Strangely enough, Ela Aldorsson’s namesake handbag line started with a shoe. The Toronto-based designer was working as an accessories wholesaler at the London, England, head office of Burberry when she suddenly got an idea for a practical heel that could more easily navigate the city’s cobblestone streets. Feeling she was on to something, a friend connected her with none other than Jimmy Choo, who praised Aldorsson’s sketches and suggested she create her own line. “He was like, ‘You know what? You should try this and see how it goes.’ ”
After moving back to Toronto to be closer to family and the professional network she had built while interning at fashion magazines and working in PR at Hermès Canada, Aldorsson took Choo’s advice, with one alteration. “Being that I’m very practical, I started with bags, because bags are what I know and love,” she explains.
Struggling at the time to find a stylish carryall that didn’t cost upwards of $3,000, Aldorsson was determined to design a line that bridged the gap between luxury and fast fashion, and to offer an accessible price point without skimping on quality. “Function was also big for me because I had a lot of back problems, so I put lots of straps on everything and stripped away the heavy hardware,” she says. Another priority was developing a signature style. “One thing that stuck with me from my time at Hermès is that you don’t see a lot of logos, but you always know it’s an Hermès bag.” As soon as she designed her asymmetrical flap and angled-clasp closure, she knew they would do the trick.
Aldorsson’s Ela line debuted in 2010 with a convertible leather clutch called MILCK, its letters standing for the everyday essentials that fit inside (money, ID, lipstick, cellphone, and keys). These days, the line includes everything from box handle and belted styles to totes and softly structured shoulder bags. In addition to the brand’s own e-commerce site, Ela is sold at boutiques across North America, from Holt Renfrew to chic neighbourhood specialty shops.
In the midst of planning the 2018 collection more than a year ago, Aldorsson noticed she was experiencing something akin to the seven-year itch. Ready for a creative change, she went back to the drawing board to develop a new signature style. “I wanted the new silhouettes to be so different from our asymmetrical bags, something that stood for the next seven years.” Launching exclusively online, Aldorsson’s 2018 range deviates from her previous designs; the new styles’ gussets unfold via accordion-like pleats, all the while maintaining Ela’s classic multiuse ethos—think fanny packs into crossbodies and removable straps for a hands-free option. Ela’s latest offerings also feature a new lining (in blush-toned cotton) and an updated logo that replaces the brand’s original lowercase letters with simple all-caps Helvetica. Aldorsson views the recent changes as natural next steps in the brand’s evolution. “We wanted to figure out what it meant to grow the look of the brand as we grow ourselves.”
Feeling she was on to something, a friend connected her with none other than Jimmy Choo, who praised Aldorsson’s sketches and suggested she create her own line.
With two children under three, Aldorsson is understandably focused on what comes next. Together with her husband and business partner, Martin Aldorsson, she has launched the Ela Lifestyle Group that encompasses Ela, but also includes a wholesale fashion distribution arm (which encompasses Five Senses, a Swedish outerwear line) for North America. She says, “Success at this point is about being able to provide a good quality of life for my family and being able to take a weekend off and enjoy time with my kids.”
But Aldorsson still enjoys going the extra mile, tucking handwritten notes into online orders and collaborating with like-minded brands to offer surprise gifts with purchases. “It goes a long way,” she says. “If customers come home after a long day, open the box, and see somebody went to the trouble of making it special for them, then they’re going to feel special.” Bonding with customers makes good overall business sense, she adds. “It’s been really interesting to connect with our customer so directly through our online store or through Instagram over the past few years. Having direct access has helped shape our line in a way. We’re much smarter now in the way we produce because we only make what our customer wants.”
Photos by Constant Van Ruymbeke.
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