In Refinery29’s Talking Shop series, we’re chatting with owners of up-and-coming small businesses about their experiences launching, the big challenges and wins they’ve faced, and of course, their products and services.
When British handbag designer Esin Akan was launching her namesake brand in 2012, she knew the challenges she was up against — after all, she had already been around the high-end accessories block while working for the likes of Burberry and Anya Hindmarch. She’d also been on the consumer end as well, searching for a bag that could help organize her day-to-night life. Ironically enough, however, the brands she had worked for couldn’t exactly deliver the goods she needed.
While at those gigs, Akan witnessed firsthand the trials and tribulations of bringing extremely pricey designer goods to the city folks who needed them most for their daily grind. The chic urbanites were willing to invest in quality, stylish bags but these carryalls also had to hold up to the rumble and tumble of everyday schlepping. But where to find trendy, premium bags that didn’t cost a fortune? That’s when Akan ventured to design her own collection, honing in on a classic-but-contemporary aesthetic that could nestle somewhere in between the longstanding heritage legacy of Burberry and the cartoony quirk of Anya Hindmarch.
Ahead, we catch up with Akan on her emerging brand — which has already piqued the interest of British style stars like Cressida Bonas, Olivia Bentley, Mariko Kuo, Lolita Mas, and the royal herself, Meghan Markle — and how sustainable practices, functional designs, and a handful of Turkish artisans have come together for a lineup of handbags made to carry you throughout whatever your day holds. (Psst, also be sure to subscribe to Esin Akan’s VIP club to score 10% off your first purchase.)
Esin Akan Midi Pimlico, $542
Shop all Esin Akan
How would you describe the Esin Akan customer?
“She is a confident, independent, and courageous woman who loves to enjoy life. She is financially independent, works hard, and plays hard. She values her family and friends. She is interested in travel, art, shopping, business, investment, trends, fashion, and food. She loves exploring, traveling, and enjoying herself at any point. She is a sensible shopper who likes to award herself with life’s luxuries. She values authentic brands and unique, timeless designs. She loves to explore fashion brands and trends and appreciates quality over quantity. She cares about sustainability, how things are made, and the brands’ contribution to our planet.”
What did you feel was missing in the handbag space that led you to launch Esin Akan?
“When I started working for Anya Hindmarch, I looked for a bag in my new boss’s range to impress her. I needed a bag suitable for work, gym, and an evening out. None of the bags suited my needs for a weekday. A day started at the gym, continued at the office, and ended with my girlfriends at a cocktail bar in Central London. Most bags I found in the market were too small or too big, too functional but not aesthetically pleasing, logo-focused but not necessarily high quality, and too expensive. I thought women deserved better — a light bag that accommodates everyday essentials in an organized way that looks cool and unique and adapts to multiple occasions. A high-quality bag without the designer bag price tag. A bag designed around the lifestyle of an urban woman, but not only in trends. That’s how the seeds of my own handbag line and brand were planted.”
Esin Akan Mini Belgravia, $365
Shop all Esin Akan
What sets Esin Akan apart from other handbag brands?
“We design distinctive and timeless leather handbags that are sustainably crafted for confident women to stand out while enjoying any occasion. Every piece in our collection is multi-purpose and can adapt to multiple scenarios: From day to evening, weekend to a wedding, work to a weekend break. The Midi Belgravia, our best seller, can be worn as an everyday crossbody bag or as a clutch for a business meeting, or as a shoulder bag for an evening out with girlfriends. No need to go home and swap!”
Why and how did you decide on Turkey as the country (and its craftspeople) to manufacture your bags?
“While working for Burberry, I worked with a couple of great suppliers in Turkey. I realized during production that Turkey is a hub for high-quality leather bag production due to the availability of high-quality leather and experienced leather artisans, and shorter lead times. Most globally well-known designer brands have been producing their leather bags in Turkey because the exceptionally well-trained artisans craft designer bags with exquisite attention to detail.”
Esin Akan Emma, $633
Shop all Esin Akan
How has your brand evolved since its launch in 2012?
“I launched the business during my MBA at London Business School. It was right after our company got the start-up award of the year, and we won a space in the LBS incubator program. Our first office was at the [school’s] campus. My first sale was on a piece of paper in the [local] pub. Fascinating times. I have been well-supported by the LBS community, which gave me enough courage and all the resources I needed to take the business off the ground. Today, we sell in the most prestigious stores worldwide, including Harvey Nichol’s, Macy’s, Hudson Bay, and Lafayette. Our sales have grown massively over the years since we started. The Royal Family has supported us for our sustainable practices, and many celebrities have worn the brand worldwide as well.”
How were your experiences working at Burberry and Anya Hindmarch informative to launching your own brand?
“Burberry was massive, and I learned a lot! I felt like an intra-preneur at the time of Angela Ahrendts, one of the most inspiring woman leaders. Everyone was working so passionately and creatively. I admired that. I liked working in an international team; however, seeing things at such an enormous scale was slightly scary, I have to say. I thought I could never do that on my own, considering Burberry had over 1,000 people in the office.
“Anya Hindmarch is a smaller scale business and it gave me the courage [to launch my own brand]. Before joining Anya Hindmarch, I remember reading an article [where the Hindmarch] advised young people to do what they love and everything will follow. Later, our roads crossed and split, and in the end I did what she had advised. I never looked back. So happy my path crossed with someone who has been a real inspiration. She is so lovely, so creative, and down to earth. I learned so much from both of my experiences.”
Esin Akan Midi Richmond Bucket Bag, $544 $330
Shop all Esin Akan
What are some of the ways you’re sustainably forward at the brand?
“All our leathers are a byproduct of the food industry, sourced from certified tanneries that are respectful to the environment. We produce in small runs so there is no excess stock and we utilize the leather scraps in our small leather goods so there is a no-waste policy. We plant a tree for every purchase in cooperation with ECOLOGI, and we donate to women’s scholarship funds in the world’s most prestigious universities in UK and US.”
Tell us about the best selling styles — and also your personal favorites.
“The Midi Belgravia is the best seller as an every day, every-purpose bag. The Midi Pimlico is an all-time classic — it’s the bag that made us famous with Meghan Markle. These days, my personal favorite is the Emma in black because it fits my laptop and my all-day essentials. It’s also ultra light! I also LOVE my Cornwall phone wallet that goes perfectly with my Emma bag. I just put in my phone and cards to avoid carrying the tote while on a lunch break or going out for drinks after work.”
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. All product details reflect the price and availability at the time of publication. If you buy or click on something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?