These days it’s hard for us to go anywhere without Amelia being stopped and asked about her gorgeous black bridal leather handbag.  To any fashion expert or enthusiast the quality and exquisite design is immediately evident, however people have trouble placing it, and determining which design powerhouse the bag is by.  This is understandable, seeing as Amelia’s Beatrice handbag was designed by up and coming designer Alexandra J. Megan, as part of her largely bespoke handbag collection for British import business, Sterling & Burke.

“Our woman is sophisticated and driven; she has a keen eye and appreciates true quality. She has the other ‘it’ bags, and is looking for the thing that will set her apart from the crowd, without flashing labels,” says designer, Alexandra J. Megan. “She promotes herself, not other brands.”  This is this exact attitude and understated aesthetic that initially drew Amelia to the line.

Today, we’re sitting down with Alexandra and getting the scoop on everything from her unconventional career path into design to who she’d love to see carrying one of her bags…

Tell us about your formal education, and what your career plan out of college was?

I graduated from Cornell University with a business degree. I focused my coursework on Marketing and was sure that would be my career path. I was in digital advertising for 3 years, and I learned so much! I wouldn’t have traded the experience but I started to realize that I’ve always had the itch to start my own business. Until I decided to leave that job I felt like I always had a pretty defined path, but I guess everyone realizes at some point, life is never going to be exactly what you had planned!

Do you have any formal training in design?  How did you come to realize your talent?

I guess I have always felt that I was creatively inclined and enjoyed art and photography in high school and college. But the short answer is no, I never had formal design training. Once I left my job in Advertising, I took a couple courses at Columbia in Chicago to help hone some skills, but it didn’t get further than one semester.

I realized my talent when people essentially recognized it for me… I had the business idea, and plenty of design ideas in my head, but it wasn’t until the first handbag was made, and was pretty quickly sold in our store that I realized I could try and do this for a living.

What was the first bag you designed?  How does it compare to your current designs?

The first bag was actually the Classic Beatrice. From concept to finished product it changed slightly after conversations with my craftsman about construction details but it has essentially always been the same piece. It will be the mainstay of my collection for years to come, it’s my version of Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress. There are a million ways to re-work it, but fundamentally, it will always remain the same staple piece it always was.

How did you go about creating a business plan for your line?

My business plan has truly evolved over the past two years. When I left my job, I wanted to start working with my mom, who had been building her own retail business for many years selling British and American Heritage brands. At the same time, we were faced with a situation where we needed to find a new production source in England for many of our men’s products. It presented a great opportunity to build my own offshoot business while helping both of our businesses grow. Now, I continue to manage the production and new product development for the men’s line and have focused a lot of my energy on developing a women’s line that will hopefully turn in to a great business in its own right.

What’s the most surreal moment you’ve had seeing your work as a designer?

This actually happened a few weeks ago, I was at Neimans and a woman who works for Armani complimented my handbag and asked if it was a Fendi. I politely told her no, that it was my own design, and promptly handed her a business card! I have a great appreciation for Fendi’s esthetic, especially the recent satchel designs and it was an honor to have the quality of my bag confused with one of theirs!

Your company is based in DC, you went to school out east, you live and design in Chicago, and the range is produced just outside of London.  How have these different locations influenced your designs?

I think the line encompasses a little bit of each city… Washington, DC provides the formal and traditional aspects; England contributes the signature materials and centuries old craft that is used on each piece; and Chicago adds in a little flare at the end with bold color linings of color combinations creating a more relaxed vibe.

What is your creative process like when you’re designing a new bag?

It’s much more analytical than I think people would imagine. I It’s a lot of research – reading, watching, snapping pictures of bags I see people carrying on the street, and here comes my nerdy side – a lot of math. When I get focused on a new design I start looking at it as a need, what are people currently using to satisfy this need and how could it be improved? What are the proportions and functionality that people gravitate towards and buy most often? I am creating a high-end product, and I believe that means it needs to be highly functional as well. All of this begins and ends with sketches and ideas, but there is less of that in the middle, decision making phase.

Take us through your typical day as a designer.

This is always the hardest question for me to answer. I tend to break up my week in to different segments, so no day really ever looks the same. I usually ease in to my day catching up on fashion blogs or industry news. At least 3 days a week I’m on the phone with my main craftsman in England catching up on materials to be ordered – hardware, leather, etc and the pieces currently in production and providing updates to our store. I’ll also touch base on a new design in production with our other manufacturing facility and work on our S&B orders and inventory for the store. Recently there has been a lot of focus on the wholesale side of the business, and it seems there is an endless list of projects to complete there. Then of course squeezing in some marketing/PR planning for myself and the store and the a lot of boring financial work that happens for at least one half day each week. Networking is so important so hopefully once or twice a week I’m going to an evening event or have a day time meeting to make connections.

Your bags are very high end.  Why should women invest in a handbag?

There are a few pieces in the range (and hopefully more to come) that are a bit more accessible, however, the Beatrice Line for example, I do consider to be an investment. The style isn’t for everyone, but for those that love it, they will always love it. It’s timeless. Each Beatrice bag takes about 10-15 hours to hand make, depending on the size. Hand cut leather, hand stitching, and the highest quality materials available, are just a few of the reasons. This is a bag that will last through many, many years of use. I’ve been using one for two years that still looks brand new. It’s uncommon to find a piece of this quality, but when you see it, you recognize it.

Who would you most like to see carrying one of your bags?

This is a hard one for me, I’m not after a big name necessarily, but I do have huge respect for female entrepreneurs and business women. I’ve been hearing and reading more about Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, who has a fantastic sense of style. I think it would be pretty fantastic to see her carrying around a Beatrice. People sometimes feel the line is professional or work focused. I don’t see it that way, I think it’s an elegant, everyday look, but I do think professional women have a special affinity for the range.

How do the bags get their names?

All of the handbags are named for women in my family. I have a long list of names I hope to use one day and tend to pick from the list based on the style that that woman might use most or characteristics they portray. Beatrice was my grandmother’s name. Sophia is my cousin and god-daughter, and Katherine is my aunt and was also my middle name (pre-marriage).

If you could collaborate with any designer, who would it be?

It would definitely be an English based designer, but for my first collaboration, maybe not a big name. I think silk scarves are beautiful and it would be fun to incorporate the fabric in my designs, or sell the items together for a little extra dose of femininity, with unexpected colors.

What’s next for your line?

Within the next few weeks you’ll be able to purchase my designs, both men’s and women’s, at the Frederick Lynn Haberdasshere at 9 East Huron. I’m thrilled to be building a partnership with them! You will also see a few handbags in another prominent location in Chicago that I can’t disclose at the moment… Amelia, hopefully you can fill in readers once it happens! I have plans to come out with 2 new bags in the next few months as well, a new clutch and tote, and hopefully expand to another market early next year. There is a lot to prepare for at the moment!

What advice would you give to other female business owners/entrepreneurs? 

There is a quote that I have in my office that I love – “Being powerful is like being a lady, if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

What could you not live without in Chicago?

There is a long list that includes family and friends first but when it comes to my routines or habits, it would have to include – date nights at Kamehachi in Old Town with my husband, taking our dog to Oz park, Kaeley and Ingrid that brought my hair back to life at Marianne Strokirk, my Crossfit Sono gym and I think most importantly, the proximity to our family lake house in Michigan.

[Photos by Hallie Duesenberg]

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4 Responses to Meet Sterling & Burke Designer Alexandra J. Megan

  1. Ali says:

    i love this interview!! now i have to go check out her designs!

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  3. GirlieDress says:

    I really love the handbags, like this interview as-well ….

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