Blair Ritchey had dreams of becoming a handbag designer — one who never sewed a single stitch. But after sending her sketches to manufacturers, she quickly realized that if she wanted the best, she'd have to do it herself. "Picking up a bag, you can tell if someone really poured love into it, as silly as that sounds," Ritchey says. The 32-year-old spends up to eight hours crafting each bag — from cutting leather to sewing zippers and painting its edges — in the basement of her Lakewood home. "Invest in a piece that makes you proud," says Ritchey, whose handbags run from $55 to $428. Trial and Error: Ritchey created 15 purses before she had perfected her patterns and stitches to a point where she was willing to sell one in 2010. "My room was like a handbag cemetery," she recalls. That first bag — a small cobalt-blue suede pouch — featured a statement tassel that is now a staple in her line of fewer than a dozen bags. To construct each tassel, Ritchey hand-slices strips of soft, 4-inch lambskin using a rotary blade and ruler. Play On: "A lot of the time I'm in silence, just thinking and brainstorming," Ritchey says of her work routine. "But if I listen to any music, it's Eminem." Mom Approved: Ritchey's handbags combine style with function and longevity, so she laughs when her friends with children blush over what they've stuffed in them. "They're like, 'Don't look inside of it! I've had a banana peel in there for the last two days!' " Ritchey says. Staying Small: Although she's sold more than 1,000 handbags — available on her website, at international boutiques and locally at Haven Style House in Chagrin Falls — Ritchey keeps things intimate. Every customer receives a handwritten note with each purchase. "I never want to get so big where I can't do that," Ritchey says. "I think that builds a lot of customer loyalty."
A signature Blair Ritchey label inside The Wallet ($65) serves as a slot for your credit cards, while a key ring can hang outside the bag after you zip it shut. "Even though it's a small pouch, you can stuff it pretty full," Ritchey says. "It's nice to be able to [keep] important things [separate]."
MORE INFO: blairritchey.com
12:00 AM EST
May 16, 2014