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Designing the Timeless: The Growth of House of Borel

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Eve by House of Borel. Courtesy of House of Borel.

Following my trip to fashion week this past September, I had the pleasure of attending the Michael Costello fashion show. The designs and runway were beautiful, but what caught my attention the most were the bags that each of the models carried down the runway. Knowing Michael Costello does not make handbags, I immediately asked around to find out who designed the bags. To my surprise, I was told the bags were from a new fashion house in San Francisco, House of Borel. After looking on Instagram to find more information, there they were: “Standout Luxury. Designed in San Francisco. Made in Italy.”

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Natalie Crane and Charlotte Welch of House of Borel to find out more about the creation of House of Borel, what it’s like to work for a fashion start-up and where they plan to take House of Borel in the years to come. 

Where did the idea of House of Borel begin? 

Charlotte Welch: The idea began because Claire [Borel] dreamed of being able to have a product that would be good for travel, that would evolve into something classic but modern high fashion.

What makes your bags unique?

CW: In a time where the fashion industry is run by trends and about the now, we are trying to recreate the idea of having a product that is timeless and beautiful, something the complete opposite of disposable. 

How big is your team here in San Francisco? 

Natalie Crane: Being that we are a fairly new company, we are a total of five people, and we do everything from conceptualizing to designing to shipping to promoting our collection. 

Typically, how much time goes into the making of one bag? 

CW: From start to finish, it’s usually about half a year. That includes the process of conceptualizing, designing, sourcing the material, working with a developer, having the hardware made, having the bag made, shipping the bag from Italy to San Francisco. The process alone of making the bag itself can take anywhere from seven to 14 hours. 

Where in Italy are your handbags made?

CW: They are made in several different places all throughout Italy, mainly outside Milan. All of these factories are small family-owned factories that have become part of our family, we love that we know everyone that works in them and that we are helping families’ businesses continue to grow.

How do you source your leathers and fabrics?

CW: We all go [to] a lot of trade shows, see what’s available and see what everyone in the team likes the most. 

Do you believe education is important when working in the fashion industry? 

NC: Education is important, but it doesn’t have to be formal education. As long as you are perfecting your craft and understand history then you should [have a] good basis. My advice when attending fashion school is to take away the most you can take away, learn to be in group environments, learn to take criticism and learn to love learning because the fashion industry is a forever learning experience. 

What is a normal day like for you guys?

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Cairo Cleo by House of Borel. Courtesy of House of Borel.

NC: Since we are such a small team and we do everything, every day really varies. We usually get in around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. We start with everything that is necessary, such as billing, fill any deadlines, social media, any marketing, filling orders and answering emails. We continue our day with taking care of any mishaps or taking care of any issues that need immediate assistance. We end our day with looking for inspiration and discuss any new ideas that we have.

How has social media played into the growth of House of Borel?

NC: We just recently started to really focus on it and are trying to understand how it works and how to connect to the lives of our current followers and also gain new followers. I don’t think there is any formula that one can follow to gain a bigger following, but we are having fun watching it grow organically. I can’t say social media has played a big factor into the growth of House of Borel, but we did see a big jump between followers during fashion week when Michael Costello tagged us in his posts, I think that was when we realized we really needed to put more effort and time into it. 

What is your definition of the modern woman? 

CW: Someone who is very active, she has a lot of responsibilities, different areas with personal and professional, takes a lot of roles, someone who is looking for fashion to serve her, idea of luxury and fashion about what it is and not the story you are trying to tell a friend, she is looking to add something, that is going to speak for multiple seasons and conversations, uses accessories as a corner store, she’s not intimidated by fashion. 

Where do you see yourselves in 10 years?

CW: We hope to one day be considered a fashion icon, we hope to become something big, something everyone can think of as classic. 

What do you want the world to know about House of Borel?

NC: We want the world to know us as a fashion icon of San Francisco, something people think of when they think about style in San Francisco and in the surrounding areas like Berkeley and Napa Valley.