-floor entrance of Bloomingdale’s, across from Louis Vuitton, in the space formerly occupied by Dior. It features an all-white, gallerylike display showcasing the brand’s top-selling goods and seasonal items.
In line with the emerging showroom trend in fashion retail, the physical space gives customers a chance to touch and feel samples of leathers and hardware before designing and ordering a bag on one of the in-store iPads.
Those looking for instant gratification can buy in-stock items, which can be personalized at a monogram station on-site. Initials, emojis, zodiac signs and even personal messages can be stamped onto the leather or hand-painted onto the handbag’s lining.
Prices range from $45 for a monogrammed iPhone case to $600 for a fully customized handbag. The average bespoke bag order falls between $200 to $500.
“Five years ago, you would’ve never been able to find us between a Louis Vuitton and a Ferragamo,” said Hopkins of the San Francisco spot. “For just an 18-month-old brand, that’s a sign of a massive shift in the industry. It validates the point that traditional retail is dying, and what’s keeping the department stores — and consumers — alive is this injection of creativity and personalization.”