Sylvie Farrington is the founder of SylvieBags. The German-born designer came to the United States at 19. “I began selling newspapers and later worked as an au pair,” she said. Sylvie was passionate about textiles, color and art, so she went back to Germany to complete a fine sewing and design program. After her apprenticeship, Sylvie returned to the U.S., launched her creative business in 1997 and never looked back. Sylvie designs one-of-a-kind handbags and pillows from upcycled midcentury barkcloth and fabrics.
What’s barkcloth, you ask? It’s a vintage fabric made from densely woven cotton. Barkcloth is strong, durable and textured, so it was once commonly used in upholstery and curtains. Today, Sylvie sources vintage fabrics made between 1930 and 1960 for her timeless designs.
We discovered SylvieBags at an artisan fair in Martha’s Vineyard a couple of summers ago, and we think you’ll love the founder’s story. She’s made over 15,000 creations over the years. Plus, Sylvie’s designs are eco-conscious and vegan.
Artisan Joy: How did you begin creating handbags?
Sylvie Farrington: I fell in love with some amazing vintage textiles at an antique show, purchased a few pieces and started making handbags that were snapped up quickly by private clients and retail stores.
AJ: At what point did you realize that you could turn your craft into a business?
SF: Immediately, and I have been in business for 26 years.
AJ: How do you define success for your creative business?
SF: Success to me is staying inspired, being able to serve my customers exceptionally well and balancing my family life with my business.
AJ: Where do you find inspiration?
SF: I find inspiration for my bag styles when I travel in Europe and visit New York City.
AJ: What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
SF: I am a foster-to-adopt mom of a daughter.
AJ: As creatives, we can be continuously creating and refining our art. How do you handle perfectionism?
SF: I like my products to be perfect because I was trained in Germany with a very high standard of craftsmanship. Sometimes one of my items doesn’t meet my standard, and I save it for my seconds sale at the end of the season.
AJ: What advice would you give to someone who wants to begin selling their art or creative product?
SF: Tune into the market and be adaptable with your product, do some form of physical activity so you have the mental and physical energy to run the business and listen to podcasts for inspiration. There are many great podcasts out there for handmade businesses.
AJ: What’s something that surprised you about running a creative business?
SF: It has been all-consuming for me. I think about the business at all times of day and night—and what I can improve or change or create.
AJ: Owning a business brings joys and challenges. What advice would you give to someone about handling the highs and lows?
SF: It is really helpful to stay levelheaded and not take things that happen in the business personally.
AJ: What’s a cause you are passionate about and why?
SF: I am passionate about helping foster kids find a family that will take them in, nurture them, and love them like their own kids. Our family has been on this path, and for us, it has been very rewarding to be able to show a child from a challenging bio-family situation that there is another way. Learn more at togetherwerise.org.
AJ: What brings you joy?
SF: My biggest joy is growth and progress, both creatively and in business. I love self-improvement and see the business as a catalyst to help me take uncomfortable action that, in turn, will make me grow as a person and help the business do better. As an example, going live on social media used to be really difficult for me, and now I enjoy it and appreciate the positive feedback I get.
You can shop SylvieBags by Sylvie Farrington at sylviebags.com.