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Julia puts her passion into Bermuda handbag line

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Handbag designer Julia Stephens (Photograph supplied)

Six years ago Julia Stephens scoured the island for souvenirs to take back to friends in New York and came up empty handed.

She wanted gifts that were truly Bermudian: made here and inspired by the island; not mass-produced in a factory somewhere in Asia. On top of all that they had to be things that would not look out of place on the streets of Manhattan.

It is how Threadneedle Studio came to be. Based in the Town of St George, it is where Ms Stephens makes personalised handbags as well as the bracelets and malas she began selling in New York a decade ago “as part of her journey as a yoga instructor”.

The bags are made of vegan leather “which is especially suited for Bermuda’s climate, while the colours and designs are inspired by the natural beauty of Bermuda’s flora, fauna and turquoise waters”.

Ms Stephens, who had no formal training before she launched the business, designs, cuts and crafts using a 70lb industrial embroidery machine that took some time to get the hang of.

She is “beyond grateful” for the help she received from her husband, Julian Wheddon, and Alex Anfossi, their friend and neighbour.

“I've always sewn, I've just never had any formal training. But I've always been very creative,” said Ms Stephens, a New Yorker who taught yoga in the city for 15 years before she met her Bermudian husband.

On a trip to Germany, she was inspired by her sister, who had developed a line of handbags.

“I just kind of got an idea: why don't I come up with my own designs? And that's how it all started.

“[I realised] I was going to have to make it unique to fill that void in the market that I was looking for. So I invested in this pretty significant industrial embroidery machine, which took, anywhere from six to eight months until we actually became friends.”

Totes designed and handmade by Julia Stephens (Photograph supplied)

The machine has seven needles and is capable of stitching on fabric or leather. A single design could have as many as 30,000 stitches.

“It literally stitches on to the fabric,” Ms Stephens said. “Before that you have to come up with the design, digitise it and then put it on to the machine so that it all kind of connects. It’s not the plug-and-play situation that I thought it would be. It was a very, very long learning curve. But as with everything, if it was easy everyone would be doing it.”

Adding to her learning curve, Ms Stephens had no business experience and “not the most significant selling experience”.

It took about two years before she was ready to offer her bags to the public.

“I knew what I wanted and it took quite some time to actually get the bag exactly the way I wanted it,” she explained.

The entrepreneur was thrilled with the final product and was able to have “a soft launch” in the gift shop at St Regis Bermuda Resort.

Online she offers custom orders. Buyers can choose from a selection of colour combinations for the exterior, the inner lining and the straps, to make their “bag special and unique” so that it represents their personal style.

Designs can be as simple as a nickname although Ms Stephens is willing to accommodate even “the craziest requests”.

“I could do any kind of design really,” she said.

Handbag designer Julia Stephens (Photograph supplied)

Popular at the moment are her totes with the word home written across the front; a map of Bermuda replaces the letter O.

“People love the fact that they can pretty much put everything together that they want. The vegan leather looks kind of like textured leather. Very high end.”

The “sophisticated” linings are a selection of colours and patterns from Mallorca and Germany.

“People also like that every bag is unique because it is handmade and they can choose exactly what they want. It can be completely customised,” Ms Stephens said.

For the most part the work keeps her busy but yoga remains a big part of her life.

“I always say, ‘Find a job that doesn't feel like a job.’ You have to love what you do, otherwise change it. Life is too short. It’s easier to say but if there is any way to make it happen, then try to do it – no matter how scary it sounds.”

• For more information visit www.threadneedlestudio.com. Julia Stephens teaches group and private yoga classes at St Regis Bermuda Resort. Call 543-2222 for details

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Published October 05, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated October 06, 2023 at 8:20 am)

Julia puts her passion into Bermuda handbag line

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