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On Fashion Flukes and Weirdo Fringe Sports With Emily Heffring

Emily Heffring is the talented lady behind the East Vancouver accessory company, Your Bag of Holding. Since starting up her (until recently) one-woman business three years ago, YBOH’s irresistibly touchable fanny packs have been popping up in the window displays of some of Vancouver’s coolest boutiques, including One of a Few and Charlie and Lee.

Soon, Heffring’s designs will also be showing up at multiple craft fairs across the city, beginning with the Eastside Flea (December 1 – 2nd), and followed by two markets happening simultaneously on December 8th and 9th: Got Craft? in Vancouver and Fall For Local, in North Van. In the meantime, Heffring gave herself a break from hectic pre-holiday production to answer our questions about herself and her business…

What is your background and/or education? Actually, I have a lot of formal education. I have an Undergrad in Anthropology/Archaeology because, of course, I wanted to be Indiana Jones, and then a few years later I received my Masters in Environment and Sustainability. I still think often of pursuing a masters in Archaeology as I really love the field. Otherwise I’ve been most influentially educated by my mother and Oma who have always encouraged my creative side.

Describe the concept of Your Bag of Holding in 10 words or less. Minimalist, engaging fashion for the brave of heart.

What inspired you to start your own fashion accessory business? I think I have always been drawn toward fashion since I was very young. I was always drawing (my first love) my ideal outfits, with a special focus on accessories. I didn’t actually know it was possible to create this dream until recently, when I decided to make my first leather bag and this sort of snowballed. Leather is an amazing material to work with and it just keeps inspiring me.

What were you doing before YBOH? I like to say that I’ve lived many different lives. I’ve moved across the country a bunch, living in Edmonton, Saskatoon, Toronto and now Vancouver. I’ve worked in many different fields but have always returned to working with my hands. It’s something that has always felt like the most natural thing to do. Most recently, in Toronto, I was maintaining extensive green roofs on 30 story high buildings in the downtown core.

How do you choose and source your materials? I choose my materials mostly on touch and feel. My items tend to be very tactile, and this is very comforting for me. I also am very drawn toward colour. I do pay attention to current trends, but I also feel compelled to make things that are different and unique, which sometimes leads to some more interesting designs. I source my materials mostly locally; the leather and sheepskin I use are a byproduct from the meat industry, and no animals are farmed exclusively for their hides.

What is in your bag of holding? Well, I gotta have my phone, wallet and keys, of course. I have a lipstick that rotates weekly, a few souvenirs from the week past (movie tickets, etc.) and some snacks. Sounds pretty boring actually! What can I say? I’m basic.

The original YBOH design was very much centred around a timely trend (a pouch or modern take on the fanny pack). Do you consider this bag your “signature” design? Yes, but totally by accident. I created this bag a year ago now and I would never have thought it would take off like it has. I feel very lucky that I came up with design at the right time. Right now it is definitely my signature design.

You’ve recently began to branch out your designs to incorporate new shapes and materials. What inspired this change? Well, like I mentioned, the fuzzy fanny pack design was entirely by accident. I mean, I knew it would be popular but now it takes up almost all of my making/producing time. As someone who loves to create, I really have felt the need to stretch my arms a little bit and start making some different designs. I feel like this year has taught me a lot about design, so I’m just having some fun with it!

What do you foresee the next big bag trend to be? I think small bags will stick around for a while. Everyone seems to love the giant tote bag, so I don’t see that going away. I think being more playful with materials, texture and colour will also be big for the next few years. Mixing woven fabrics, with leather trim and a pop of neon. Why not?

What has been the most physical or tactile challenge of creating YBOH, so far? Well, I work full time, and YBOH has become a full time job. So physically, I’m pretty exhausted, especially around the holidays. However, I have pulled my back out from repetitive motion of hand sewing, so sometimes I’m actually injured! Last week I got a massive blister on my hand from using a tool over and over. It was really, really gross! Haha. Blood, sweat and tears!

