T he allure of multiple handbags may mystify most men (and some women), but there's no escaping the fact that the purse is a hotly pursued commodity these days. Still, not every woman pines for a $2,000 bag bearing the mark of Prada. Some prefer the homier models that are ubiquitous on the crafting circuit, where you can usually purchase a unique bag for between $40 and $80. Alison Odowski, co-founder of the local Crafting Out Loud craft fairs and an admitted bag freak, says that, other than jewelry, handbags are the most popular items at her gatherings.
Orel Edry makes bags in a room of her Carrollwood home — each one its own creation, never to be repeated. Her fabric of choice: men's neckties, the kind that she can buy for loose change at thrift stores.
The vivacious 25-year-old, who was born in Israel and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, has been making custom bags under the name One Off Designs for about six months. She earned a degree from USF in Public Communications and worked as a paginator for the Highlands Today newspaper in Sebring before returning to Tampa in the spring of '05. "That job didn't fulfill my creative instincts at all," Edry says with a sly smile. She's been crafty as far back as elementary school, but never took formal studies. Her necktie concept came about when she decided to use one as a strap for one of her regular handbags — she thought, "Why not make the whole thing out of ties?"
Most of her purses require about five ties, which usually cost about a buck a piece, around $3 for nicer, vintage ones. The materials may be inexpensive, but each bag takes two to four hours to make. Edry also crafts made-to-order pieces out of different fabrics with à la carte features, such as pockets for cell phones or cigarettes.
The necktie angle has been a winner with the crafts crowd, she says, adding that ties make good raw material. "Ties are very durable and when I sew them together they hold their shape," she says.
Business has really picked up in the last month or so, so now Edry is working her fingers to the nubs just "filling orders and trying to make enough for crafting shows."
Her next challenge is to establish a business model that allows her to make a living with One Off Designs without working eight days a week. (She recently unveiled a website, oneoffdesigns.net.) "It looks like I'm going to need to hire a person to do the nuts-and-bolts stitching," she says, "so I can put more emphasis on the designs. I still want to be the one who actually puts the bag together."
When Katy Alderman first started painting her whimsical cartoon women on vintage bags three years ago, she could find a decent supply of purses at local thrift stores. "I cleaned [the thrifts] out in the beginning and had to go to eBay," she says, adding that she can buy them in lots for as little as a dollar apiece, or as high as $15 to $20.
About her trademark characters, she says, "When I was doodling in middle school, I liked drawing big eyes and big lips. And some of them look like my friends. For some reason, I don't seem to do smiling girls, even when they're happy."
The Tampa-based Alderman, who has a full-time job in property management, paints bags as a sideline. She makes them available through a virtual boutique (katydidwhat.com), but says, "They're kind of hard to sell through the website 'cause people want to touch and feel them.
"It's tough to figure out what my market is," she adds. "A lot of people like to carry around Coach and Louis Vuitton logos. I'm not interested in designer bags at all. My customer tends to be someone who's a little different."
The Handmade Holiday Guide