Building a handbag empire

Ela Kowalewska and Martin Aldorsson try to take on the world with their Ela line

A few chance meetings across the pond and bang: two local business partnerships are born.

Three years ago Ela Kowalewska and Martin Aldorsson met in London, England, and today they’re not only engaged and due to be married next year in Aldorsson’s native Sweden — but they’re also building a handbag empire together, starting in the most grassroots of ways.

Grassroots, just so you know, needn’t mean unsophisticated. In fact, it has everything to do with luxury.

Ela a handbag line designed by Kowalewska, has launched its spring collection in a few boutiques in the city, most notably the recently opened Summerhill boutique, The Narwhal, tucked away on Price Street.

Sitting in the chic space, midtowners Kowalewska and Aldorsson say their shared European work ethic (she’s from Poland) cemented their partnership.

Their concept of what the couple calls humble luxury is expressed in the clutch purses, messenger bags and large totes handmade of Italian leather. A symmetrical detailing and superior hardware, minus baubles and extraneous embellishments that are so common in the handbag world, are the line’s main features.

“We always try to showcase rather than upstage the wearer,” Aldorsson says.

With a background at Hermès Canada and additional experience working for Burberry in London, Kowalewska clearly has an appreciation for handmade artisanal pieces and for fashion.

Revamping the Roots handbag brand when she moved to Canada gave her design and production experience, while a friendship with, and encouragement from, renowned shoe designer Jimmy Choo inspired her to go out on her own.

Meanwhile Aldorsson, who has worked in advertising for Havaianas Sandals in New York and also McCann-Erickson in London, England, is managing the marketing aspect of the biz.

Made locally just outside Toronto, the Ela collection comprises about seven styles to date with price points ranging from $280-580. Collections are launched every fashion season.

Producing locally was important to them as it’s easy to pop up to the factory and also to maintain quality control, Aldorsson says.

And it can make customizing pieces for clients easier, Kowalewska adds.

The bags are available in Sweden and plans are in the works to expand into New York City early next year. Kowalewska says she also wants to focus on Montreal and Vancouver in Canada.

Selling in local stores that share the same philosophy is part of the couple’s strategy. They met The Narwhal co-owner Sydney Wills in England and say they knew they wanted to partner with her.

“It’s really important to work with people who are like-minded,” Aldorsson says.

Though they agree that the idea of understated luxe hasn’t been vogue in recent years, the entrepreneurs see a place for their ideal in the market.

“I think the world is moving toward that,” Kowalewska says.


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By: Kelly Gadzala
Posted: Apr 4 2011 2:07 pm
Filed in: Business
Edition: Toronto
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