We chatted with Chau Sáenz, a skilled leather artisan who designs and creates luxury handbags and accessories. The designer’s love for bags and purses inspired her to enroll in a leatherworks school in San Francisco, where she trained under a Hermès leather artisan. The designer’s passion for her craft is evident in each piece she creates.
In her interview, Chau shares her experiences as a creative entrepreneur with us. Read how the handbag designer defines success, where she finds inspiration and her advice for others looking to sell their art or artisan goods.
Artisan Joy: How did you get started designing luxury leather handbags?
Chau Sáenz: I am obsessed with handbags. With no background in design or in the handbag industry, I decided to pursue my passion for leather handbags by becoming a certified leather artisan. The traditional art of handbag making fascinated me, and I was eager to learn the techniques used by skilled artisans. Through my training, I discovered the importance of using high-quality materials to create durable and long-lasting products. This appreciation for quality has influenced my own handbag designs, and I strive to create pieces that will stand the test of time.
AJ: When did you know you would launch a business?
CS: From the very beginning, my goal was to turn it into a thriving business. Once I committed to becoming a certified leather artisan, there was no looking back.
AJ: How do you define success for your creative business?
CS: Positive feedback humbles me yet motivates me to improve. While encouragement helps, I feel there is still much work to continue to create designs that align with my purpose. I am grateful for feedback and the opportunity to adjust.
AJ: Where do you find inspiration?
CS: Looking at handbags from various designers, mood boards and fashion magazines is something I love to do. When I relax, like during walks, massages or meditation, where I can free my mind, I start to visualize design ideas. It’s fun when that happens.
AJ: What’s one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you first started your business?
CS: Be patient. It’s easy to get frustrated when things don’t go our way or when we don’t see immediate results. But remember—good things come to those who wait.
AJ: What advice would you give to someone who wants to begin selling their art or artisan goods?
CS: Running a business can bring both joy and challenges. However, it is important to embrace your unique design and share it confidently. This means being comfortable with yourself and your brand. By doing so, you can overcome any self-doubt or imposter syndrome that may arise along the way.
AJ: What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
CS: There’s something about baking with mochi that just makes my heart sing. It all started during the pandemic when my son and I were looking for a fun activity to do together. Not only did it give us a chance to bond, but it also allowed me to teach him some valuable math skills—and satisfied our sweet tooth.
AJ: As creatives, we can be continuously creating and refining our art. How do you handle perfectionism?
CS: For me, my design is my art. It’s not about being perfect—but about creating something meaningful that I’m proud to share with the world. I approach each project with intent and purpose, and I try to be realistic about how “perfect” it can be.
AJ: What’s something that surprised you about running a creative business?
CS: I find sharing your authentic self publicly can be a vulnerable experience. It’s not just about posting and sharing; it’s about humanizing your work by showing who you really are. Through this vulnerability, you can find camaraderie amongst other entrepreneurs and gain more compassion for yourself and others.
AJ: Has someone ever criticized your work? How did you handle it?
CS: Yes. It took me a long time to finalize my signature look on my bag. But when I finally found the design that gave me goosebumps, I knew it was the one. However, when the sample product arrived, and one feedback was to remove my main signature look, I felt crushed. But then I realized—this is my artwork. I designed it. And I should be proud of it. Art is different for everyone, and what speaks to me may not speak to someone else. But that’s okay. I stuck to my gut and trusted my creative vision. And in the end, my bag became a true expression of myself.
AJ: Running a business brings joys and challenges. What advice would you give to someone about handling the highs and lows?
CS: The journey of entrepreneurship can be a tumultuous one, filled with highs and lows that can leave one feeling like they’re on an emotional roller coaster. It’s important to remember that these ups and downs are a natural part of the process and that every setback can be an opportunity for growth and learning. When faced with challenges, it can be easy to get discouraged and lose sight of the progress that has been made. That’s why it’s important to take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate every small win, no matter how insignificant it may seem. These small victories can help to provide the motivation and inspiration needed to keep pushing forward.
AJ: What’s a cause you are passionate about and why?
CS: The rise in hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is deeply concerning. I am grateful for the collaboration I did with the STOP AAPI Hate organization that brought attention to this issue at my son’s school. Let us continue to support their efforts to educate and raise awareness, as hate is a learned behavior.
AJ: Can you share the name of a supplier or vendor that you use for your business that you just love—one that makes running a business a bit easier?
CS: I utilize the Shopify platform for my website as it offers an extensive range of features and functionalities that seamlessly integrate with various tools. In comparison to other website platforms, Shopify stands out for its versatility and adaptability.
AJ: And, of course, we have to ask you this: what brings you joy?
CS: Being able to use my creativity and organization skills brings me so much joy! I love planning fun get-togethers with friends and family, creating matching outfits or gifts and whipping up delicious treats in the kitchen. Seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces when they enjoy these things may seem like a small thing, but it’s truly rewarding.
Thanks, Chau! You can learn more about the handbag designer at chausaenz.com.
Editor’s Note: This interview was edited slightly for length and clarity.
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