What has been the most biggest mental challenge of building and running a small business? I think accepting that not everyone will like my stuff was a hard pill to swallow at first. Putting your goods out there is actually a very personal thing, and it leaves you vulnerable to what other people think of your products and sort of what they think of you, by proxy. I think a lot of creative types want their stuff to be liked, which is completely natural but tough. As well, balance. I’ve never really been that good at living a “balanced lifestyle” and do find myself retreating to the studio more than reaching out to community or taking care of myself. I feel like having a small business requires a lot of energy. I’m basically nurturing a baby business child. I want it to grow!

“Things that made me smile or brought me joy when I was a kid really do somehow make themselves present in my current designs. Big zippers, fuzzy things, metal buttons and embellishments.”

What is your most invaluable tool? My hands.

Do you make everything yourself or else who comprises the YBOH team? Alternatively/additionally: What has been your experience with the manufacturing industry in Vancouver? I hand sewed every bag up until about two months ago. I still make probably 70% of the bags, but now I have help with a local sewer, who has been amazing to work with. I also have some very talented friends, including my husband who has started making all of the straps! I’m happy working in my little studio with what I have right now, but I may look at more options for manufacturing this coming year.

How important is it to your to continue to manufacture YBOH locally? Very important! I think this is because I always want to be very very close to the manufacturing process. I still hand finish every bag so that it’s as perfect as it can be.

Where do you hope to take YBOH in the next year? Five years? I want to grow the business, but I also want it to remain small. I see a lot of other makers/designers out there that release in small batches to great success. I think that’s where I will be in the coming years, as I want to keep my full time job as well. I want to be successful in many areas of my life and YBOH is one big part of it.

How important is longevity to your approach to design and how do you think that the original YBOH will stand the test of time? Well, I make everything with the intention of it lasting a lifetime. Technically speaking, if well taken care of, all of the materials should. This is one of the reasons I use leather, as it ages and lives a life that is completely unique to the use of the owner. It’s also incredible durable, so if we are speaking about the materials only, YBOH will stand the test of time. I really hope people are still rocking their fuzzy fanny packs for years to come and maybe even turning them into heirloom piece.

What do you do when you’re not working? I love cycling. I’ve been a long time bike polo player (yes, it’s a weirdo fringe sport) and just recently have taken up mountain biking. BC is so beautiful, and my partner and I want to soak up the lifestyle as much as possible.

What has been your favourite material to work with, so far? Probably the shearling. So many fun fuzzy colours to play with!

What material haven’t you worked with yet that you’d like to in the future? A lot of folks have been asking about vegan friendly alternatives, which I totally respect. I haven’t been able to source any high quality faux shearling but I’ll be looking into this in the coming year. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know!

What has been your biggest self-discovery since starting YBOH? That I can’t and shouldn’t do everything myself. At first, when you’re starting a small business, folks think they need to do absolutely everything themselves, and for the most part they do. But asking for help in areas where you just aren’t any good will actually make life so much more easier for you. Also, I’m writing this down, so hopefully I take my own advice.

Your most unusual or unexpected source of inspiration? I draw a lot of inspiration from my youth. Maybe not so unusual, but for me it was unexpected. Things that made me smile or brought me joy when I was a kid really do somehow make themselves present in my current designs. Big zippers, fuzzy things, metal buttons and embellishments. Also I LOVE patent leather. I think it’s because, as a kid, I knew the patent shoes were my extra special shoes.

The biggest mistake you made in building up your business? Ugh, I hate to admit it, but the whole tracking finances thing is very boring, and also very important. So get a good invoicing software early!!

Who or what has been your most valuable resource since beginning YBOH? My partner STEVE! Omg, I love him so much. He has been so, so supportive during this entire process. He usually does all of my local bag deliveries, he has started helping with production and he’ll even be vending at a local market for me this season. Also, he’s one of the only people I know who can make me cry laughing, which is very important to the successful running of any business.

How do you want to be remembered? I’d like to be remembered as a kind a modest soul, who lived on a very high hill in her mansion surrounded by all the nicest clothes in the universe.

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