This new startup let me design my own $1,000 luxury handbag from scratch

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1 Atelier’s cofounders from left: Master craftsman Anthony Luciano, CEO Stephanie Sarka, and creative director Frank Zambrelli.
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Stepping foot into 1 Atelier’s New York office isn’t like walking into any other startup’s headquarters.

The place is packed with giant swaths of leather, sewing machines, spools of thread, and dozens of handbags perched on every possible surface. It feels more like a fashion house than a tech startup, and maybe it is.

But the fledgling company, which makes handmade bags you can design entirely yourself, is combining the worlds of high-end fashion and technology to create the first completely customizable luxury brand.

1 Atelier was founded by Stephanie Sarka and Frank Zambrelli – both veterans of Coach – and Anthony Luciano, the company’s master craftsman. All three have worked in the fashion or tech worlds, and joined forces last year to start their own business. The company has been in beta since October 2015, but launches to the public on Wednesday.

I got to check out 1 Atelier’s offices and design my own bag, start to finish. Here’s what it was like.


1 Atelier’s bags range from $295 to $7,380. They’re pricey, but the company is aiming to compete with other luxury brands like Ralph Lauren or Bottega Veneta.

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Sarka, the company’s CEO, said the idea for 1 Atelier came when she kept finding the “almost-perfect bag” that had one or two things she wished she could change.

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Avery Hartmans/Business Insider

Zambrelli had a similar experience: “In every other area of my life, it was normal to have a somewhat bespoke experience. But suddenly, the most intimate thing was up to the [retail] buyer to decide.”


The company targets two types of customers: Those who have been buying luxury bags for a long time who are tired of logos and brands, and rising millennials that have a small amount of disposable income and want the item they buy to be perfect.

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Sarka said 1 Atelier hears from its millennial clients that they want to make a personal statement, rather than buying something off the shelf.

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For anyone who ever designed their own sneakers on Nike’s website, using 1 Atelier is a similar concept. The company offers nine types of bags ranging from tote bags to wristlets, all of which are fully customizable on the site. A backpack style is coming in November.

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viaGIPHY


I designed the mini saddle bag, which Sarka says is the most popular style so far. I was able to pick out different materials and colors for each component of the bag, like the color of the lining and the type of metal used for the fasteners.

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After you pick out each part, the site shows how much each component costs. Different materials make the bag pricier, like python or calf hair. At the end, you can add your initials to the inside of the purse.

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Once 1 Atelier receives the order, it’s given to the company’s in-house craftsmen, who makes the bag by hand in New York.

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Each bag is hand-cut and hand-sewn, and takes about three weeks to build.

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The company orders the materials for each bag individually, so it prides itself on keeping waste and pollution down.

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The fashion industry is known for being one of the dirtiest in the world, but Zambrelli says the only pollution coming from 1 Atelier is emissions from transporting the materials.


Sarka and Zambrelli said they did the math, and there are 5,365,902,467,368,128 possible bag combinations, which almost guarantees everyone will have their own unique product.

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Picking out every facet of the product can be hard, so 1 Atelier offers the option to use a personal liaison, who offers some guidance on building the bag.

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Zambrelli says building something so customizable has been challenging on the company’s end too, especially since the design process is automated.

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“It’s really hard. Like calculus, hard,” Zambrelli said. “It took us a long time, frankly, to figure out that experience digitally and kind of get the platform right. We made some mistakes along the way for sure.”


While the company is focused on handbags for the time being — the backpack is the company’s newest addition to its product lineup — Zambrelli says 1 Atelier plans to branch out into shoes and housewares next.

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